If you’re a meat eater, then you probably love a good brisket.
You may know that it comes from a cow or veal, which is a young calf, but you may not be sure exactly where on the cow it comes from.
Understanding where it comes from can help you understand why brisket has the type of texture and toughness that it does.
Here’s what you need to know about brisket and where it comes from on the cow.
What Part Of A Cow Is Brisket?
Brisket comes from the pectoral region of the cow.
If you’re looking at the cow from the side, then it’s the area right in front of its front legs.
If you’re looking at the cow head-on, it’s the area below its chest and between its front legs.
Cows don’t have collarbones like humans.
As such, they rely on their strong chests and pectoral muscles to support the upper half of their body.
Considering cows can weigh anywhere from 1,200 to 1,400 pounds, it makes sense that the muscles in that region are extremely big and strong.
Brisket, itself, is a type of cut that humans have been enjoying for years.
The Vikings called the cut gristle or even cartilage.
In Old English, the word for the area was brushk.
The word meant tough.
Over the years, humans have learned how to cook brisket better to take away some of the toughness and make it a far more enjoyable cut of meat to eat.
What Are The Three Ways To Cut Briskets?
When you go to a butcher, they may ask you how you want to cut the brisket.
There are three main ways and the differences between them determine the type of dish that you intend to make with them.
The three cuts include:
- The full packer
- The flat
- The point
If you want the entire brisket, then you’re going to get the full packer.
The full packer includes both the flat and the point part of the muscle.
It also includes both muscles together.
They’re both separated by a layer of fat.
There’s also a layer of fat on top of the brisket.
You can choose to keep the layer of fat for extra flavor or have it trimmed down.
The full packer is a weighty cut of meat with average weights anywhere from eight pounds to 20 pounds.
The flat is the main part of the brisket.
It contains the least fat because of its proximity near the ribs of the cow.
This is the area that gets worked the most, so it’s the leanest.
Butchers might give this cut a different name.
The flat is also known as the first, flat cut, or even the deep pectoral.
While you can always try out your own recipes with this type of cut, most often, it’s used in corn beef and pastrami.
Finally, the point is the part of the meat which sits outside by the leg of the cow.
It’s also called the superficial pectoral, triangular cut, second, or fat end.
Most chefs choose this meat cut to make beef burnt ends.
How Much Fat Should You Remove From A Brisket?
If this is your first time buying or cooking brisket, then you need to know some basics first.
Brisket is a relatively expensive piece of meat since it’s large and heavy.
To ensure you get the best possible dish out of it, it’s worth knowing how to trim the fat on it.
When cooking with brisket, you should never remove all of the fat.
It will help give the meat some flavor and soften it.
When shopping for brisket, you’ll want to stay away from cuts that don’t have any white strands.
White is fat.
It also helps to know how much fat you should keep on and how much you should have professionally trimmed.
If you’re buying a packer, then you want to keep all the fat on.
Don’t have the butcher trim it down.
If you’re buying the point or flat, then you’ll want to tell your butcher to trim it.
Butchers have different lengths according to their own preferences, so you’ll want to be specific with them.
For example, a trim usually means the butcher will leave an inch of fat on the cut.
A super trim usually means that the butcher will leave half an inch on the cut.
You’ll find that, in practice, all butchers are different.
You’ll want to tell the butcher your preference.
In most cases, you’ll want at least a half-inch of fat on the meat.
For more flavor, increase the amount of fat left on it.
How To Trim A Brisket
If you want to trim the brisket yourself, then you should expect to put away some time for it.
However, learning how to trim a brisket ensures that the meat is always to your standards going forward.
Here are a few steps you should follow to trim a brisket.
1. Get The Right Knife
You can make trimming a brisket a lot easier with the right knife.
You’ll want a long and sharp knife for this particular trimming.
If the knife is dull, then you’re going to have a difficult time slicing the fat off.
Instead, it will come off chunky, which will ruin its appearance not to mention make it difficult to have an even layer of fat.
Once you have the right knife for the task, you’ll need to lay your brisket out on a cutting board.
Put it down with the fatty side facing up towards you.
2. Carve Fat At The Point
The next step is to score the meat.
Run your knife along the fat and make a decent slice out of it.
You’ll want to cut at the pointed end and carve out the fat to the area where the point meets the flat.
This allows you to expose your meat and give your rub the chance to penetrate deeper within it.
3. Carve 1/4 Fat
You’ll want to continue shaving down the fat cap until there’s a 1/4 inch of fat left.
You may need to make a few passes to ensure you don’t cut too deeply into the meat.
You want to maintain that thin layer of fat between the meat and the surface.
You’ll want to cut off or shave down areas that protrude from the meat.
With an even layer of fat, you can ensure that the brisket cooks evenly.
4. Remove Meat At Opposite End Of Point
There’s a thin part of the meat that rests at the opposite end of the point.
It’s a good idea to remove this thin part because it usually turns color and isn’t ideal for cooking.
It can sometimes ruin the entire meal.
Trim it off and expose the meat underneath it instead.
5. Remove Fat On Long Side
Turn the brisket around and locate a long, thick layer of fat that is basically covered by the fat cap.
Take your knife and run it down the length of this layer.
Remove this layer of fat completely because it’s tough and difficult to chew.
While you’re removing this layer, ensure that you’re keeping the rest of the meat square.
If any parts stick out, then they may burn when you’re smoking the brisket.
