Brisket is located in the front of the lower chest of a beef. Traditionally it was not considered a high value cut and was typically used to make ground beef. The brisket contains a lot of connective tissue which is not typically appetizing and why you need to be very careful with how you smoke/cook brisket to make it great. Read on to learn everything you need to know about beef brisket.
People eat brisket all around the world, from Korea to Pakistan to England. Each country prepares and cooks it slightly differently. Here in the United States, brisket earned the nickname King of Texas barbecue, while also serving as a tradition and staple for many Jewish families.
Why is this cut so popular? It used to be one of the cheapest options, which made it the best choice for ranchers, immigrants, and those who couldn’t afford the pricier cuts. Today, it’s still somewhat affordable but the price has escalated due to the popularity of smoked brisket across North America. Let’s talk about what makes brisket special and how you can enjoy this cut of beef.
What is brisket meat?
They make this cut from the area around the breastbone, the pectoral muscles of the cow, which support a lot of the cow’s body weight. Because of the location of the cut, brisket can be a large piece of meat, anywhere between 8 and 20 pounds. Cows use their pectoral muscles to walk, run, stand up, pull things, and do other work. And the highly active muscle is rich in connective tissue, making it a tougher piece with moderate amounts of fat.
Beef brisket is known for its flavor when it’s cooked in just the right way. Usually this means low heat and long cook times to break down the connective tissue.
In traditional Jewish culture, brisket is often braised as a pot roast and often served at Rosh Hashanah, Passover, and on Sabbath. It’s also a popular cut for corned beef and pastrami. You’ll even find it served with noodles in soup or curry in Hong Kong. Depending on where you go, brisket takes on different spices, flavors, and served with a variety of side dishes.
Parts of the Brisket
Because of the size of a full brisket, butchers can cut it into different parts. A full brisket is the flat, and the point cuts with the fat layer (fat cap) intact.
You’ll want to choose the cut of brisket based on how you want to cook it, since the amount of fat varies in each part.There is a line of interior fat that runs the length of the brisket. It separates the superficial and deep pectoral muscles. This is where butchers cut to separate the parts of the brisket.
- The flat cut makes up about half of the brisket. It’s long and thin with a layer of fat on the top. From an anatomical perspective, the flat is the deepest portion of meat attached to the rib cage. Even with the layer of fat, flat cuts are leaner pieces.
- The point cut is a thick triangle-shaped piece of meat. It’s marbled with more fat and connective tissue than the flat cut. The brisket point cut sits on top of the flat and is closer to the surface of the cow. There is a lot of flavor from the fat in point cuts.
The grain direction of the point is also different from the grain of the flat cut. There are some benefits to separating the flat and point cuts because of the grain direction and the fat distribution.
What is the deckle of a brisket?
Often people refer to the point cut as the deckle of the brisket. But this is inaccurate. The deckle is not the brisket point or the layer of fat between the flat and point cuts. Brisket deckle is the fat and muscle that attaches the flat to the rib cage of the cow. You don’t normally find the deckle of a brisket on supermarket briskets.
How to pick a brisket
There are several factors to consider when purchasing a brisket for your next cook.
- Look for USDA Prime Grade Brisket, USDA Choice Grade Brisket, or a USDA Select Grade Brisket. There are grades lower than select, but these are lower in quality and come from older animals. I recommend spending the extra money and get Prime Grade.
- Each grade is broken up into upper, middle, and lower grades. Higher grades have the most marbling and amount of fat. Higher temperatures and longer cook times would dry out meats with lower amounts of fat.
- Wagyu brisket comes from a Japanese cattle breed and is remarkable based on its extreme fat marbling and tenderness. In 1975, Wagyu cattle were brought to the United States and over the years, production of these cows has increased. This would be the greatest quality brisket that you can buy today.
- Whole briskets weigh up to 20 pounds. Make sure your brisket can fit onto your grill or on your cooking equipment. A 12-pound brisket typically fits an average size smoker/grill.
- Avoid flat cuts that taper off to a very thin edge. Even thickness of the piece leads to more even cooking.
What is a packer brisket?
The cheapest way to buy brisket is the packer cut. It’s the whole brisket that hasn’t been trimmed, cut, or processed.
Buying packer brisket means you get to trim it just the way you like it. Plus, you’ll have a lot of brisket to enjoy for several meals. Make sure you plan with a whole packer brisket, as it can take 1.5-2 hours per pound to cook. That means a 12-pound trimmed packer brisket could take up to 24 hours.
There is always some brisket shrinkage, since raw brisket consists of 70-75 percent water. The cooking process pulls water from the meat, resulting in shrinkage.
Dry cooking methods, like smoking, cause the brisket to shrink more than if you use a damp heat method, like braising. If you’re smoking the brisket, you can expect the brisket to shrink by 30-40 percent. This is something to keep in mind when you’re serving large groups. We explain how much brisket is required per person here.
Where to buy brisket?
Typically, you can find brisket cuts and packer briskets at locations near you. Warehouse clubs, such as Costco, BJ’s, or Sam’s Club, have meat sections where they sell larger briskets.
Local butchers will carry briskets and the price may be a few dollars more than your larger grocery stores, but they may also have higher quality. Plus, local butchers may buy from local farms. They may also have more time to answer questions and provide you with tips on how to prepare your brisket. Some local butchers will prep and trim the brisket for you as well. Something to consider if you do not want to learn this process for yourself.
Online stores also offer brisket and Wagyu brisket. They offer home-delivery, fresh cuts, and shipping options.
How much is brisket per pound?
The cost of brisket depends on a few factors, including:
- Is the brisket raw or cooked?
- Geography and where you’re purchasing the brisket
- Time of year
- Cost of fuel and shipping costs
- Adverse weather and farming conditions
- Cut of brisket (packer briskets cost less per pound than flat cuts)
- Quality and USDA grade
On average, brisket is around $6 to $8 per pound for flat cuts and packer briskets as low as $2 to $3 per pound. However, prices will vary.
Whether you’re braising, brining, or smoking, brisket needs the proper time to cook. Once you have your brisket selected, it’s time to make something delicious.
One of our favorite ways is smoking brisket. You can make a brisket rub in just a few minutes and then watch and take care of your smoked brisket as it cooks. With this method, it needs time to render the fat, resulting in meat that is juicy and tender.
Smoked BBQ Brisket is a very time consuming process with several important steps. As we mentioned, brisket has a lot of connective tissues so you need to smoke it low and slow to have a great outcome. We explain in fine detail how to do this.
How to Store and Reheat Brisket
Brisket is a great make-ahead dish since time allows the flavors to come together even more. If you think you’ll use your cooked brisket in a few days, opt for the refrigerator. If you think it will be a few weeks until you’re ready to take a fork for your meat, make room in the freezer for it.
Ideally, you reheat the brisket the same way you cooked it. But since this isn’t always an option, you can use the oven or even the air fryer. We also like to reheat brisket into something new, like brisket tacos. Storing and reheating the brisket takes some planning, but the left-overs are well-worth the effort.
Final Thoughts on Brisket
With the right cut, enough cooking time, and the ideal cooking method, brisket goes from being the toughest muscle to a satisfying, tasty cut of meat.
Plus, brisket is an excellent source of protein, as a 3-ounce serving provides 28 grams of this macronutrient. It has oleic acid (a heart-healthy fatty acid) and is a good source of B vitamins, zinc, iron, phosphorus, and selenium.
Brisket comes in many forms – pastrami, corned beef, pot roast, smoked – and has staked a permanent place on menus and backyard barbecues around the country.