Buying a big brisket can be an intimidating task. Since you'll be spending a good amount of money and time cooking it, you obviously want it to be the best. No pressure!
Starting with the best piece of beef is going to pay off. Let's get to some tips for where and how to buy a good beef brisket.
Not all beef is equal. Different qualities of beef make a big difference in the end results of what you and your guests are going to eat. While brisket has a relatively low cost per pound compared to many other cuts of beef, the total cost still gets expensive because the high weight of the cut.
The Best Places to Buy Brisket Online
It can sometimes be difficult to source good brisket (or brisket at all) at your local grocery store, and that's where ordering online comes in super handy. There are a number of reputable online sources that can deliver right to your doorstep. Not only that, but they have super-premium products like Wagyu that is almost impossible to source locally.
Crowd Cow partners with ethical producers to source high-quality, sustainable food, and make it easily accessible across the country, inviting people to join the food transparency movement and taste the difference. They print the names of the producers right on the label.
D'Artagnan Foods specializes in high-quality, ethically raised meats and artisanal products. They are also known for specialties like foie gras, game meats and charcuterie. D'Artagnan works with small farmers and producers who raise their animals humanely and sustainably, and many of their products are certified organic or free-range.
Best Places to Buy Brisket Locally
Costco is my go-to place for buying brisket. In my experience, they have the best prices (currently $3.89/pound, but varies by grade, location and time of year) and the quality is outstanding.
They generally have both full packer USDA choice and USDA prime grades available, and sometimes have the flats by themselves, if you want something a little smaller. I have found that the USDA Choice grade is already trimmed down nicely, and it is actually a few bucks more per pound than the USDA Prime grade that is not trimmed. It just depends on your location and what they have. You can always ask the Costco butcher your questions and they are helpful.
Your local butcher gives you a huge advantage in that they should know where the beef came from, what it ate, how marbled it is and anything else you might need to know about it. They can even trim it and season it for you. And while the cow might not be local, you are definitely supporting local when buying from your butcher. They can also special order something for you.
I generally stay away from regular supermarkets when it comes to sourcing brisket. They either don't carry them, or the quality is low. Stick to the recommended places above for sourcing your beef brisket.
Quality and Grades of Brisket
Brisket basically comes 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.
I always recommend going with USDA Prime grade brisket. It is usually only a few dollars more per pound and is totally worth it. The internal marbling is far superior to lower grades of beef. Marbling means more fat, more flavor, and a much tastier and tender brisket.
If you can’t find Prime grade, then go with USDA Choice grade at a minimum.
A super-premium product is Wagyu beef, which has its own grading system. Either from Japan or from cattle with Japanese bloodlines, Wagyu beef is extraordinarily tender and fatty. It's a splurge, for sure, but not usually worth it in my opinion for regular consumption.
Note: Not all beef is USDA graded. Having meat graded is up to the meat company, who must pay the government for the grading. It is not a federal requirement for meat to be graded, but it must be inspected.
Recommended: USDA Prime
Avoid: USDA Select or below.
What about Grass-Fed?
Pasture-raised grass-fed beef is usually leaner and will have much stronger flavors because of their diet, so it is best to avoid grass-fed for barbecue or you will likely be disappointed with the flavors you get.
The "Cuts" of the Brisket
The anatomy of the brisket consists of two main parts, the flat and the point. They can be purchased and cooked together or separately.
The Flat vs the Point vs Whole Packer
The Flat: The brisket flat is the leaner, thinner part of the brisket. It is pretty even in thickness, so it will cook evenly. Being leaner, it can dry out and get tough easier than the point.
The Point (aka Deckle): The point is the thicker, fattier and richer part of the brisket. Burnt ends are usually made from the point.
Packer: A whole brisket with the flat and point attached is called a packer. It is usually purchased vacuum sealed from the packer, which is where it gets its name. This cut can weigh 15 to 20 pounds before trimming down the fat. Be sure to make tallow with the trimmings.
I recommend buying a packer brisket if you plan on smoking it, as you will get much more meat with different textures for the time you put into it.
The point and the flat can be separated to cook them separately, or after cooking to slice separately, as they have different grain directions.
Tips for Buying Brisket
- Buying quality is important. It will make a difference in the flavor and texture.
- Know the cut you want (packer, flat or point) and the size you need before heading to the store.
- Consider how it feels (from what you can tell through the vacuum-sealed plastic). The larger the brisket, the more meat you will end up with, but the longer it will take to cook.
- Keep one in the freezer. If you find brisket on sale, there's nothing wrong with picking one up and putting in the freezer for up to 6 months. The quality of vacuum-sealed proteins degrades slightly when frozen, but it is hardly noticeable.
How Many People Will a Brisket Feed?
Figure 1 pound of raw untrimmed brisket per person. You will be trimming off about 20 to 40% of the brisket's fat (depending on how much was previously trimmed) and cooking out even more water weight. A 15-pound brisket will serve approximately 15 people.
Since you can feed at least 15 people with a 15-pound brisket, at $3.89 per pound, that is less than $4 per person for some of the best BBQ they will ever taste.
Buying a brisket doesn't have to be intimidating if you set out knowing what you are looking for. Buying online is super convenient and opens up the options for premium products, while Costco and my butcher are my favorite places to buy brisket locally. Use the tips and information in this post to help you find the almost perfect brisket for your next cooking adventure.