Growing up in a 1/2 Jewish household, I don’t recall much red meat being served. Except for my mother’s brief fling with vegetarianism, poultry and fish were the primary proteins on our plates.
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However, usually around the high holidays (Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, and Passover) we would be treated to Aunt Sharon’s brisket. As was customary for Sharon, she’d bring brisket for twice as many people as she expected to host (excess in food—another timeless staple of Jewish cooking).
Heaping slices of leftovers—dribbled and drizzled with fats and juices and sauces—were the prized bounty of these Passover Seders past. I would relish each slice, in each sandwich for the following week and a half.
The Slice is In The Knife
From the old-world Ashkenazi to the barbecue pits of Texas, the recipes differ little. Both traditions call for slow cooking (be it a pot roast for the Jews or a barbecue for the Texans) and thin slicing.
These thin slices made excellent sandwich stuffers from Aunt Sharon’s High Holiday leftovers, just as the delicate meat morsels virtually fall off the fork in every Texas smokehouse.
Because the meat starts off so tough, it must be slow cooked at a low temperature to tenderize the meat without burning. Customarily, the tender roast is then sliced into very thin pieces. The meat is delicate, so the right cut must start with the right knife.
The Right Knife for the Job
Whether you’re competing in a down-home barbecue contest or preparing a Seder in Brooklyn, you’ll need a good slicing knife to make presentable, evenly sliced portions of tender brisket. Let’s take a look at a few of the best options.
Looking specifically for electric knives for brisket? Check out my top picks.
Victorinox 12-Inch Fibrox Pro Slicing Knife
The industry standard for kitchens and competitions alike is surely the Victorinox 12-inch Fibrox Pro Slicing Knife. The 12-inch blade makes slicing into a full-size roast a single-stroke job.
The high carbon stainless steel blade holds its edge well for repeated butter-like cuts. The pocked, Granton style edge collects deposits of fats and juices to lubricate the meat while cutting, guaranteeing a smooth, even cut every time.
Dexter 12-Inch Silver Sani-Safe Scalloped Roast Slicer Knife
The Dexter 12-Inch Silver Sani-Safe Scalloped Roast Slicer Knife weighs in as the best budget choice. Boasting a 12-inch blade, this knife features a higher, wider stainless steel blade that allows it to cut through the fattiest meats without tears or other unsightly cutting blemishes. The scalloped and serrated blade also works to minimize tears, guaranteeing a smooth, even slice of savory brisket every time.
Mercer Culinary Millennia 14-Inch Granton-Edge Slicer Knife
The Mercer Culinary Millennia 14-Inch Granton-Edge Slicer Knife is a perfect addition for the chef who will be cutting through larger roasts, turkeys, sides, and other larger meat portions. The thin, stainless steel blade offers Granton-style edging to minimize sticking by collecting self-lubrication pockets of fat in the blade while slicing. The ergonomic Santoprene handle features a 17-degree bevel to the blade, allowing for pitch-perfect accuracy in slicing.
Jewish Staple to Texas Tradition
The brisket cut is the lower chest of the beef cow. Its stringy, fat-marbled texture is a trademark in cuisines around the world, although it is most recognized in the United States by the singular Jewish-southern barbecue connection.
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As the hindquarters of beef are not Kosher, Jews have historically had fewer options to choose from regarding cuts of beef. The brisket cut, being so involved in the musculature between the cow’s chest and front legs, was a notoriously tough cut, meaning it took many hours to properly roast and tenderize. This laborious process made it one of the cheapest cuts of beef available—which is still true today.
Upon the arrival of many German and Czech Jews to Texas in the early 20th century, the brisket boom began—here was a tradition of cooking arriving in the beef capital of the world. The brotherhood of brisket between Jews and Texans (and Jewish Texans) was officially underway.
In the southern regard, brisket is understood to be synonymous with Texas cuisine and culture. Though popular in numerous styles of barbecue around the southern United States, brisket holds a special place in the culinary traditions of Texas—with records indicating brisket as a local staple since the times of early indigenous people in that part of the world.
Bring the brisket brilliance
With the right knife and the right recipe, you can begin roasting or smoking your own brisket, and carrying on this wonderfully unlikely tradition of old-world Jewish cooking infused with Texas pit barbecue.
Image credit via Flickr Creative Commons: Jonathan R. and Pat R.