Brisket 101: What is Brisket?

September 17, 2019

Welcome to Brisket 101, your beginner’s guide to getting to know this beautiful cut of beef. If you’re on my page, you likely are searching for info on smoking the most luscious and tender piece of brisket possible and I am here for you! In today’s post, we’re starting with the basics: What is a brisket and where is the best place to purchase one? Step on into my virtual classroom and I’ll share everything you need to know to smoke a brisket that is even better than your favorite BBQ restaurant.

sliced smoked brisket on parchment paper with pickles, red onions, and BBQ sauce in white bowls

Beef Brisket

I LOVE beef brisket. It might honestly be one of my favorite cuts of beef to eat and definitely the most rewarding to smoke. The process of smoking a full brisket is long, but believe me when I say it is completely worth it. Since it is such a time-intensive smoke, I want to you be completely prepared and confident before you even turn on that grill. 

I’ve smoked a lot of briskets over the last several years, each one better than the last. I’m going to share all that I’ve learned about the basics of beef brisket so you can smoke your very own brisket like a seasoned pitmaster. Join me as I take you step-by-step through the entire brisket process from start to finish.

untrimmed brisket on a wood cutting board

What is Brisket?

Brisket is a cut of beef from the chest of the animal that is a relatively tough cut of meat. A full brisket is made up of two muscles that overlap. The thickest part of the brisket is called the “point” and the thinner, more uniform part of the brisket is called the “flat”. The point is often more heavily marbled with fat and is often called “fatty brisket” in BBQ joints. The flat is less fatty and called “lean” in restaurants.

After trying brisket from several different restaurants and making my own dozens of times, I know my favorite piece of the brisket is absolutely a thick slice from the fatty point. I recommend going to your favorite BBQ restaurant and asking for a slice of the lean brisket and a slice of the fatty brisket to help you decide what you really like. If you’ve ever heard of Brisket Burnt Ends, they are often made from the fatty point of the brisket.

An uncooked brisket comes in many shapes and sizes at grocery stores and butcher counters. It can also be labeled in several different ways. Most of the time in your local

 

 grocer, you will see a small brisket (3-5 lbs) wrapped in cellophane that has had a majority of the fat trimmed away. These smaller brisket pieces are are great for my Drunk Brisket Recipe or if you’re short on time or serving just a few people, but they are not what you’re looking for if you want that smokehouse brisket experience like with my Texas Style Brisket Recipe.

diagram of different cuts of meat from a cow

 

source

What Part of the Cow is Brisket?

First and foremost, a brisket is a set of two overlapping muscles that runs along the chest of the cow. This pectoral muscle does a lot of heavy lifting (literally). The animal uses it to walk, run, push itself off of the ground, etc. Since this muscle is regularly used, it is a very tough cut of meat laced with tight connective tissue.

These qualities make the brisket a terrible cut of meat for slicing like a steak, but the same qualities make it perfect for the low and slow love and dedication of a good smoke. The slow and steady climb in temperature and exposure to wood smoke tenderizes this stringy muscle, breaks down that tight connective tissue, and seals in all of the rich beefy flavor. If you’ve ever had really good brisket, you will always have a little place in the back of your mind that craves it.

smoked beef brisket on butcher paper

Where to Buy Brisket

If you want to cook an entire 10-14 lb brisket (often called a full packer brisket), you’ll have to look around a little bit. Briskets are becoming more requested and carried more frequently in grocery stores, but I personally suggest seeking out a local butcher who can get you exactly what you want. Most whole briskets will come in a cryovac package and can either be out in the meat section of your grocery store or behind the counter. I’ve also found Costco and Sam’s club to be pretty consistent sources of whole packer briskets. 

The next thing to know about is grades of beef. For the highest fat content and marbling in the meat, I recommend buying a Prime grade brisket. This can run anywhere from $2.99-$6.99 per pound depending on your location, the season, and demand. I try to buy Prime briskets when I can because the results will be amazing and that higher fat content will result in a moist brisket. Choice is the grade below Prime and still a great option. Select is the lowest grade and I don’t recommend buying this for smoking as it won’t have enough fat for a juicy brisket. 