6. Flip Brisket Over
The final cut you need to make is on the other side of the brisket.
Flip the meat so that the fat cap is now on the bottom.
Near the point edge, you’ll find a thick wedge of fat.
Cut that wedge off and discard it.
You’ll find that the fat runs pretty deep in the brisket.
It’s normal to have a clear valley that separates the point from the flat.
7. Check It Over
Finally, take a look over at the brisket and ensure everything is even.
Remove any strand bits to ensure they don’t burn.
As long as the fat is 1/4 inch thick, your brisket is ready for the rub and the smoker.
How To Choose The Best Brisket
Considering how expensive brisket can become, you don’t want to bite into it and find yourself disappointed with its texture and flavor.
You can save yourself from that experience by knowing what to look for when it comes to meat.
Here are some factors to consider when choosing the best meat for your brisket.
1. Meat Grade
One of the most important factors when choosing meat for your brisket is its grade.
There are several grades of beef and it can be difficult to know what means what.
While there are eight different grades of meat that the USDA considers acceptable for human consumption, most grocers tend to stock only the top three grades.
Those three grades include:
As you might suspect, prime meat costs the most.
Choice meat is a bit more affordable.
Select meat is the cheapest but not always the best.
When shopping for brisket, you never want to shop lower than Choice.
If you can afford it, then you should choose Prime.
However, considering that meat bases its value on weight, you can expect to pay a lot of money for a prime brisket.
That’s because briskets are usually anywhere from eight to 20 pounds.
If you want to keep to a budget, then you’ll find Choice meat pretty satisfactory.
If you don’t have a budget, then Prime is the best grade to choose.
The size of the brisket also matters.
Traditionally, briskets are quite large.
However, if you know that the meat is just going to go to waste at such a large size, then it may make more sense to buy a point or flat instead of a full packer.
You still get the delicious flavor of brisket without the waste of meat.
Since these cuts are also smaller, they’re also going to be more affordable.
To ensure you make the most of your budget, determine how much meat you actually need.
The thickness of the meat is important for a few different reasons.
First, you want a nice thickness to your meat if you’re buying a full packer.
The thicker it is, the more meat it has.
However, the other important aspect of thickness is that it needs to be even.
If the thickness isn’t even, then it’s not going to cook evenly either.
This might result in some parts of the meat being ready to eat while others still need time on the grill.
That then results in parts of the meat that become burnt while others are ready to eat.
While you can always have the butcher trim the meat to make it more even, you’re going to be wasting money that way, too.
It’s best to start with a slab of meat that’s already as even as possible when it comes to its thickness.
If you notice that part of the meat has a tapered edge, then that’s fine.
You usually remove that part when preparing brisket, anyway.
4. Type Of Beef
The type of beef can also impact its flavor and texture.
This factor comes down to personal taste.
For example, some people enjoy the meat that comes from a beef cow while others prefer veal.
One of the best types of meat is wagyu.
Wagyu beef is the pinnacle of high-quality meat.
That’s because it has a unique marbling that gives the beef incredible flavor.
It’s also often very soft and easy to chew.
The problem with wagyu is that it’s also very expensive.
Briskets that come from wagyu tend to start at $200 and only go up from there.
As such, this type of beef is best used for special occasions or when you really want to impress someone.
That said, the type of beef that you choose can also impact the quality of the brisket.
A final factor that you should consider when buying brisket is the amount of fat on the meat.
In most cases, too much fat usually isn’t ideal.
When it comes to brisket, however, having a good amount of fat on the meat isn’t as bad.
That’s because the meat usually goes through two trimming sessions.
The first is with the butcher.
They’ll shave it down by a good inch or so.
Then you trim down the rest at home to your personal preference.
Having fat on the brisket is ideal because it packs it full of flavor and also makes it a bit softer to eat.
When looking for meat, you’ll want to find one that has a decent amount of fat running throughout it.
What Are The Different Ways To Cook Brisket?
Brisket didn’t become popular until chefs realized that they could cook it over a long time at a low temperature.
It helped soften the meat and make it incredibly popular.
Since then, people have tried a few different ways to cook brisket all with varying amounts of success.
Here are some of the most popular ways to cook brisket.
Perhaps the most popular and common way to cook brisket is with a smoker.
In this instance, the cook marinates the meat with a special type of rub.
Then they put the meat in a cooker and let it smoke for several hours.
The result is a tender piece of meat packed full of flavor.
2. Roasted In The Oven
Another popular way to cook brisket is to make it a pot roast.
There are two main methods with an oven.
You can either put it in an oven or you can put the meat in a slow cooker.
The slow cooker has some advantages to it since you’re also able to put it in with some vegetables and slowly cook them all together.
The exchange of flavor and juice makes this particular method extremely flavorful and tender.
3. Sous Vide Method
A final method is to put the meat in a water bath which turns the meat pink and tender.
To do this, the meat is first seasoned, then placed in an air-tight bag.
The bag then goes into a water bath which is slowly heated over time.
The heat from the water cooks the meat and makes it juicy.
From there, you can serve it as it is.
You can also sear it to give it a crust.
Some even freeze it, then put it on the grill to smoke a bit longer.
The brisket comes from the front of the cow below its chest.
Although it used to be an unpopular cut of meat, slow-cooking the meat has completely transformed it.
These days, it’s easy to spend a lot of money on brisket, but you’ll want to consider the factors listed above to choose the best one for your needs.