What is Brisket? Pitmaster Shares Everything You Need to Know About This Incredible Cut

holding up a smoked brisket sliced in half

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Beef brisket is a staple cut in the barbecue world. Treat it right, and this hardworking hunk of muscle, fat, and connective tissue can become an unforgettable delicacy.

At Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas, you’ll find pilgrims from around the world queuing for hours to get a taste of his legendary brisket.

Our team has cooked hundreds of briskets for friends in our backyards and on the competition barbecue circuit. In this guide, we share everything you need to know about this cut.

What is brisket?

When we talk about brisket, we’re referring to beef brisket.

diagram of cow showing location of brisket cut

The whole brisket is made of two overlapping pectoral muscles from the lower chest of a cow. This muscle does all the heavy lifting to hold the cow upright.

It is one of nine beef primal cuts.

Brisket is a very tough piece of meat with a lot of fat and connective tissue. It’s one of the least tender cuts of beef you can get which is why it’s perfect for smoking low and slow.

A “packer” or whole brisket comprises a lean, flat cut and the fattier point cut.

What makes brisket so special?

When cooked correctly, all the intramuscular fat and connective tissues render and break down, resulting in meat with a soft and satisfying bite with immense flavor.

Pitmaster’s spend their whole lives trying to perfect the perfect slice of brisket.

You can get great results cooking brisket whether you smoke, braise, or slow roast. Brisket is also fantastic ground up and used for burgers.

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 is made out of two different muscles and can be sold in three different parts. The full packer, the flat, and the point. Each cut has its unique features and uses.

Full Packer

brisket point and flat

A whole packer cut is both the flat portion and the point portion of the brisket, connected by a thick layer of fat. A whole brisket can weigh 8 to 20-plus pounds on average.

A layer of fat runs along the top. This fat is usually trimmed to a quarter of an inch in thickness before cooking. 

The Flat

The flat cut 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’s a highly worked muscle, resulting in its low-fat content. This is generally the cut used for corned beef and pastrami.

The Point

The point is the fatty end of the brisket. It sits atop the flat cut 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. The point often sliced up into cubes and bathed in BBQ sauce to make burnt ends

smoked brisket point sliced into cubes
Brisket point sliced into cubes for burnt ends.

We have a brisket point vs. flat article that compares the two in more detail.

Best place to buy brisket

Your local butcher will always be the best place to start, as they can explain everything to you and give you precisely what you’re looking for.

Many larger supermarkets, including Costco, Sam’s Club and H.E.B. all stock a range of briskets.

You can also buy brisket online, which is a great option to get your hands on the highest quality briskets.

how to thaw a brisket
You’ve got to love opening a box and finding a American Wagyu brisket waiting for you to cook.

How much does brisket cost?

We have a guide that compares the price of brisket across various stores. You can expect to pay $4-$5 per pound for USDA Prime brisket which comes to around $40 or $50 for a smaller brisket.

That can go up to $300+ for a large Wagyu brisket.

How much brisket do you need per person?

You’ll need to know how much you need before buying brisket. We have a comprehensive guide on how to estimate how much brisket per person and all the factors to consider before landing on a number.

The quick answer is ½ to ⅓ of a pound of cooked brisket per person. Assume brisket will lose 30-40% of its weight during the cooking process.

How to smoke brisket

When you get down to it, smoking a brisket is pretty straightforward. Below is a brief overview of the process.

sliced costco brisket

See our guide for smoking your first brisket for a more in-depth look.

  1. Prep your smoker to 225 – 250 degrees. Use hardwoods like oak, hickory, or whatever is native and accessible to your region.
  2. Trim your brisket – Check out HeyGrillHey’s guide on how to trim brisket.
  3. 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 a more complex rub blend
  4. 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 your seasoning or rub. 
  5. Spritz your brisket – Once an hour for the next 5 to 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 use a liquid like apple juice or Worcestershire sauce.
  6. Wrap your brisket – Then place it back on the smoker. Check out our guide for wrapping brisket.
  7. Keep smoking – you know you’re close to done when the internal temperature of the meat reads 200 – 205 degrees in the thickest part. 
  8. Rest your brisket – Pull your smoked 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. 
  9. Slice and serve – Check our guide to slicing brisket

What temperature is brisket done?

After much testing, we think the sweet spot for brisket is 203°F. So long as you smoke brisket until the internal temperature is between 195-205°F, you should be okay.

To check when brisket is done, you can either use an instant-read meat thermometer like the Thermapen ONE, or a leave-in probe. We like to use two probes, to get more of an average temperature reading.

Insert the probe into the thickest part of the brisket to get the internal temp.

How long to rest brisket

A lot of people underestimate how much rest time brisket needs. Smoked brisket MUST rest for one hour minimum to allow all the liquid that was pushed out during cooking to absorb back into the meat.

Treat the rest time like the final step in the cooking process, and make sure you plan ahead to allow for it.

Smoked brisket can rest safely in a cooler wrapped with a few old towels for several hours.

brisket wraped in butcher paper in towel in cooler

Because brisket needs such a long rest time, our favorite method is to smoke brisket overnight. That way, you have plenty of time to finish it the next day and let it rest before serving for dinner.

Other ways to cook brisket recipes

There are plenty of other methods for cooking brisket, not just smoking.

Let’s explore some other tried and true good brisket recipes:

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’s 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 its packaging in your refrigerator for 5 to 8 days.

Brisket can be frozen anywhere from 6 to 12 months if wrapped airtight.

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 four days or frozen for up to 2 months when wrapped and packaged in an airtight container. 

Now you know brisket

Now you know the ins and outs and the best place to buy brisket near you; 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 smoked brisket, check out our hot and fast brisket recipe, and we’ll show you how to get smoky, tender brisket without the 12+ hour wait time.  

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