Honey Pulled Beef Brisket with Herbs Recipe
This week I’ve got a delicious pulled beef brisket recipe for you. It’s paleo and LCHF-friendly and it’s very easy to adapt it to autoimmune protocol (AIP) as well. My farmer-butcher had brisket from a very mature cow this weekend. She was actually seven years old. The cow that is, not my farmer.
I’d been hearing all about how much more flavoursome the beef from older cattle is, so I was pretty excited to try it. Of course, brisket is a very collagenous cut, so that means slow cooking or pressure cooking to break down all of that connective tissue. I thought I’d better use my Instant Pot, but you could just use a slow cooker and put it on for 16 hours. Or put it in a casserole in the oven for about 4 hours.
The recipe turned out great. It’s sweet, it’s salty, it’s complex, it’s got umami. What else would you want? It to be healthy and include ingredients that’ll help ensure you hit your daily recommended nutrient targets, as well as support your microbiome, metabolism, immune system and connective tissues? Yep, yep, yep, yep, yep and yes!
More than just a recipe
Here's what you can learn about how the ingredients in this recipe can support your health
I love to share what I’ve discovered about how the nutrients present in foods can support our health. So, you can follow these links to learn more about these topics. For this blog, I’ve really concentrated on carnitine and the role it plays in fat burning and your metabolism. Naturally, red meat, like beef brisket, is a superior source of carnitine. In fact, carnitine gets its name from carnus, the latin for flesh. So, even if you never cook this exact recipe, you’ll still have learned a lot about why each of the ingredients can help boost your general health, especially if you’re suffering from side effects from gadolinium MRI contrasts.
My diet is almost unrecognisable now, compared with when I was a little girl growing up in Mid Ulster in Northern Ireland
When I was growing up in Mid Ulster, we never had brisket. I’m not sure why, because it’s a wonderfully flavourful cut of meat. Perhaps it’s something to do with the prolonged cooking times. In fact I’m not sure that I’d ever had brisket, ox tail or ox tongue before moving to Belfast, going paleo and finding my eccentric butchers, who are as passionate as I am about nose-to-tail eating and pastured meats. They also farm the animals themselves.
I’m not sure that you’ve noticed, but I’m pretty game about trying any cut of meat I can get my hands on. I’ve even eaten roasted crickets! They actually taste deliciously malty, like little soft nuts.
In addition, I’ll also devour any edible mushroom I come across with relish, which is interesting because when I was growing up I refused to eat mushrooms. But as I used to say in University “mushrooms are like olives: they grow on you”, particularly if you don’t wash for a few days.
Not only that, I’ll have a go at eating a decent variety of seaweeds and plants.
Restricting my diet actually meant that I made an effort to introduce a lot of novelty and interest to my diet, like beef brisket
So if you are getting depressed about doing an elimination diet, don't despair - you can still enjoy lots of variety, if you're adventurous
Before I went paleo, I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to eat nose-to-tail either. I thought I had a pretty balanced diet. I tried to follow the national dietary guidelines, because I didn’t know any better. Just like most people, I put my faith in the dietary experts who I believed had looked at all the evidence to produce scientific guidelines. Now I can see how naïve I was in retrospect, but back then I had no idea that these committees had strong financial ties to the food industry and £millions could be made by manipulating national dietary recommendations.
I’m sure you also know that I have dietary restrictions for health reasons. So quite often people (who base their diets on ultra processed wheat products cooked 1000 different ways) look on me with pity because of how many foods I’ve had to cut out of my diet. “Oh no. There’s so many things you can’t eat” they pronounce. These people are exactly the same ones who exclaim “you eat what? Never heard of it!” or “ew… you eat liver/gizzards/kidneys/roe/fish heads/pigs ears/winkles/oysters!” or “how are you going to cook (insert the name of an exotic vegetable or medicinal mushroom here)?”. The irony is always lost on them.
I had nutritional deficiencies because I tried to follow government guidelines
But looking back now, I can see that I had some symptoms of nutrient deficiencies while following their dietary advice. I had night blindness in my right eye that went away when I started eating liver. I had dandruff and cold hands and feet that disappeared when I increased the iodine in my diet. My government-sanctioned dietary choices were also causing chronic inflammation, which expressed itself through acne. You can read about how I discovered that my diet could modify my acne here. By the time I became a nutritionist, I was pretty suspicious that following the dietary guidelines would lead to malnutrition. Then I discovered that in the UK we publish how well people adhere to our dietary guidelines and how severe malnutrition across the population is becoming as a result on an annual basis. I’ve written about those findings here. So it’s no longer a surprise that I had symptoms of malnutrition while following the dietary guidelines.
