Brisket 101

Cuts of Beef.jpeg

                        

The Brisket comes from the front chest area of the cow and is comprised of two distinct muscle groups: the Point (or Deckle) and the Flat. 

Brisketparts

The Flat is the leaner flater portion which overlaps the fattier thicker Point. The Flat is where Sliced Brisket comes from while the Point is where we go for Chopped Brisket and Burnt Ends

Picking out a Brisket 

Cuts- When shopping for a Brisket you will likely find three different cuts: 

  • Brisket Flat - Most expensive. This contains the leanest meat and is used primarily for sliced Brisket Sandwiches. 
  • Brisket Point (or Deckle) - Not quite as expensive as the Flat. The meat contains more fat veins which in turn produces more flavor. This is where those delicious Burn Ends come from.
  • Packer Brisket - The Packer Brisket is the whole Brisket which has not been seperated (see photo above) and is the least expensive. A Packer Brisket is sold “Untrimmed” or “Trimmed” (which is a little more expensive).

Fat - While “Fat” is hated when thinking of the human body, a certain amount of fat is very desirable in Cows. Fat provides not only moisture but wonderful flavor in meats…especially those that are slow cooked. Because of this we don’t want to trim too much off of our Brisket. 

The Fat Cap - this is the layer of fat on the bottom of the Brisket. This is very important to maintain moisture and provice a little heat barrier. This should be only about 1/4” thick. 

Surface Fat - Any surface fat and silver skin (thin opaque membrane) can be trimmed off 

Size & Shape - Packer Briskets usually range in size from about 11 pounds to 18 pounds or more. Try to avoid massive Packers. These can tend to be very difficult to work with and take forever to cook. Also, the end of the flat should be at least 1” thick, other wise you it will burn before the rest of the meat is done. 

Grain - You will also find that the grain of the Flat generally runs from the border with the Point to the tip, while the grain of the point runs for the most part..vertically. This is important to remember when slicing the meat. 

Slicing Brisket - Once the brisket is cooked I recommend that you seperate the Flat from the Point before slicing. This can be easily done while the meat is still warm by taking a butter knife and inserting it into the fat vein which separates the Point and Flat. Then carefully work the blade between the two muscles while at the same time lifting the Flat away from the Point. If the meat is too hot to handle, use a pair of tongs to lift the Flat. 

Once seperated slice the Flat AGAINST the grain. Since the grain of the Point is so different, try to slice it against the grain also or simply chop it or cut it into cubes for Burnt Ends.  

Alternatively, some people simply leave the packer Brisket whole and simply slice it against the grain of the Flat all the way down through the Point, thus giving each slice a little of the Flat and a little of the Point.

                

Smoke Ring / Time, Temperature and Moisture - There are many opinions in the BBQ world about how much smoke meat will absorb...when does it stop being absorbed into the meat and is there a time when I can remove the meat from the smoker and simply place it into an oven to finish up, thus saving the cost of wood and coal. After much research and experience, I have determined the following:


  • Although the “Smoke Ring” is not the primary source of the “Smoke Flavor” in meat, it is very desirable due to its aesthetic value and how it gives meat a “Smoked” look. 
  • The use of wood (chips or logs) and moisture help in the process of creating a nice ring. There are a number of ways you can keep the humidity level up. The easiest of which is to simply use a water pan inside the cooking chamber The evaporating water will create the humidity needed. Also avoid opening and closing the smoker, each time you open the lid you are allowing humidity to escape. Some people believe that soaking your wood chunks or chips in water will do the trick. However, wood does not absorb very much water even over several hours (maybe thats why they make boats out of wood), and all that moisture is released very quickly the minute it is placed over the hot coals. Additionally, when you place wet wood over hot coals you are dramatically lowering the temperature of those coals. 


  • Even after 4-6 hours I believe meat continues to absorb “Smoke Flavor”. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what type of wood your using. Mesquite wood will impart a very pungent flavor the longer the meat is exposed to it whereas Pecan or Apple a more mild flavor. I myself have left my briskets on smoke (Pecan) for the entire cook. However, often I do not feel like staying up all night tending a fire (using the Low & Slow method) and will smoke for about 5-6 hours and finish it off in the oven. I find both methods to be good for me, although if your doing a competition cook that may change.