How to Choose the Best Beef Brisket

Cooking a tender and smoky beef brisket comes from knowing how to choose the best type of beef based on grade, fat and more

How to Choose the Best Beef Brisket
Tasty brisket begins with learning how to identify the best beef to cook with. (Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley photo)

Smoked brisket is the holy grail of barbecued meats. When cooked right, it should taste tender, juicy and smoky enough to tingle the senses. Enjoyed by itself, slathered with barbecue sauce or served inside a sandwich, brisket is one of the most sought-after smoked meats in the country. Every aspiring pitmaster wants to master this cut of beef, but it can be an intimidating one to work with.

Located in the lower breast area on cattle, the muscles that make up the brisket support about 60% of a standing/moving animal’s weight (Source: Wikipedia). These hardworking muscles require an extensive network of connective tissue, which results in a tough cut of beef. To cook, brisket requires low heat and the magic of time to break down the rubbery collagen fibers that are present in the muscles. With some patience, you will be rewarded when this connective tissue transforms into that mouthwatering, unctuous texture so iconic of a properly cooked brisket.

But before you fire up that backyard smoker, remember that good technique in the kitchen goes hand-in-hand with a good product to begin with.

The last brisket I bought came from local butcher Chad Lebo of Cure in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska. It was a grade 8 Wagyu brisket that weighed nearly 14 pounds, and it was beautiful. Lebo sources the best local meats from Nebraska and Iowa, including Imperial Wagyu Beef. Here are some of his tips on choosing the best beef brisket.


How to Choose the Best Beef Brisket
Choosing top quality beef is the first step to cooking the perfect brisket. (Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley photo)

Grade


“A bad brisket cooked very well can still be good, but truly exceptional brisket has to start with high quality beef,” said Lebo. “USDA Choice is ok. Prime is better. Briskets graded Select aren’t really worth it. For the highest marbling, consider using Wagyu beef.”

Not only does Wagyu have remarkable marling, but its fat has a lower melting point. Lebo suggests adjusting the finishing temperature down by 5-10 degrees. Overcooking any brisket, even Wagyu, will result in dry, stringy beef.

As far as grass-fed beef, it has its advantages, but tender, juicy brisket is not one of them. “Save the grass-fed beef for other cuts,” Lebo said.

The Flat and the Point


If you can, buy the entire brisket. Called “packer” briskets, they offer the best overall value. There are two parts to a whole brisket, which include the “flat” and the “point.” When feeding a big crowd, the flat cut offers those pretty brisket slices that everyone wants, while the point is where you'll get fatty burnt ends and great shredded meat for sandwiches, burritos, tacos, soups and casseroles.

How to Choose the Best Beef Brisket
The decision between a point cut and a flat cut depends on the type of meal the meat is used for. (Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley photo)

When buying a whole brisket, choose one that has the thickest and most uniform flat that you can find. Some briskets taper off too much in this area, which will result in uneven cooking and dry, wasted meat that you’d have to discard anyway. Choose a brisket with a flat that is at least 1 inch thick at the end.

“Anything less than an inch thick will have to be trimmed away or it will dry out during cooking,” said Lebo. “Look for a brisket with a flat that already has those thinnest bits trimmed off.”


If you don’t have enough mouths to feed and hesitate to buy a whole “packer,” you can also buy the point or the flat separately. The flat is widely available, as it looks more appealing to most shoppers.

The point cut alone is more difficult to find, and not as popular because of its shape. A giant ribbon of fat also runs through it, which isn’t as attractive as the more uniform flat. Some people also find the point cut too fatty for their tastes.

Fat

“For less trimming and better value, the top layer of fat should be no thicker than 1 inch,” said Lebo.

Some briskets have so much fat cap that it adds weight and drives up the price, considering that excess fat will be trimmed off before cooking anyway. Fat cap is good, but too much is useless.

Only about ¼ inch of fat on top of the brisket is needed to smoke, which helps to trap evaporating moisture and keep the meat moist. According to Amazingribs.com, the fat cap doesn’t actually baste and penetrate the meat – most of it just drips away during the cooking process – and too much can prevent your rub/marinade from reaching the muscle.

“Marbling is crucial,” said Lebo. “No matter what [grade you buy], there will be a cap of fat across the top of any brisket, but it is the fat and collagen within the meat that matters most.”