And I’m sure you also know that I suffer from side effects from a single MRI contrast several years ago, as well as from hypermobility Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. I’ve written about my experiences with MRI contrasts here, here and here but also about how gadolinium from MRI contrasts can damage your mitochondria here. So that’s 2 strikes against my connective tissue and my mitochondrial power generators. A long time ago, I also had an antimicrobial agent that’s related to the fluoroquinolones, called mefloquine. So that’s 3 strikes. No wonder I’m out, or rather my joints were out all the time, before I connected the dots and figured out how to use diet, supplements and lifestyle to combat all of that damage.
As a result, now I’m extremely careful to try to ensure that my recipes are as nutrient dense as possible.
Here are a few ways this pulled beef brisket recipe is a nutrient powerhouse
I have a preference for including a lot of high quality gelatinous cuts of meat, either from the trottery goodness bone broth that I make, or from using tough cuts with lots of sinew, fascia and other types of connective tissues, like beef brisket, oxtail and pigs ears. They’re wonderful sources of an amino acid called glycine that’s great for supporting your antioxidant system and repairing your collagen, plus it’s a calming neurotransmitter that can help sooth your mood.
Animal fibres are a real thing
Collagen also contains something called long chain polysaccharides. They’re actually often called either glycosaminoglycans or acid mucopolysaccharides. These are animal fibres that can help support your gut microbes. Yes, animals really do contain dietary fibres, not just plants. In fact as far as I can see, the only class of life that’s likely to not include fibres are amoeba. Bacteria, fungi, protists (like kelp and other algae), plants and animals all contain fibres. Not many people are aware that fungi and invertebrate animals, like shellfish and insects, both contain a type of dietary fibre called chitin, but they do.
I make sure I include a lot of red meat in my diet, because I know it can be hard to get enough zinc, iron, selenium and important amino acids, especially essential amino acids like tryptophan, methionine and lysine, as well as non-essential ones like serine that have been linked to improved health, vitality and longevity. You can find out more about serine from this blog post I wrote. I also know that red meat is one of the top sources of vitamin B12 (although it can’t compare with liver, clams or kidneys for this important vitamin. In fact, did you know that the original treatment for pernicious anaemia, caused by vitamin B12 deficiency, was to eat an ungodly amount of liver every day – as much as 1 pound?). People are often surprised by my red meat enthusiasm, because so many nutritionists recommend cutting back on red meat.
Brisket and other red meats are excellent sources of carnitine
Have you ever heard of a substance called L-carnitine? It’s a very popular supplement among people who want to improve their mitochondrial health, particularly in the form of acetyl-L-carnitine (or ALCAR). You need carnitine to properly metabolise your fats inside your mitochondria. Carnitine is known as a shuttle molecule. Your longer fatty acids hop on board when they’re inside your cells and hitch a ride across your mitochondrial inner membrane in order to be dropped off inside your mitochondria, the power generators that live inside your cells.
Is it really all that easy to make carnitine, especially if you're on a plant-based diet?
Most people can make carnitine themselves from other amino acids. So theoretically, you should be able to make enough carnitine to supply all your needs.
Carnitine production isn't straightforward and it relies on you avoiding some of the commonest nutrient deficiencies
The amino acids that you make carnitine from are called methionine and lysine. These essential amino acids are in very short supply in plant-based diets and the top sources are from animals, particularly meats and organs. You also need iron (an important nutrient that’s deficient in many people’s diets, but can be particularly problematic for people on a plant-based diet and people with heavy menstrual periods) and vitamin C in order to make carnitine from scratch. Not only that, but you need to convert methionine to something called S-adenosylmethionine, or SAMe, which is the vital product of your methylation cycle. The production of SAMe relies pretty heavily on a working methylation cycle. So people with reduced activity of their MTHFR genes will struggle here as well. In addition to methionine, lysine, iron, vitamin C, methylated vitamin B12 and and methyl folates, active vitamin B3 and vitamin B6 are also needed to form carnitine from lysine. And the process relies on a suite of enzymes, so quite a lot can go wrong in the process. And only some tissues in the body can complete carnitine synthesis. In fact, your liver and kidneys have to do most of your carnitine synthesis and export it into your blood, if you aren’t getting adequate carnitine from your diet.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that in practice, many groups of people see benefits in their health when they supplement with ALCAR. Whether or not you benefit from carnitine is probably a personal matter. If you’re young, athletic and in excellent health with a diet that’s rich in all the nutrients needed to make carnitine, you’ve got great digestion and a high degree of metabolic flexibility, you may not notice much benefit from supplementing with carnitine.
Who's likely to benefit from having carnitine in their diet?
