Substitutes for Beef Brisket

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Brisket is a beloved icon of barbecue. When it’s smoked properly, the combination of  tenderness, beef flavor, and the pop of the salt and pepper rub is incredible. However, it may not be the easiest for you to smoke at home. While a whole packer brisket isn’t all that expensive per pound, you’re still buying a lot of meat so the bill…

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Substitutes for Beef Brisket

Brisket is a beloved icon of barbecue. When it’s smoked properly, the combination of  tenderness, beef flavor, and the pop of the salt and pepper rub is incredible. However, it may not be the easiest for you to smoke at home. While a whole packer brisket isn’t all that expensive per pound, you’re still buying a lot of meat so the bill adds up quickly. So you need to find a good substitute for brisket. You may also not own a smoker or grill that can accommodate a whole packer brisket (small pellet grills, small kamado or electric smokers). Plus all that meat takes a while to smoke, and maybe you don’t have the time to invest in  slow cooking a full packer brisket.

So what are your options for enjoying that tender, smoky beef flavor? Here are quality  alternatives to brisket that will either cost less than a whole packer brisket, be able to fit on a smaller smoker or grill, take less time to cook, or some combination thereof. We’re going to look at chuck roast, short plate ribs, and tri-tip as different cuts of beef to get a similar experience to brisket. Two of the cuts, chuck roast and short plate ribs, are all forequarter cuts like the brisket so they have a number of similarities off the bat. We will also look at a number of out-of-the-box brisket alternatives to give you some unique options.

1. Chuck Roast

Smoked Chuck Roast as substitute for Brisket

Personally, I’m a huge fan of smoking chuck roast as a substitute for brisket and so is my family. It’s even got the nickname of “poor man’s brisket.” It’s got a good beefy taste, and it has plenty of intramuscular fat (also known as marbling.) 

Chuck roast comes from the aptly-name chuck primal and is located right about the brisket primal on a cow. It’s commonly used for pot roasts which is actually how I ate it growing up. This primal is also where you get chuck steak from.

Beef Cuts Showing Chuck Roast

The chuck primal is close to the cow’s shoulder, so it’s packed with tough muscle fiber from doing a lot of work during the cow’s life. With its combination of that toughness, connective tissue, and marbling, it’s actually quite similar to the point of a brisket and when it’s smoked, it results in a similar texture. Chuck roasts even have enough marbling to resemble the fatty layer in a brisket point. Hence why it works so well as a brisket replacement.

In fact, when I smoke chuck roast, I treat it essentially identically to brisket: seasoned with  salt and black pepper, then smoked at 225°-250°F with oak wood. If you intend to try this, check out my recipe for smoked chuck roast for more details.

Smoked Chuck Roast Recipe
Brisket is too expensive these days. Try smoking a chuck roast and save some money. This recipe follows traditional Texas style brisket cooks. It tastes as good and doesn't hurt the wallet.
Check out this recipe
Smoked chuck roast sliced on the cutting board

Chuck roast may be a bit more expensive per pound than brisket, but you’ll spend less due to the chuck roast’s size being much smaller than a full packer brisket. It will work on just about any size grill that you want to smoke on, and if you’ve got a bigger smoker, you can smoke  multiple chuck roasts at once. Plus, you’ll be able to stop in at your local supermarket and find plenty of chuck roasts normally, so it’s really easy to find. So if you’ve ever found yourself wondering “can you substitute chuck roast for brisket,” the answer is yes. 

2. Purchasing Then Separating The Flat And The Point Of The Brisket

Brisket Flat and Point

If you’ve got the money and the freezer space but don’t necessarily have the area on your grill or smoker to accommodate a full brisket, this is a great option. You can take your brisket home and then separate the two muscles along the large vein of fat. Wrap whichever part you are saving for later in plastic wrap tightly and then in aluminum foil before freezing to protect it from freezer burn.

This allows you to take advantage of any sales that come up on a full brisket without worrying about how to fit it on your grill. As a side note, you can always go to a local butcher and have a brisket trimmed for you. Thanks to commenter Jack Frost for the suggestion!

3. Short Plate Ribs

Short Plate Ribs as substitute for brisket

Chuck roast may sometimes be known as a “poor man’s brisket,” but short plate ribs can boast the nickname “brisket on a stick.” When you picture barbecue ribs, chances are you picture pork ribs like baby back or spare ribs. However, short plate ribs are an incredible type of beef rib to smoke, and it’ll feel like you’re eating the point of a brisket on a bone.

Each rib has between one and two inches of well-marbled meat that boasts a beefy flavor, hence why it works well as a brisket substitute. Smoking a rack of short plate ribs for around eight or so hours yields a juicy, tender beefy rib that feels genuinely like eating brisket. Plus, a rack takes up a lot less room on your smoker than a packer brisket, and a single bone is usually sufficient for one person. 

