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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube!
This post was originally posted in May 2015. It has been updated with new images and more current information.