What is Brisket? How to Buy, Store & Cook

Slices Of Smoked Brisket On A Cutting Board

Brisket is the heavenly king of smoked meats. It is one of the most smoked foods on the planet. However, what exactly is this cut of beef, and where does it come from?

What Is Beef Brisket?

Brisket is a cut of beef carved from the chest portion of the animal. The brisket is specifically located directly behind the foreshank under the first five ribs. Brisket is consists of the pectoral muscles of the animal.

These muscles uphold the cows weight making it one tough cut of meat. Additionally, brisket is primarily made up of collagen, a connective tissue that is responsible for the meat’s tough nature.

Nevertheless, brisket is a large chunk of meat that can range between 3-8 pounds. It can be fabricated into several cuts of meat.

Uncooked Raw Beef Brisket On Wooden Board

Cuts Of Brisket

Brisket can be cut into 4 different cuts of beef.

The Flat

The whole brisket has a thin, flat end, and the other end has a more evenly shaped frame. The thin flat end of the brisket is the flat, which is made up of the pectoral muscle called the pectoralis profundi

The flat has a rectangular shape and is probably the most common cut of brisket you will find in your local grocery store marketed as brisket.

Consequently, the flat is the largest portion of the brisket. It is the choice brisket for most people because it is fuss-free and cooks up in no time. Additionally, the flat is very easy to carve into slices and develops a beautiful bark.

Moreover, the flat is thinner and contains less fat than the point, which means it will reach the preferred temperature much quicker. It also creates a nicer end product presentation-wise.

Though the flat cooks quicker, it is also very easy to cook since it is leaner and contains less fat than the point. For this reason, you may want to trim the fat on your own instead of having the butcher trim the fat for you.

The Point

The more uniformly shaped end of the brisket is known as the point. The point has a rounded edge and is thicker than the flat end. The point consists of the pectoralis superficialis muscles.

However, the point and the flat are connected by a layer of fat and connective tissue known as the deckle. The point has a higher fat content than the flat, even when it’s been trimmed.

Additionally, this fat melts and makes an extremely moist brisket. However, it is more challenging to smoke than other cuts since it has varying degrees of thickness and it takes longer to cook.

The Fat Cap

Packer briskets almost always have a rich layer of fat on one side of the meat. This layer of fat is the fat cap and stretches from the flat to the point, and is approximately an inch in thickness.

The fat cap is a combination of soft and hard fats that respond differently to heat. Soft fats usually melt as long as the fat cap is not too thick, but hard fats do not melt.

It is best to trim the brisket’s layer of fat to 1/4-1/8-inch in thickness and trim most of the hard fats, which are typically located on the point section of the brisket.

Bottom Line
Though it may seem like the optimal option to leave the fat cap untouched, it will prevent the beautiful bark from forming.

The Deckle

Untrimmed briskets have a built-in line of demarcation that separates the flat from the point. It’s like a road map to a coil of fat and cartilage. This coil of fat and cartilage is the deckle.

The deckle is responsible for securing the brisket to the rib cage of the cow. The deckle is a dense layer of fat and tissue that separates the flat and pointcuts of beef and keeps the muscles together. The deckle never melts when it comes into contact with heat, so it is best to remove it before cooking.

Removing the deckle will also help flatten brisket out and removes some of the density from the point. This allows the brisket to be cooked evenly and makes it easier to slice the brisket into the point and the flat after it has been cooked.

Luckily most briskets are sold with the deckle removed. Therefore, you will not have to remove it.

Grades of Beef

Beef originating from the US is typically graded depending on how much marbling it has. In short, the larger the quantity of intramuscular fat, the higher the grade.  Briskets that contain more marbling will be moister than briskets with minuscule amounts of intramuscular fat.

Even though there are eight grading classes of beef, you will find Prime, Choice, or Select in the grocery stores. Prime cuts are the optimal cuts of brisket. Prime cuts are also the most expensive cut of brisket and can be difficult to source.

Choice or Select brisket is most often found in grocery stores. These cuts are more affordable than brisket. However, Choice brisket still has an adequate amount of intramuscular fat running throughout the meat. Most importantly, it yields a smoked brisket that is perfectly tender and moist.

Select briskets are delicious. However, the shortage of intramuscular fat leaves the meat drier than choice cuts. Select briskets are more suited to wet cooking methods such as braising.

Wagyu Brisket

Although brisket is generally inexpensive, a new high-quality cut of brisket is cut from the million-dollar cow known as the Wagyu. This highly sought-after beef class originated in Japan and is most known for its buttery succulent texture and incredible intramuscular fat.

Wagyu brisket is making its way through the brisket world. However, it is usually only found in gourmet or specialty butcher shops. In addition to this, Wagyu beef is graded higher than Prime because of its superb marbling.

Wagyu brisket is definitely an experience that costs about $300 for a 6-pound brisket. Furthermore, it is also harder to find than regular brisket.

Bottom Line
While Wagyu brisket will be the most delicious brisket you will ever taste, there is no need to spend all of your money to get a taste of it. The choice cuts of beef briskets will work just as well.

