Chipotle Beef Brisket and Cheddar Biscuits

Words: Karl Tessendorf

If you’re looking for the beefiest piece of beef ever, then you’ve come to the right place. This month we’re talking brisket and before you say, “bris-what”, allow me to enlighten you. The brisket comes from the little known cowicorn, a mythical creature that roams The Far Side plains and dines exclusively on beef flavoured grass.

To catch one they say you need the speed of Flash Gordon, the strength of the Hulk and the wit of Indiana Jones. Unfortunately, I’m lacking the first two requirements but I do have one secret weapon… an awesome butcher.

Yes, brisket is a rare sight in the average supermarket store and it really is a shame. I think it’s one of those cuts that’s just misunderstood. It’s tough as hell and it takes a long time to cook, but the effort is rewarded with every beefy bite. In recent years we’ve seen brisket getting more and more attention with Guy Fieri’s TV show, Diner’s, Drive-ins and Dives. Brisket has always been a firm favourite in America’s barbecue culture due to the time it takes to smoke.

Brisket is one of the primal cuts and it’s located in the lower breast section of the cow. It’s right above the front legs so it gets a serious workout making it tough and fibrous. It’s also full of connective tissue and pockets of fat. Like all things on a cow, the brisket is a big cut of meat and it’s typically divided into two sections, the flat (back end) and the point (front end). The flat is leaner, while the point is fattier and the two pieces are connected by a layer of fat. The top of the brisket has a delicious fat cap and it will render into tasty pan juices. Did I mention fat is delicious?

To give our brisket the best chance of being as tasty as possible, we’re going to build flavour layers. To start we’re hitting it with a serious dry rub. Try and do this a few hours before you cook, overnight is even better. Next we’re going to seal the meat on the braai. This will impart a smokey braai flavour and give a tasty caramelised crust. From there we paint the brisket with our chipotle barbecue sauce and rest it on a massive bed of onions and garlic with a splash of beer. As the meat and onions cook they create an incredible braising liquid, and over time the onions go soft and jammy. Once you’ve pulled the brisket apart the meat will go back into the onions and juices.

To complete our brisket nirvana we need an equally tasty delivery system to hold the beefy gold. You could use an ordinary bread roll and it would be amazing, but why be ordinary? My suggestion is Southern-style buttermilk biscuits popular in American cuisine. A biscuit is basically a savoury scone that is flaky, light and crumbly. I first encountered these when I was over in America and I’ll never forget my first experience at Popeyes Fried Chicken & Biscuits. To amp up the flavour even more we’re adding mature cheddar, because life is always better with cheese. 

For a final touch of barbecue saucy goodness, we’re going with my favourite, my precious – chipotle. A chipotle is a smoked red jalapeño and they add a punch of smoke flavour like nothing else. They can be tricky to find but we’re starting to see more and more of them in our local supermarkets. They come whole or in paste form and they’re well worth looking for. When I see them I go full Gollum and binge buy my oh-so-smokey precious.

So that’s it for this meatventure! I hope you’ve learnt something and if I’ve done my job, your stomach should be growling right about now. Brisket really is an amazing cut and cooking it low and slow is easy, it just takes time.

The only real challenge you may encounter is finding it. If you’ve got a good butcher, get him to show you the whole cut. If don’t have a butcher and you’re looking for an amazing one, I suggest checking out my butcher, Dave jnr. at Bill Riley Meat in Cape Town. Until we meat again, cheers!   


Serves: 8-10
Prep time: 1h30
Cook time: 4h30

Chipotle Sauce
1 C (250 ml) tomato sauce
1/2 C (125 ml) maple or golden syrup
½ C (125 ml) beer (lager)
2-3 tsp (10-15 ml) chipotle paste (depending on how hot you like it)
½ C (125 ml) brown sugar
1 Tbsp (15 ml) Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp (15 ml) apple cider vinegar
1 tsp (5 ml) ground garlic
1 tsp (5 ml) ground black pepper

Dry Rub
1 Tbsp (15 ml) freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp (15 ml) freshly ground sea salt
1 tsp (5 ml) smoked paprika
1 tsp (5 ml) chilli powder
1 tsp (5 ml) ground garlic
1 tsp (5 ml) mustard powder
2 kg brisket, front end or first cut
(Ask your butcher to trim off the most of the fat but leave a thin layer.)

Onion and Beer Braise
2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
7 medium onions, sliced into thick rounds
3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 C (250 ml) beer (lager)

Cheesy Biscuits
4 C (560 g) flour
2 Tbsp (30 ml) baking powder
1 tsp (5 ml) bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp (5 ml) salt
250 g cold butter, cubed
400 ml buttermilk, cold
1 C (250 ml) mature cheddar, grated

extra buttermilk, for brushing

Chipotle Sauce
Combine all of the ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring up to a boil and then turn the heat down to low and simmer slowly for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside and leave to cool.

Preheat the oven to 160 ºC.

Light a fire so that the coals are ready to go when the meat is. The meat will be seared on the fire to give it a tasty crust. Alternatively it can be seared in a large frying pan on the stove.

Dry Rub
Mix all of the dry rub ingredients together. Give the brisket a generous coating of the dry rub. This can be also be done a few hours before, or even overnight. (If preparing the night before, rub and leave uncovered in the fridge overnight. Remove from the fridge and allow to reach room temperature before searing).

Onion and Beer Braise
While the fire is coming up to temperature, prepare the braising mixture – the seared brisket will sit on top of the onion mix.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and fry the onions until lightly browned but still firm. Transfer the onions to an oven pan and then add the garlic and beer.

Braai the brisket over hot coals for about 2-3 minutes a side until it has a well caramelised crust. Alternatively, sear the meat in a large pan over a high heat for 2-3 minutes a side to achieve the same crust. Paint the brisket generously with the chipotle sauce and place it on top of the onion and beer braise mix. Cover tightly with heavy duty tinfoil and bake in the oven for 4 hours.

At the 4-hour mark, remove the brisket from the oven and test with a fork to see if it is tender. The meat should pull apart with ease. Carefully move the brisket off the onion bed and onto a roasting rack over a separate baking tray. Turn the oven up to 220 ºC and wait for it to come up to temperature. Generously paint the brisket with the chipotle sauce and roast for 8-10 minutes while keeping an eye on it. When the sauce is sticky and caramelised, it’s done.

Leave the brisket to rest for 20 minutes and then use two forks to pull it apart. Place the pulled beef back into the onion and braising juice and mix to combine.

Cheesy Biscuits
Preheat the oven to 220 ºC.

Mix the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Work the cold butter through the dry ingredients with your fingers until you have pea-size bits of butter throughout. Add the cheese and mix through.

Pour in the buttermilk and using a wooden spoon gently combine the mixture. Be careful not to over mix. The dough should be gravelly or shaggy. Try and work as quickly as possible because overworked biscuit dough leads to tough biscuits.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and gently form it into a rectangle. Slice the dough into three equal portions and stack on top of each other. Use the palm of your hand to gently press the sections together and flatten the dough into a long rectangle shape about 2-3 cm high. Slice the rectangle down the middle lengthways then slice the lengths into biscuits roughly 8×13 cm in size. Transfer to an ungreased baking tray and brush the biscuits with buttermilk.

Bake for 13 minutes, then grill for 1 minute more to get a golden crust.

See other recipes in the Meet the Meat series

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