Brisket 101: What is Brisket?

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Welcome to Brisket 101, your beginner’s guide to getting to know this beautiful cut of beef. If you’re on this 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 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 brisket next to onions and pickles with text overlay - What is Brisket? Brisket 101.

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 thoroughly 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.

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 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 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.

Full packer brisket being trimmed.

What Part of the Cow is Brisket?

First and foremost, brisket is a set of two overlapping muscles that run 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 brisket on a cutting board.

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 the 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 is 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 feel 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. 

Sliced brisket next to onions and pickles.

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.



Susie is the BBQ Brain behind the Hey Grill Hey website. Her passion for smoked meats and developing fun, new recipes have landed her on the Food Network, cooking turkeys with Shaq, and on a couple of Guinness World Records. When she’s not grilling, she is hanging out with Todd and their three kids, preferably outdoors!

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Reader Reviews

41 Reviews

  1. Jeff says:

    Hi… I’m new to smoking and want to look for the full-packer at my local meat market. However, we are not a lot of people in our house (2 people :D). Do you recommend cutting the full-packer in half and freezing the other half for another cook? If so, should I cut in lengthwise so both the point and flat together? Thank you very much for the great information!!

    1. Hey Grill Hey says:

      You can do just half. I would split it by point and flat.

  2. Larry says:

    I’ve tried it 3 times with a little progress each time but the flat always tends to be overcooked.

    1. Hey Grill Hey says:

      I’m sorry to hear you’re having trouble. You can trim the fat between the point and the flat more aggressively so you have a more even brisket, and then save your trimmings for soups and follows. You can also try wrapping only the point to speed up the process on that end, and make sure you position that end at the higher heat end of your smoker.

  3. Gary says:

    Nice, concise and detailed step by step guide. Since this was first published in 2015, i’d suggest updating the prices. I’d kill to get a brisket in California for those prices.

  4. Chris Bybee says:

    I have an event coming up in september for the American Legion Riders. Tombstone will be hosting 11 western states of riders called the western romp. I’m looking at smoking 500lbs of brisket on 4 large smokers with wood, not chips or pellets. I’m looking for cook times and how to regulate the temp. I’m also looking for any tips you may have. I’ve smoked brisket before but only 1 at a time and on a pellet smoker.

  5. Elaine says:

    I go just enough time between brisket smoking to forget the finer points. Your directions are excellent. I’ve got neighbors a mile away asking if I’m smoking something. “No, I’m starting a new fragrance line called. Eu’d BBQ for the Fall Collection at Tractor Supply” I’m letting the calls go to voice mail or I’ll never get done.I’m Your description of what the brisket “muscle” does, had me laughing out loud. It is definitely a muscle used in walking. But not getting up. A cow’s rear end is off the ground a good 2-3 minutes before the brain asks “we goin some where?” At high speed, the head of a cow has ping pong balled off 3 pine trees and a fence post before the brain has connected the cow is moving at 45 mph. It’s actually a survival mechanism. When something scares a cow, its butt comes up first and makes a giant leap, just hoping the front of the cow will unfold and land in time to allow the back legs to leap again. When that doesn’t happen. It’s utterly amazing they can do it repeatedly without killing themselves. And makes you kick yourself for not investing in a GoPro.

    1. Charley says:

      LMAO! I grew up on a large ranch in Texas and in Ca. Hilarious something most people will never experience, The hilarious antics of cows and horses too!

  6. David Dobson says:

    Is there a PDF print-out of the Brisket receipt…

    1. Hey Grill Hey says:

      Not a PDF, but you can click the “printable recipe” button on the page to get one that is easier on your printer ink.

  7. Greg J Mauer says:

    Great!! Want a brisket!!!

  8. Mark says:

    I am not using an offset or a pellet smoker but instead using a Camp Chef The Vault, do I just smoke it as instructed in your videos… first time smoking a brisket

    1. Hey Grill Hey says:

      Yep! Same instructions!

    2. Vincent Bénard says:

      Hi Susie.
      What are your thoughts on buying a cryovac (vaccuum packed) brisket now while on sale, freezing it then, ‘wet aging’ the brisket in the fridge for approx 28 days? I’d plan for wramer weather and when I feel ready to try my first brisket.

      1. Hey Grill Hey says:

        It would technically be safe, but freezing it can change the structure. You could end up with a mushy brisket.

  9. Brittany says:

    Hi there, was recently reccomended your site and I learned alot. I am wondering, if I am doing 2 briskets that are 12lbs each, do I want to start estimating a time off 12lbs or 24lbs. I’m going to smoke them at the same time. Thank you so much!

    1. Hey Grill Hey says:

      Estimate with 12lbs. As long as you’re not stuffing your smoker absolutely full, that timing should be pretty close.