What Is Brisket?

The brisket is a large intimidating piece of beef that is the pectoral muscle of the cow (see diagram below). As cows are large and heavy animals, their chest muscles do a lot of work. This makes the brisket a tough muscle with a lot of connective tissue, but it also packs tons of incredible flavor.

For this reason, brisket is relatively inexpensive and perfect for “low and slow” cooking methods like barbecue smoking and braising. It’s also delicious as corned beef. The proper preparation takes this poor man’s cut and makes it fit for kings.

The brisket used to be ground up into hamburger before it became so popular. Recently, brisket prices have been rising because of this growing popularity, and it’s no longer nearly as inexpensive. But for the number of people you can feed with the cut, it’s still a great value.

Types / Varieties

Briskets generally come as whole brisket (“packer cut”) or separated into the “flat” and the “point” (or “deckle”). The flat and point are actually two different muscles that make up the brisket, which have different grains and textures. Generally, BBQ chefs prefer the whole brisket, (which can weigh 10 to 20 pounds), while indoor cooks prefer the smaller separated cuts.

Whole Packer Cut

The packer cut is the whole brisket, and includes the flat and the point. For the smoker or grill, it gives you both the leaner flat and the more-marbled point. Since space is plentiful on the grill and smoker, best to go for the whole packer and have plenty for a crowd or leftovers.

prime grade brisket point seasoned

Flat vs Point

The flat is a leaner cut, with a fat cap to kept it moist and tasty. It’s a rectangular cut that is great for slicing and is best for corned beef. The point has more fat and connective tissue and is better for shredding. The point may have slightly more flavor, but is also a smaller cut and can be harder to find on its own.

Brisket and Culture

  • In Texas… it’s smoked.
  • In Cuba… it’s vaca frita (boiled and deep fried).
  • In France… it’s boeuf à la mode (pot roast).
  • In Vietnam… it’s served sliced super thin in pho.
  • In Jewish-American food… it’s served as pastrami in the deli and braised in home kitchens.

Where and How to Buy Brisket

You’re going to spend hours cooking the brisket, so it’s important to pay as much attention when buying the meat as when you’re cooking it.

Brisket can be purchased locally and online from some great sources of premium meats.

It is available in three USDA grades: Prime, Choice and Select. Prime is best, with Choice and Select slightly lower. The more marbling and tenderness, the higher the grade.

Read the Guide about Where to Buy Brisket →

How to Store Raw Brisket

If a fresh brisket comes vacuum-packed, it can keep for a few weeks in the fridge (always check the dates on the package). But since there is little benefit to aging brisket, it’s best to use it soon after buying. And a 15-pound brisket will take up considerable space in the fridge anyway.

Best Ways to Cook Brisket

Brisket needs a low-and-slow cooking process that will make this tough beast tender. For me, the best way to cook a brisket is in the smoker, Texas style, but in whichever type of smoker you have. See my full recipe for Texas Style Smoked Brisket. You can also make it similar by cooking it for a long time as Sous Vide Smoked Brisket method (which might be my new favorite).

Read the guide for how to trim a brisket and how to make beef tallow out of the trimmings. The brisket point can also be made into delicious bite-sized brisket burnt ends in the smoker, that you won’t be able to get enough of.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t be delicious and tender if you braise it, or cook it in a hot pot or slow cooker, in the oven or even as corned beef.

Best Wood for Smoking Brisket

Oak is the best wood for smoking brisket. In Texas, they use Post Oak, which you can find online or at your local BBQ store. If you have local oak available, go for that as local is usually better. It’s often pretty cheap to find oak firewood on Craigslist.

Since it will be smoking for so long, use wood chunks in your charcoal smoker rather than chips as they burn a lot longer. Oak pellets are available if you use a pellet smoker.

A Simple Rub Is All You Need

Simple is best when it comes to a brisket rub. Use a 50:50 ratio of Diamond Kosher Salt and coarse 16 Mesh Ground Black Pepper; that is really all you need. This will bring out the flavors of the beef and all that wonderful smoke flavor you will be adding (if you are smoking it). Get the brisket dry rub recipe.

If you are roasting the brisket, you might want to spice it up a little and add in some chili powder, brown sugar for sweetness and garlic powder.

How to Slice Cooked Brisket

For smoked brisket, the two parts (the flat and the point) should be separated after cooking and resting, as they have different grains. Once fully rested, separate and slice each part against the grain. Use a long slicing knife with a Granton blade for best results.

Tip: Only slice off as much as you will serve at that time, as the meat slices can dry out.

smoked brisket recipe close up

How Long Does Brisket Last?

Cooked brisket should be refrigerated and eaten within 3 to 4 days. It can be frozen without ruining the texture if done carefully. It can be sliced prior to freezing, and carefully vacuum packed (air is the enemy!) with all its cooking juices. Eat any frozen brisket within a month or two.

smoked brisket overhead hands

Tools and Equipment of the Trade

View the Smoker Accessories You Need

Cookbooks to Up Your Game

Brisket Recipes

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