If you’re feeling like you have some cash to burn, you can look into buying a Wagyu brisket (I get mine from Snake River Farms). You’ll spend a pretty penny, but Wagyu is the highest marbled brisket you can buy and the amount of fat in the meat will almost guarantee a melt in your mouth brisket. Even if you don’t cook Wagyu every time, it is a fun thing to try once you’ve mastered the brisket cooking process and are ready for a next level eating experience. 

Brisket sliced point

BBQ Brisket

That’s all for today, class. Once you have your brisket selected and picked up from your local butcher, check out the following posts to finish this epic smoke:

Let’s make something delicious! I’m all about helping you make better BBQ, feed the people you love, and become a backyard BBQ hero. If you want to see more of my recipes, tips, and behind the scenes action, follow along on my social channels. You can find me on InstagramFacebook, and YouTube!

*This post was originally posted in May 2015. It has been updated with new images and more current information.*

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25 thoughts on “Brisket 101: What is Brisket?

  1. I have cooked many briskets and have a large family of brisket lovers. Here in Texas packer style briskets are common in every grocery store. Everything I have read here makes perfect sense I will try the butcher paper wrap next week ! Thanks for what you’re doing on your site.

    1. I’ve smoked a Brisket or two over my 40 years of smoking meat and for the most part have had a lot of success or have been very lucky (maybe both). I have to agree with you on NOT smothering a great piece of meat with tons of seasoning, you loose the great flavor of the meat. I am surprised that all of these years of smoking meat and this is the first time I’ve ever heard of “Pink Butcher Paper”. Thanks for all your information, very interesting, straight forward, and fun to read. I will definitely be trying the Pink Butcher Paper”.

      1. business costco always has whole briskets. i think they call them whole commodity brisket. i just bought a whole prime commodity brisket there.

  2. First of all let me state I’m in the UK, Wiltshire area.

    My self and Partner have just discovered Brisket, Supermarket ones are good for a quick oven cook, but went to butchers got 1KG absolutely lovely,. now I have been in today asked for 3KG lean was made for me there and then.

    Why does it take so long for you in the States to get a bit of meat?

  3. It’s 3:52am and I’m using your recipe to smoke an 11lbs brisket, for the first time ever, but you dont say if the fat layer goes down or up on the pit, it’s been on the smoker since 12:43am fat side down and I got to thinking maybe it would be better with the fat side up to allow the fat juices into the meat. Anyhow I flipped it twitch the fat up and everything looks great, getting nice and blackened and smelling delicious. When I say first time ever, I mean it is the first time ever smoking a brisket, and this is my first real bbq pit with a smoker box on the side & I absolutely love it. It’s the only reason I’m up all night to cook a 15 hour brisket.
    Thank you for the recipe and thank you in advance for your response.

    Sincerely
    Jeff M
    Houston, Tx.

    1. Hey Jeff! That first overnight smoke is one you’ll remember! As far as far side up or down, I don’t feel there is a definitive answer that is right for everybody. I believe it had a lot to do with your type of smoker. If you’ve got great indirect heat, you can run fat side up the whole time. If you’ve got more heat coming from the bottom, fat side down can help prevent the bottom strands of brisket from drying out. You’ll have to let me know how the brisket turned out!

  4. I have used butcher paper and have been successful. I also had a tear in the paper once and all the juice leaked out. Other times can’t get enough broth in the paper to make me happy. I have gone to an aluminum pan, it is easier and you can put some broth in there to keep it moist. I have had tremendous success with this and is my go to method. Also I cover in foil with prob inserted to maintain proper temperature monitoring.

  5. Here in Texas, we literally have an entire refrigerator bin dedicated to them, with options like “whole packer”, “deckle fat removed”, and “super trimmed”. I was digging through them last night and I was hoping to learn how to identify a good brisket. I know from steaks that just because it is graded as prime doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily going to be what you’re looking for. What do you look for in a brisket and how do you choose one (when comparing 20 packer style briskets from the Prime section)

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