What is Brisket?

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Beef with cuts of meat brisket

You’ve seen it on menus and maybe even ordered it, but making it for yourself is another story. So, what is brisket anyway? Brisket is a cut of meat located in the front of the lower chest of a cow. Traditionally it was not considered a high-value cut of meat and was typically used to make ground beef.

The thing about beef brisket is that it’s delicious and well worth making on its own, but you do need to learn a few tricks and handle it the right way to really make it shine.

The brisket contains a lot of connective tissue that is not typically appetizing and why you need to be very careful with how you smoke or cook brisket. Read on to learn everything you need to know about beef brisket.

Where is beef brisket used?

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. A whole brisket can be anywhere from eight to 20 pounds.

The brisket is a very tough cut because 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 tough piece with moderate amounts of fat. 

Cutting Smoked Brisket Against the Grain

Beef brisket is known for its flavor when it’s cooked in just the right way. Brisket can taste richer than other cuts, which is why you can occasionally find ground beef that incorporates brisket to boost the beefy flavor. To maximize brisket taste, you generally use low heat and slow cooking 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. Some people will even cook it in a slow cooker. Depending on where you go, brisket takes on different spices and flavors and is 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 by separating the brisket muscles. A full brisket is the flat and the point cuts with the fat layer (fat cap) intact.

You can usually find brisket on the bone (or bone-in brisket) or buy a whole boneless brisket, though you may pay more if you buy beef brisket with the bones already removed.

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

  • The flat cut makes up about half of the brisket. It’s long and thin with a fat cap 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. 
Brisket Flat and Tip Explained

The Point

  • 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. The 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 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.  Wagyu brisket would be the greatest quality brisket that you can buy today.
  • Whole briskets weigh up to 20 pounds. Make sure your grill or cooking equipment is big enough to cook brisket. 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 (a more uniform shape) 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. 

Packer Brisket in Wrap

Buying a full 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 whole packer briskets, 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. 

Brisket Shrinkage

There is always some brisket shrinkage, since raw brisket consists of 70-75 percent water. The cooking process pulls water from the meat, which results in a smaller size.

Dry cooking methods, like smoking, cause the brisket to shrink more than if you use a damp heat method, like braising. If you’re making smoked 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.

Perfectly Smoked Beef Brisket
Brisket done on my Ironwood 650. Nice Pink Smoke Ring.

Where to buy brisket?

Typically, you can find brisket cuts and packer briskets at a grocery store near you. Warehouse clubs, such as Costco, BJ’s, or Sam’s Club have meat sections where they sell larger briskets. 

Your local butcher may 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 it, especially if you’re buying a whole packer brisket. Some local butchers will prep and trim this cut of beef 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. 

BBQ Brisket

Whether you’re braising, brining, or smoking, this large cut of meat needs the proper time to cook. Once you have your brisket selected, it’s time to make some delicious beef. 

One of our favorite ways is smoking brisket. You can make a brisket rub in just a few minutes that is based on the Texas tradition of salt and black pepper and then watch and take care of your smoked brisket as it cooks. When you smoke brisket, it needs time to render the fat, resulting in meat that is juicy and tender.

Camp Chef SG24 with Brisket

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. You’re looking for an internal temperature of 2030176-205°F to get that perfect, tender slice of brisket. We explain in fine detail how to do this.

Brisket Recipes

We have plenty of brisket recipes to get you started, no matter how you prefer this kind of meat. You don’t need anything fancy if you know how to smoke brisket the right way, and there are brisket recipes ranging from grilled cheese to nachos that are perfect for repurposing your leftovers. Brisket also pairs well with many different types of braising liquid, making it quite versatile.

Smoked brisket

Make sure you’re giving yourself plenty of time before diving into a smoked brisket recipe. These recipes can get quite involved, but you can also make a delicious batch with a pared-back recipe. You’ll want to have your rub picked out and also decide whether you’ll be injecting your brisket or not.

Pitmasters will often inject their brisket with a marinade to add flavor and moisture but you certainly don’t have to if you like the smoke and beefy flavor as is.

With any smoked brisket recipe, make sure you’re prepared to see and handle the stall, when the internal temperature of your beef stays somewhere between 160-165 degrees F for a while due to the fat rendering.

Corned Beef

These recipes are also well worth the effort, but please take note that many recipes will have you brine your beef for up to 10 days in the fridge. Other than the planning, this recipe is shockingly simple and a great addition to your rotation since it’s as easy as simmering the meat and you’ll have tasty leftovers for days.

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 leftovers are well worth the effort. 

Brisket Taco2
Leftover Brisket Tacos are the Best

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, braised brisket, pot roast, smoked (and other dishes) – and has staked a permanent place on menus and backyard barbecues around the country.

FAQs

Is brisket considered a good cut of meat?

Traditionally, brisket was considered a tough cut because it requires slow, low temperature cooking to get tender. For that reason, it was generally cheaper and more affordable. But we’ve learned how to barbecue brisket to perfection, so it’s become more of a prized cut in barbecue circles.

How should brisket be cooked?

There’s a wide range of ways to cook brisket, from braising to corned beef, but the key with this cut of meat is a low and slow cooking process that gives the layer of fat plenty of time to break down and tenderize the meat.

What is brisket called at the grocery store?

Generally, you’ll see brisket labeled as brisket at the grocery store. For those more familiar with this meat, you may want to check the label or ask whether it’s the flat cut or the point cut (though the shape should be a give away) to ensure what you’re getting has enough fat for the recipe you’re planning to use.

Is pastrami a brisket?

Corned beef is made out of brisket. Pastrami can be made out of a part of the brisket called the deckle, but there is some confusion at grocery stores about this cut. People often call the point cut of the brisket the deckle, but that’s inaccurate. The brisket deckle is the fat and muscle that attaches the flat cut to the rib cage of the cow. Even though pastrami can be made from this cut, not all pastrami is. The navel and shoulder cuts are also commonly used.

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