Smoked Brisket With Sides

Is Brisket A Good Cut Of Meat?

Though tougher cuts of meat often get a bad reputation, brisket is an excellent cut of meat. Brisket simply requires a little bit of extra work.

Brisket’s toughness can easily be fixed by cooking it slowly at low temperatures. This process allows the connective tissues or collagen to break down, leaving you with a tender cut of beef.

What Is Brisket Labeled As In Grocery Stores?

Though there are several cuts of brisket, it is usually marketed in grocery stores as the flat. You may also see the entire brisket labeled a packer brisket, whole packer brisket, or a packer cut brisket.

Is Brisket The Same As Corned Beef?

Although brisket and corned beef are technically the same cut of beef, they are different. Moreover, brisket is also used to make corned beef and pastrami.

It is different from corned beef because corned beef is brine-cured. This brining and curing process is what makes corned beef ‘corned beef’ and is responsible for its color.

What Does Brisket Taste Like?

Brisket’s flavor depends on the cooking method used to prepare it. Barbequed or smoked briskets have a crispy, smoky, moist flavor. In contrast, a braised brisket has a big, bold, beefy, and fatty flavor and a stew-like texture.

Is Brisket Better The Second Day?

Like lasagna, brisket is best made a day in advance. Brisket tastes amazing on the second day. The flavors will have the opportunity to intensify.

If you do prepare your brisket a day in advance, store it along with the cooking liquid. The cooking liquid will help it to stay moist. Additionally, reheat the brisket to 165°F. 

Do I Cook Brisket Fat Side Up Or Down?

Unfortunately, there is an ongoing debate in the brisket world about whether to cook brisket fat side up or fat side down. Truth be told, cooking brisket fat side up will not keep the brisket moist.

The only thing cooking brisket fat side up does is baste the meat in its own fat and erase the seasoning you applied before cooking it. Furthermore, this method poses a fire hazard. As the fat melts, it will drip down into the flames, causing flare-ups.

Where to Buy Beef Brisket

Brisket can easily be found in the meat section of most grocery stores. However, the brisket on display does not meet your size standards; you can also ask the butcher if they carry the size you are interested in or purchase two briskets.

When purchasing brisket, it is best to remember that meat shrinks as it cooks. You may want to select a slightly bigger brisket than the size you are looking for, so you end up with an adequate amount of cooked brisket.

As a general brisket buying guide, aim for 1/3 pound of cooked beef per person and 1/2 pound of raw brisket per person.  Additionally, the fat cap will account for some of the weight of the brisket. Whichever brisket you choose, ensure the packaging is free of holes or tears.

How to Store Beef Brisket

Raw brisket will last for about 5-8 days in the refrigerator. Place the brisket onto a rimmed cookie sheet to catch any of the juices of the brisket should the brisket begin to leak. Additionally, place the brisket on a shelf by itself.

Brisket can also be frozen for 6-12 months. To freeze your brisket, remove it from its original packaging, vacuum seal it, and place it into the freezer. You can also wrap the brisket tightly with plastic paper tightly and freeze it.

Bottom Line
Cooked brisket will last in the refrigerator for 3-4 days stored in an airtight container. You can also freeze cooked brisket in a resealable freezer-safe bag for 2 months.

Tips For Cooking Brisket

The key to preparing a perfectly delicious brisket is using tips and tricks to help you increases its flavor. If your brisket hasn’t been trimmed, trim the fat to 1/4-inch. Next, use a knife to create a rounded edge rather than a sharp edge.

Use a dry or wet rub, massage it into the brisket really well, then marinate it in the fridge overnight. Pull the brisket out of the fridge 30 minutes to an hour before cooking to allow it to come to room temperature. If you are roasting or braising, sear the brisket in a hot skillet on all sides until browned.

Whether you roast or smoke your brisket, make sure you cook it at 225 degrees. Cook the brisket for 1 hour 15 minutes per pound until it has an internal temperature of 160°F. Additionally, wrap your brisket in butcher paper foil paper to preserve the moisture levels.

Let the brisket rest for 1-2 hours, then slice it against the grain. Slicing the brisket against the grain reduces the length of the muscle fibers making it easy to chew.

Can You Overcook Brisket?

Like most ingredients, brisket can be overcooked. Nobody wants to eat dry brisket. Cook your brisket between 185°F – 205°F to avoid it drying it out.

How To Cook Brisket

Brisket is a huge, tough cut of beef. Therefore, it is perfect when cooked slowly using low temperatures. The most common preparation methods used to prepare brisket are grilling, smoking, and braising.

Additionally, you can also brine brisket. However, this will create corned beef. If you wish to create your own corned beef, cure it in a brine, then simmer it over low heat until it is tender.

It does not matter whether you choose to grill, brine, smoke, or braise your brisket; the cooking process takes several hours. Brisket can take as long as 8-12 hours when smoked or as little as 3 hours when simmered or braised in a liquid along with vegetables. 

Final Thoughts

Brisket is one of those meats that will turn a sad day into a happy day. Whether it is grilled, smoked, or braised, one slice and a smile will appear on your face.

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