Ever wonder what exactly is brisket?
Chances are if you’re into barbecue you’re familiar with the popular staples.
Pulled pork and smoked chicken quarters are pretty self-explanatory, but not everyone – and especially those unfamiliar with Texas barbecue – is as familiar with brisket.
If you’ve had pastrami or corned beef, you’ve eaten brisket.
When cooked correctly, there are few foods in the world that yield such a rewarding and succulent result. But it takes time, effort, and care to get that magic to happen.
We’ll walk you through what part of the cow brisket is from, how to buy one, and some of the best ways to cook brisket.
What is beef brisket?
Brisket is actually two overlapping muscles from the breast or lower chest of beef or veal. This muscle does all the heavy lifting in terms of holding the cow upright.
It is one of nine beef primal cuts.
Brisket gets very dense from being a working pair of muscles and is one of the least tender parts of beef you can get.
A whole or “packer” brisket is made up of a lean point cut and the fattier flat cut.
What makes brisket special?
Brisket is a tough piece of meat.
That being said, when done low and slow, brisket renders soft and satisfying with immense flavor. Cooking low and slow breaks down the collagen in the connective muscle tissues to achieve tenderness.
You can get great results cooking brisket whether you smoke, braise or slow roast. Since we’re all about barbecue here, we will focus on how to slow smoke your brisket to give you added depth of flavor from the wood.
What are the different cuts of brisket?
Brisket typically comes in three cuts: full packer, the flat, and the point. Each cut has its own unique features and appeals.
This cut is both the flat portion and the point portion of the brisket separated by a thick layer of fat. This can weigh anywhere from roughly 8 – 20 plus pounds on average.
A layer of fat runs along the top. This fat is usually trimmed to a quarter of an inch thickness before cooking.
The flat is the lean, main part of the brisket. It can be referred to as the first cut, or flat cut when ordering from your butcher.
It is a highly worked muscle, resulting in its low-fat content. This is generally the cut used for corned beef and pastrami.
The point is the fatty end of the brisket. It sits atop the flat and has much more intramuscular fat than its counterpart.
Given its high fat content, this cut makes for a more tender and juicy part of the brisket. Also referred to as the second cut.
Buying beef brisket
Brisket has come into high demand in recent years, especially since fast-casual restaurant chains are getting in on the brisket game.
This popularity makes it easier to find in your local grocery store but also hikes up the price per pound.
Whenever possible, check out your local farmers, farmer’s markets, and butcher stores.
These are great local resources for high-quality, humanely raised meats that you may not otherwise get at a grocery store chain.
A little leg-work ahead of time can yield fantastic results and help put money back into your community.
Brisket can usually be found in the meat department of your local grocery store, however, the cuts can be limited and often aren’t ideal for smoking.
Smoking your brisket
When you get down to it, smoking a brisket is pretty straight forward. Below is a brief overview of the process. For a more in-depth look, see our guide for smoking your first brisket.
- Prep your smoker to 225 – 250 degrees. Use hardwoods like oak, hickory or whatever is native and accessible to your region
- Trim your brisket – Check out HeyGrillHey’s guide on how to trim brisket.
- Season or rub the brisket – This can be as simple as kosher salt and coarse ground pepper, or as complex as adding a binder like mustard with more complex rub blend.
- Smoke your brisket – For this initial stage, place your brisket on the rack fat side up, and do not open the cooker. Keep it closed and steady for 3 to 4 hours to really let the bark form from you seasoning or rub.
- Spritz your brisket – Once an hour for the next 5 – 7 hours. This is an optional step but is recommended to keep the surface from charring, add moisture and add a subtle depth of flavor if you are using a liquid like apple juice or Worcestershire sauce.
- Wrap your brisket – Then place back on the smoker. Check out our guide for wrapping brisket.
- Keep Smoking – you know you’re close to done when the internal temperature of the meat reads 200 – 205 degrees in the thickest part.
- Rest your Brisket – Pull your brisket and let it rest for at least 1 hour to reabsorb the juices. You can let it rest in an insulated cooler for hot holding until you’re ready to serve your guests.
- Slice and serve – Check out Texas Monthly’s guide to slicing brisket.
Other brisket recipes
There are plenty of other methods for cooking brisket, not just smoking.
Let’s explore some other tried and true brisket recipes:
- Red Wine Braised Brisket – Slow braised brisket in red wine and vegetables
- Texas-style Oven Brisket – Dry rubbed brisket roasted in the oven over a water bath with liquid smoke. A great option for those without smokers.
- InstantPot Korean-chili Brisket – Set-it-forget-it style cooking option with exotic Korean flavors.
If you want to take it up a notch and get into the curing game, check out these recipes below:
- Corned Beef Brisket – Beef brisket that has been preserved through a brine curing process similar to pickling. Traditionally from Irish and Jewish cuisine.
- Pastrami – Cured similarly to corned beef, but cooked on a smoker adding another layer of flavor to the final product
Storing your brisket
Raw brisket can be stored in your refrigerator for 5 – 8 days in its packaging.
If it’s wrapped airtight, brisket can be frozen anywhere from 6 – 12 months.
If frozen, let it thaw in the refrigerator ahead of time. This generally takes a few days, so plan accordingly.
Once cooked, brisket can be wrapped and stored in your refrigerator safely for 4 days, or frozen for up to 2 months when wrapped and packaged in an airtight container.
Now you know brisket
Now that you know the ins and outs of brisket, you can feel confident in taking the next steps on your barbecue journey.
Get out there and practice! Play with fire, and let the meat do its thing. The more you cook brisket, the better you get at it and the more you will learn the nuances of the cut.
If you want to try smoking brisket check out our hot and fast brisket recipe and we’ll show you how to get smokey, tender brisket without the 12+ hour wait time.
Let us know in the comments if you’re ready to take on this piece of meat! Feel free to share this article to a pitmaster in training, and if you need any taste testers, we’ll be here.