How to Choose the Best Beef Brisket
Seasoning is the fun part, but take time to trim the beef to maintain the quality. (Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley photo)

Trimming

Now that you’ve chosen your brisket, it’s time to start cooking. But before you begin sprinkling on your favorite rub, Lebo leaves us with some trimming tips:

  • Trim away the top layer of fat until it is ¼ inch thick.
  • Feel for any harder pieces of fat or gristle and trim those away entirely.
  • Make a straight cut across the flat end to remove any meat that is less than 1 inch thick.
  • Trim away any raggedy bits that are sticking out.
  • When trimming, slightly round off any square corners or edges, so they don’t dry out during cooking.
How to Choose the Best Beef Brisket

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Lowrance Enters Trolling-Motor Market with Ghost

Lowrance Enters Trolling-Motor Market with Ghost

Lowrance's Lucas Steward shows OSG's Lynn Burkhead what all of the fuss is about in the brand new Ghost trolling motor being brought to market by the Tulsa, Okla.-based fishing equipment manufacturer.

Abu Garcia Virtual Rod with Bluetooth

Abu Garcia Virtual Rod with Bluetooth

Pure Fishing's Andrew Wheeler tells Outdoor Sportsman Group writer Lynn Burkhead all about the brand new Abu Garcia Virtual rod that integrates Bluetooth technology through a free ANGLR smartphone app.

Simms

Simms' Solarflex Ultra Cool Armor Hoody

John Frazier of Simms Fishing Products helps OSG's Lynn Burkhead understand the new features of the new Simms' Solarflex Ultra Cool Armor sun protection hoody.

Lure Lock Options Includes LED Light Boxes & More

Lure Lock Options Includes LED Light Boxes & More

Pro angler Jonathan VanDam showcases new offerings at ICAST 2019, including the ultra-thin, big bait boxes, LED-lighted boxes and backpack-able gear lockers. With Game & Fish Editorial Director Adam Heggenstaller at ICAST 2019 in Orlando.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

You can catch bluegill faster with these strategies. Panfish

Find and Fish Bluegill Beds Efficiently

Terry Madewell - May 22, 2019

You can catch bluegill faster with these strategies.

Dozens of different bait types are commonly used for catfish, including these great options. Catfish

12 Great Catfish Baits

Jeff Samsel

Dozens of different bait types are commonly used for catfish, including these great options.

While catfish are still catfish, the difference between day and night tactics and strategies can be profound, even when fishing the same lake or river. Catfish

How to Catch Catfish Day and Night

Terry Madewell - April 04, 2018

While catfish are still catfish, the difference between day and night tactics and strategies...

Unless you live in Antarctica, the only continent they aren't known to inhabit, there is a species Catfish

10 Biggest Catfish World Records of All Time

Jack Vitek - December 08, 2014

Unless you live in Antarctica, the only continent they aren't known to inhabit, there is a...

See More Trending Articles

More Outdoor Cooking

Packed with protein and other essential nutrients, Old Trapper Beef Jerky is ideal for the on-the-go hunter. Outdoor Cooking

Beef Jerky: The Ultimate Hunting Snack

Jace Bauserman

Packed with protein and other essential nutrients, Old Trapper Beef Jerky is ideal for the...

This rainbow trout recipe from Traeger is a quick and delicious way to cook up your catch. Stuff your fish with orange slices and garlic-herb brown butter for flavor and then grill it in a foil packet to seal in all the goodness. The Grill

Roasted Citrus-Stuffed Trout with Brown Butter Recipe

Traeger

This rainbow trout recipe from Traeger is a quick and delicious way to cook up your catch....

This Black-Eyed Pea dish is sure to bring good luck and prosperity for the coming year. Outdoor Cooking

New Year's Black-Eyed Pea Recipe

Raschell Rule

This Black-Eyed Pea dish is sure to bring good luck and prosperity for the coming year.

After using the Traeger Pro Series 34 pellet grill, you'll discover how easy it is to turn meat into a delectable meal fit for a king. The Grill

Traeger Grill – From Traditional BBQ Snob to Pellet Smoker Convert

Lynn Burkhead

After using the Traeger Pro Series 34 pellet grill, you'll discover how easy it is to turn...

See More Outdoor Cooking

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.