On the other hand, if you’re struggling with your health, suffer from fatigue, have brain fog, avoid animal products, or you’re getting a bit older, carnitine might give you an edge. You’ll also need it in your diet if you’re a newborn, have digestive problems that result in malabsorption (much more common than you might imagine), or have poor kidney or liver function. But where carnitine really comes into its own is in the case of ketogenic diets and other low carbohydrate diets where you rely on fat primarily for your energy needs. There are also some medications that can deplete your carnitine, like the anticonvulsants valproate (epilim), phenobarbital, phenytoin, carbamazepine (tegretol), as well as emetine and zidovudine. Although these drugs are often used as first line treatments for epilepsy and other neurological problems, that isn’t because they’re the most effective approaches. So thy are they used so often? Find out in this post about Big Pharma. If you have nutrient deficiencies, you may be suffering from carnitine deficiency as well.
Studies have shown carnitine supplements to benefit many chronic conditions
In studies, carnitine supplements helps the neuropathy symptoms in people with diabetes. It also helps people with poor circulation to improve their walking endurance. In cancer patients, carnitine supplements help reduce the fatigue experienced while undergoing chemotherapy. There’s even some evidence that acetyl carnitine supplements help cognitive impairment in Alzheimer’s and even improve sperm counts in men.
Red meats (and that includes brisket), heart, brain and liver are all very rich sources of carnitine. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that these tissues with very high metabolic rates should be rich in carnitine, since carnitine is so important in energy production in mitochondria. In fact, these foods are far better sources of carnitine than chicken, fish, dairy, eggs, or plants.
What's the take home message, when it comes to carnitine?
The take home message should probably be, why cross your fingers and hope that you’re absorbing all of the nutrients necessary to make your own carnitine, when you can get it from your diet? And some of the best natural sources of carnitine are red meats, like beef brisket, which are also some of the best sources of complete protein, vitamin B12, zinc, iron, selenium, and other essential nutrients. And red meats are some of the easiest foods to digest, if you’re making stomach acid and digestive enzymes.
Nutrition science meets sustainability and ancestral health
Well, I’m a nutritionist who recommends eating red meat from pastured ruminants (cows, sheep, goats, deer, etc). I also recommend eating nose to tail, embracing saturated fats from healthy outdoors animals (this is likely one of the ways our ancestors got their vitamin D in the winter) and supporting regenerative farmers. Because I analyse almost all of my clients diets, it’s become very clear to me that most people aren’t eating anywhere near enough protein, in particular from red meat and small, wild, sustainably caught oily fish. But I also don’t recommend that people tuck into nothing but steaks either. Branch out a bit. Waste nothing.
My love affair with medicinal mushrooms continues
Medicinal mushrooms also feature highly in my recipes. They’re not always easy to get your hands on, unless you live near an Asian supermarket, like I do in Belfast. Not all nutritionists are aware of the benefits of medicinal mushrooms, but I recommend them to my clients all the time.
They’re fabulous sources of healthy fibres. There’s a surprising amount of research showing that medicinal mushrooms improve your mitochondrial function (your metabolism) and stimulate connective tissue production. These are very desirable attributes if your mitochondria and connective tissues have been damaged by gadolinium contrasts from MRIs, fluoroquinolone antibiotics, autoimmunity, or you have an inherited connective tissue disorder. Or if you just aren’t as young as you used to be.
They can also help to keep your gut microbes under control and inhibit the growth of pathogenic, or bad, microbes, including other fungi like candida and some viruses and bacteria.
That’s not all medicinal mushrooms can do: they can also reduce inflammation and pain due to inflammation. And they give your savoury meals a delicious umami boost.
As usual, I wanted to include as many medicinal foods as I could easily shoehorn in there. And since I always have some medicinal mushrooms and astragalus lying around, they were certainly going in the pot. I’d discovered some dried, sliced reishi in one of the Asian supermarkets in Belfast (the big one on the Ormeau Embankment, for anyone in Belfast or thereabouts who’s wondering. I also buy my dried lion’s mane and shiitake mushrooms and sliced astragalus root there), which is why there’s a few slices of that. Of course there’s the lion’s mane, which I love so much I put in practically everything. There’s some shiitake as well, for good measure. But if you can’t get access to medicinal mushrooms or astragalus root, you can just leave them out. Or order them over the internet to be delivered right to your door.
Herbs are about more than simply adding flavour, although of course they're delicious and add interest
Herbs and garlic also modulate your gut microbiome. Astragalus is a root vegetable that is very widely used in making stocks/bone broths in East Asia, particularly from the start of winter, because it has an immune boosting effect that can help to reduce your risk of picking up severe viral infections. Astragalus also boosts your production of healthy collagen and connective tissue production while apparently also limiting the occurrence of fibrosis. So it’s another good inclusion for people with damage to their connective tissues. If you’d like to find out more about astragalus, I’ve written more about it in my trottery goodness post.