Smoked Beef Short Ribs
Smoked Beef Plate Ribs to perfection. We keep it simple with basic Texas style ingredients. Follow our directions and you'll prefer beef ribs over pork ribs any day.
Check out this recipe
Smoked Beef Short Ribs Recipe

Smoking short plate ribs is also easy. I season them just like I would brisket with coarse salt and coarse black pepper, then smoke with oak wood at 250°F. You can use a wireless meat thermometer to monitor the internal temperature, wrap when the bark is formed and the meat stalls if you so desire, then cook until it’s probe tender, somewhere around 203°-205°F. You also don’t have to worry about drying out part of the ribs like you do with the flat of the brisket due to all of the meat being well-marbled.

The one drawback to short plate ribs is their availability. You won’t typically find a full rack of ribs at your local grocery store, only English cut short ribs or flanken ribs. You’ll most likely need to find a good butcher near you to source these, but it’s well worth the time and effort. 

4. Tri-Tip

Tri Tip Steak as substitute for brisket

If you’re familiar at all with tri-tip, the inclusion on this list may or may not surprise you. After all, tri-tip is usually grilled and served as a steak. Michael Haas even has a recipe for reverse-seared tri-tip done on a Traeger pellet grill. What you may not know is that you can smoke a tri-tip roast as a brisket substitute as well.

Whether you choose to simply reverse-sear or to smoke a tri-tip, you do need to know a few things about the cut. Tri-tip comes from the lower part of the sirloin primal, and is sometimes referred to as a triangle roast due to its triangular shape (also, hence the name tri-tip.) 

Another similarity between brisket and tri-tip is that you’re dealing with the muscle fibers going in two different directions at points in the cut. So you need to familiarize yourself with the grain of the tri-tip before you slice. You always want to slice against the grain no matter the cut of meat because it results in the most tender bite. When you have muscle fibers going in one direction through the entire piece of meat, it’s easier than if you’ve got them going in two directions. 

Now tri-tip isn’t quite as marbled as the point of a brisket, so you do need to make sure you’re keeping an eye on your internal temperature as not to overcook it and dry it out. You can also look for a higher-quality tri-tip like a USDA Prime because it will have more fat than a USDA Choice tri-tip.

Due to its size, a tri-tip will cook up faster than a brisket while taking up less room on your smoker or grill. That makes it ideal if you’re looking for a smoky and beefy brisket substitute that takes less time and you’ve got a smaller smoker. 

Reverse Seared Tri Tip Recipe
Part steak, part roast and absolutely delicious; it really is BBQ's best kept secret that is sure to pleasantly surprise backyard BBQ's! The best part? It's super easy to prepare and cook! This smoked and reverse seared recipe is so easy and delicious, you'll be sorry you didn't try it sooner!
Check out this recipe
Finished and Cut Traeger Tri-Tip

However, tri-tips are not the most common cut of meat, much like short plate ribs. You might be able to find one in a grocery store occasionally, but you’re better off finding a quality butcher in your area and getting to know them so you can find out when tri-tips will be in stock.

5. Beef Chuck Crest

Before writing and publishing this article, neither Michael nor I had heard of this cut of meat by this name or any of its other names, cupim as it’s called in Brazil or Brahman hump roast due to it being especially good from Brahman cows.

No matter the name of the cut nor the breed of cow, the beef crest is a well-marbled and boneless cut of meat from high on the cow’s shoulders right around its neck. It’s not the most common and there are only two of these relatively smaller cuts of meat, so you’ll need to put effort into sourcing it. However, by all accounts, it is incredibly tender and flavorful, making it a quality substitute to a brisket point. Big thanks to commenter BJ for bringing this previously unknown cut of beef to our attention!

Some Lesser-Known Brisket Substitutes

While chuck roast, short plate ribs, and even tri-tip are widely regarded as three of the best brisket substitutes on the market, there are some other options that are not as widely known. There are other options that are cuts of beef so you can enjoy a similar taste, such as beef clod (sounds unpleasant, but this boneless beef cut is part of the cow’s shoulder and can be smoked up quite nicely) and beef shanks (but only if you’re looking for shredded beef, not nice slices. You also will braise the shanks to finish in order to keep them moist and tender as shanks will tend to dry out if only smoked.)

If you’re looking for some options a little more outside the box, you can always experiment with a pork brisket. This is a combination of pork belly and the picnic shoulder which is the lower part of the shoulder. What makes the pork brisket slightly funny when compared to a beef brisket is that the thinner part of the pork brisket is actually the fatty portion due to it being the pork belly. You can serve the pork brisket sliced or pull it for sandwiches.

You can also go really out of the box and try a lamb roast, a bone-in lamb breast. Like the beef shank, this works best shredded. Thanks to the amount of fat, lamb roast will stay nice and juicy, so it’s actually a bit easier to smoke.

