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I'm making some Texas-style chili ("beans optional" :) for the second time, and the fat on my brisket just does not want to melt. As the recipe instructs, the chili sits on the stove for 4+ hours at a simmer.

My somewhat-trusty instant-read thermometer says that the temperature is around 205 °F after about 3 hours of simmering. As far as I can tell, very little fat from the brisket has actually melted/rendered by now. I noticed a similar issue last time I made this chili as well: the final outcome had some rather large pieces of fat which were not a particularly nice texture. Here's what it looks like so far:

enter image description here

The brisket is already very tender, and there's very little fat floating on the surface, but there's significant layer of fat still on the beef chunks.

What's going on? I'd really think that multiple hours at 200+ °F would melt most or all of the beef fat in the pot. Is it too hot? Not hot enough? Do I have any hope of getting the fat to melt so I can either skim it off, or mix it in?

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    Are you sure that is fat on the piece being help up? It looks like silver skin which would have been better trimmed off prior to cooking. I can see a slick of fat across the top of your pot in the picture.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Dec 2, 2012 at 23:11
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    Have to agree with the above; fat melts at a very low temperature, you seem to be talking about gristle which is actually cartilage/connective tissue, which doesn't denature easily and doesn't melt at all.
    – Aaronut
    Dec 2, 2012 at 23:14
  • Also agree, this is the gristly fat that should be trimmed off before cooking, though it does also pull away easily after cooking, especially if you shred the brisket. Dec 3, 2012 at 8:39
  • Try this: get that thing out of there and cut a little bit and see how it tastes. I bet it is good. If you like it, get it and all its friends out and slice them into tiny little bits and put them back in. That will fix texture and you will keep good flavor! Serve over cold cornflakes. Yum!
    – Willk
    Nov 16, 2022 at 20:18
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    @Matt Ball : We can rebuild it. We have the technology. We can make it better than it was. Better. Stronger. Fattier.
    – Willk
    Nov 17, 2022 at 22:19

2 Answers 2

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Not all the fat in beef (and generally, in any kind of meat) is the same.

Any piece of meat will have a certain amount of marbling fat, which is intramuscular and is hard to remove, intermuscular fat and subcutaneous fat, which can be trimmed off.

From your picture, it seems to me that the fat covering the outer layer of the beef chunks is gristle, which you can easily remove after having cooked your Chili. It is however hard to remove by increasing the temperature, as fat molecules are generally quite big and they are not soluble in aqueous solutions, which makes them kind of float on your sauce in an emulsion.

From my experience as a cook, the best tip I can give you when it comes to Chili or stews is to choose a lean piece of beef, with as little as possible of visible marbling fat and before cooking, to remove as much of the visible fat as you can possibly do. Cooking it gently for four hours will make sure that the meat remains as tender as you can wish. :)

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  • I thought good marbling makes a cut of beef more desirable. I can understand removing the big pieces of gristle and fat around the edges of my cut, but why aim for an overall lean (not-marbled) cut here?
    – Matt Ball
    Dec 22, 2012 at 15:48
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    Lean cut does not need the fat to stay tender because the slow cook does the tenderization. Lean cut has loads of flavor and is cheap but high heat and lean cut = super tough meat. Good marbling is for a steak or a roast that you would not be slow cooking but doing on high heat in grill or on oven. Fat marbling will keep meat tender despite high heat cooking.
    – Willk
    Nov 16, 2022 at 20:17
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Your fat has, in fact, melted. It is what it does at these temperatures.

What you did was to put a piece of beef in the pot. Not a spoonfull of tallow, but a piece of animal tissue. It is made up of cells. What you identify as "fat" is adipose tissue, that is, normal cells full of fat droplets, stored away as an energy source and cold insulation for the body's use.

When you cooked the stew, each individual fat droplet melted - but it stayed where it was, secured in its vesicles. Sure, some of the cell walls got damaged during the cooking process - but in general, they don't disappear, or else cooking beef would result in a paste instead of chunks of meat! There is no doubt that some of the melted fat flowed out of some ruptured cells - and directly into the extracellular space, which is not especially open to the water outside of the stew. So while some of it rendered into the stew liquid, most of it stayed where it was. Together with the nonfat components of the adipose tissue, it creates a layer of cooked fat.

On your parallel with rendering: When you render fat, you will indeed start with simmering the fatty tissue in water. This will produce some very fine, low-odor tallow that can be separated from the water. But the remaining greaves will still have a very high fat content. You will then collect them and throw them in a pan without water, collecting a more smelly tallow, but getting much better yield. And what you are left with are cracklings, which are crispy, smell heavenly, and are still full of fat! So you only replicated the first step of the process, which is fully expected to be very inefficient. It is normal for most fat to stay in the tissue after simmering.

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