This recipe does contain a bit of sugar. You can cut down on the honey and balsamic vinegar, or if you like you can leave them out completely. It’ll still taste delicious.
What to do if there's a lot of fat on your brisket... Celebrate, naturally!
There was quite a lot of fat on my brisket, so I just trimmed it off, popped it on to my overproof cast iron pan and fired it into the oven for about 40 minutes at 160 ℃ to render into tallow. Then I let it cool and poured the warm tallow into a clean glass jar. And obviously I ate the crispy bits from that with some salt. What else would you do with them? They’re delicious! In fact my mum and I love to share those crispy bits from the suet that she gets to accompany roast beef. I think the crispies are our favourite parts!
I hope you’re not worried about calories in fat or in this recipe. Please don’t be. If you’ve been counting calories you can stop now. Because calorie counts in food are meaningless. I explain why in this post.
I have fresh herbs in my garden. You can probably buy some fresh from the supermarket if you don’t grow any, or you can use dried herbs instead. You essentially use a salsa verde as your marinade, so you can sub in whatever fresh herbs you fancy.
If you suffer from an autoimmune condition, or even chronic inflammation that you haven’t got to the bottom of, then you might already be on the autoimmune protocol. But If you’ve never heard of it before, you can find out more about it from The Paleo Mom. To make this AIP compliant, simply omit the mustard.
Recipe for Honey Herby Pulled Beef Brisket
Ingredients for Honey Herby Pulled Beef Brisket Recipe
- about 4-5 lb of beef brisket
- 2 teaspoons salt
Ingredients for the Marinade
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
- 1-2 leaves fresh sage (or ¼ teaspoon dried sage)
- 1 small sprig of rosemary (or ¼ teaspoon dried rosemary)
- Optional bunch of lemon balm
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 rounded teaspoon French mustard (omit for AIP)
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 4 shallots, chopped
- 1 small tin of anchovies in olive oil
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 1 small piece of fresh turmeric
Ingredients for the Vegetables
- 2 carrots, sliced
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 celery stalk, sliced
- 1 leek, sliced
- 2 strips astragalus root
- Optional 1 large lion’s mane mushroom, soaked in warm water for about an hour, then chopped
- Optional handful of slices of dried reishi
- Optional 6-8 shiitake mushrooms, sliced
- 1 cup stock (you can use trottery goodness, chicken or beef stock)
- 3 cloves
- 1 bay leaf
Remove the excess fat from the brisket, if there’s a lot of it. You can render it down to make fabulous tallow and delicious crunchy bits as I outlined in the intro.
Sprinkle the salt all over the brisket on both sides and rub in. Leave in the fridge while preparing the marinade.
To prepare the marinade, place all the ingredients in a mini food processor or in a small-medium bowl and blend with a handheld stick blender and blend until you’ve got a rustic sauce. It doesn’t need to be smooth. Alternatively, you can chop everything by hand and mix it all up in a bowl. Take the brisket back out of the fridge, smear the marinade generously all over it, then return it to the fridge and leave to marinade for at least 1 hour. You can leave it for 24-48 hours marinading in the fridge, so this can be done 1-2 days ahead.
To Cook in the Instant Pot/Pressure Cooker
To cook the brisket, prepare the sliced and chopped vegetables and fire them along with the bay leaf into the insert of the Instant Pot, or pressure cooker. Pour over 1 cup of stock and add the 3 cloves. Place the brisket on top. Cook on high pressure for 100 minutes, then vent or let it vent naturally. Take the brisket out and place in a warm serving bowl to rest for 5 minutes. Turn the Instant Pot to sauté, give the vegetables a stir and let it reduce a bit until the sauce is a bit more concentrated. Pull out the reishi and astragalus slices and discard. Meanwhile, use 2 forks to shred the brisket. Return the brisket to the pot with the warm vegetables and stir through. Serve with a tossed green salad, or whatever way you’d like it.
To Cook in the Slow Cooker
If you’re using a slow cooker, put the brisket in the bottom, dump all the vegetables, bay leaf and the cloves on top, pour over 1 cup of stock and 2 cups of water and submerge the brisket (you may need to top up with more water), cover and cook on low for 16 hours. Shred and serve as above.
Like any other stew or casserole, leftovers will taste even better on the 2nd and 3rd days, because the flavours will have had time to meld.
How do you use nutrition to boost your health?
I know a lot of people will be interested in hearing who else uses food as medicine. So what do you find really helps you? Let me know in the comments. Have you tried medicinal mushrooms? Do you eat red meat often? Have you tried cutting don on sugar or cut out gluten? What did you discover?