Vegan Brisket Substitutes

Before you have a fit, hear me out. There are plenty of vegans who enjoy the atmosphere of a summer cookout or party but might skip out because there aren’t any options. Or perhaps you have a vegan friend or family member who always skips out on your smoking sessions.

Either way, wouldn’t it be nice to embody the spirit of barbecue, that everyone is welcome around the pit? Here are a couple of vegan alternatives to brisket.

Seitan

Seitan Vegan Brisket Substitute

While the name is certainly odd, this high-protein meat substitute is becoming a staple of vegan diets. It’s made from wheat gluten protein extracted from wheat flour. When it’s properly made and cooked, it absolutely can have the consistency of meat. It doesn’t have a very strong flavor, so you can season it up anyway you want, including like a brisket.

Jackfruit

Jackfruit vegan substitute for brisket

Now jackfruit is more commonly associated with replacing pulled pork but jackfruit can serve as a vegan brisket substitute. You can prepare it and season it to make a shredded brisket, or you can prepare it in such a way to actually make it sliceable like a brisket. It won’t be a Texas-style brisket substitute thanks to all the extra spices, but it’ll be hearty.

If you’re looking for any other vegan BBQ ideas, check out our roundup of the best vegan barbecue recipes.

Brisket Substitutes For Other Dishes

For the most part, we’ve looked at alternatives to brisket for smoking, either to be sliced or shredded. What if you like putting brisket in other dishes like tacos, stews or soup? Here are some hearty, flavorful brisket substitutes.

Poultry Thighs

If you’re looking for something meaty to put in tacos or soups, you can swap out brisket for chicken thighs, turkey thighs, or even duck thighs. These cuts have plenty of fat to keep them moist during the cooking process and can add a lot of flavor to your recipe.

Pork Options

If you’re looking for brisket alternatives for soups or stews, you could check out some different cuts of pork. You can roast pork loin or pork shoulder to add meatiness and flavor to your favorite soups.

Final Thoughts

While brisket is one of the most iconic cuts of meat in barbecue, that doesn’t mean you can always smoke it. Whether you’re looking to spend less money, spend less time cooking, or can’t cook a full packer brisket, your best substitute for brisket is a chuck roast. It has plenty of marbling and has enough beef flavor to be a good approximation of a brisket point.

What’s your favorite cut of meat to smoke as a beef brisket substitute? Let us know in the comments!

Jeremy Pike

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11 Comments

11 thoughts on “Substitutes for Beef Brisket”

  1. Interesting that the premise of the article is experimentation and yet “only salt and pepper go on beef” is adhered to like a religion.

    Reply
    • Hi Jake,

      We stuck with the salt and pepper because that’s our favorite way of smoking brisket, so we wanted to highlight how these substitutes can handle that. However, we do have a Kansas City-style brisket rub for a different take as well. What’s your favorite brisket rub?

      Reply
      • Why not use a whole shoulder roast then? You can buy shoulder roast pretty cheap and it’s a 1000 times better then any brisket I have smoked.

        Reply
        • Valid points and I think we will update with your idea. Thanks for the info. We love these kind of responses.

          Cheers,

          Jeremy and Mike

          Reply
  2. While ok substitutes for brisket, none are brisket. I buy brisket at kroger on sale for 1.99 a pound. Just got 5 to throw in the freezer last week. Cutting the point and flat from each other makes a much more manageable size if smaller cut is wanted….. they cook just fine cut in half or thirds. So why choose a sub par substitute?

    Reply
    • Hi Ryan,

      Valid points, but in certain areas of the US and especially Canada, brisket can be very expensive. If you’re getting brisket at $1.99/pound I would load up like you are doing. Where I live, it rarely comes on sale.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply

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11 thoughts on “Substitutes for Beef Brisket”

  1. Interesting that the premise of the article is experimentation and yet “only salt and pepper go on beef” is adhered to like a religion.

    Reply
    • Hi Jake,

      We stuck with the salt and pepper because that’s our favorite way of smoking brisket, so we wanted to highlight how these substitutes can handle that. However, we do have a Kansas City-style brisket rub for a different take as well. What’s your favorite brisket rub?

      Reply
      • Why not use a whole shoulder roast then? You can buy shoulder roast pretty cheap and it’s a 1000 times better then any brisket I have smoked.

        Reply
        • Valid points and I think we will update with your idea. Thanks for the info. We love these kind of responses.

          Cheers,

          Jeremy and Mike

          Reply
  2. While ok substitutes for brisket, none are brisket. I buy brisket at kroger on sale for 1.99 a pound. Just got 5 to throw in the freezer last week. Cutting the point and flat from each other makes a much more manageable size if smaller cut is wanted….. they cook just fine cut in half or thirds. So why choose a sub par substitute?

    Reply
    • Hi Ryan,

      Valid points, but in certain areas of the US and especially Canada, brisket can be very expensive. If you’re getting brisket at $1.99/pound I would load up like you are doing. Where I live, it rarely comes on sale.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply

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