You can use soda in a number of ways to both cook and flavor brisket. Brisket is a relatively tough and inexpensive piece of meat; however, it is also has a wonderfully beefy flavor, which pairs well with a variety of soda flavors and is very tender when cooked correctly. Regardless of how you cook it, brisket must be cooked at a low temperature for a long period of time to break down its connective tissue and yield a tender, juicy product.
Most soda is highly acidic, and thus, it makes an excellent marinade base for meat. Regardless of their acidity, however, the usual purpose of a marinade is to flavor meat, not to make it tender. Thus, no amount of marinating will generally make the brisket tender enough to cook with a high-heat method; brisket should always be cooked with low heat. For a tasty Asian-style marinade for brisket, mix a ginger beer with soy, garlic, peppercorns, scallions and Thai fish sauce. Then smoke or grill the brisket on indirect heat with hardwood such as oak or cherry.
Brisket, with its lean nature and large amount of connective tissue, is an excellent candidate for braising. Braising basically involves cooking a large piece of meat over a long period of time, while covered and in a small amount of liquid. Typically, cooks use ingredients like wine, beer, and stock as the liquid part of a braise, but soda is also a good candidate. For a flavorful braise, use a sour-cherry soda mixed with cola -- or a cherry cola -- along with sweet onions, garlic, fresh figs, carrots, leeks, peppercorns and beef stock. To make tender, medium brisket, braise at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours, or until the internal temperature of the beef reaches 145 F when measured with a meat thermometer.
Sauce It Up
Cola’s sweet, snappy flavor makes an excellent base for a variety of barbecue sauces. For a tangy barbecue sauce for a spicy, Texas-style smoked brisket, mix together sauteed onions and garlic, chili powder, black pepper, mustard, plain tomato sauce, apple vinegar, cola and Worcestershire sauce. Cook the sauce over low heat until it reaches the desired consistency. It reduces and thickens the longer it cooks, so stir and check the consistency every 5 to 10 minutes. For a sweeter flavor with braised or grilled brisket, make a cola-blackberry sauce. Saute finely chopped sweet onions and minced garlic until softened and translucent; add crushed blackberries and saute for 2 to 3 minutes until softened. Finally, add cola to the pan, scraping off the browned bits from the sides and bottom as you do so to deglaze it; add a squeeze of lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. This sauce tastes works especially well with a fair amount of peppercorn heat and zing.
Another way to utilize soda, especially artisanal and naturally flavored sodas, is to use them alone or in a soda-based mixture as a basting liquid. Gone are the days where soda choices in many markets tended toward a narrow selection of artificially flavored, syrupy, chemical-tasting mass-produced sodas. Today, an enormous variety of high-quality craft and artisanal sodas are available that you can use to baste slow-grilled or barbecued brisket. The typically stronger, sharper, flavors of these sodas shine through better as a basting liquid than mass-produced brands. Use soda flavors that match or complement the rubs and seasonings you used on your brisket. Naturally flavored orange or lemon sodas add a bright and sour complement to a Cuban-style or Spanish-flavored brisket. Artisanal root beers add a complex herbal and spiced taste to smoky barbecue brisket, while colas add a refreshingly sweet touch to spicier rubs.