If you visit your local grocery store, you’ll come across varying brisket grades, types, and brands to choose from. Brisket today is like a cornerstone of any BBQ party or Thanksgiving dinner, and most people think of it in that particular context.
However, back in the day, the brisket was entirely something else. It was primarily turned into corned beef, pastrami, or was ground up for dinners until the Central Texas Bar-B-Q swayed the crowd.
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The 5 Different Brisket Grades
Today, brisket has become a rare commodity, as many people purchase it for BBQ. The problem with the supply of this meat piece is that while you might fill your freezer with the rest of the cow, a single animal will give you only one smoked brisket.
So, before you regret your decision to purchase the wrong BBQ brisket, this guide will help you identify the types of brisket grades and what to look for when buying a brisket.
What is Beef Brisket?
Brisket is a piece of beef cut from the pectoral muscle located just below the lower breast. Not all briskets weigh the same. For instance, brisket from a fat cow will weigh more than a lean cow.
On average, it weighs somewhere between 12-16 pounds.
The term brisket originates from brjosk, an old Norse word meaning cartilage.
Cows do not have collar bones, and this piece of beef is meant to support their weight. Because of its purpose and location, there is a lot of fat and connective tissue in the brisket.
Perhaps this explains why it is an ideal piece for smoking – a high concentration of fat keeps the meat moist during long cooking hours.
The catch is to cook the brisket low and slow. This will give time to the connective tissue to turn into palatable gelatin. On the flip side, if you cook it fast and at high temperatures, you’ll burn the piece from outside while the inside will remain uncooked.
In another scenario, the insides might get cooked, but they’ll be more “overcooked” than cooked and turn the piece extremely dry and distasteful.
Most briskets available in US grocery stores are boneless cuts. However, you can order or purchase a bone-in piece from a butcher.
There are plenty of ways to enjoy the whole brisket, but smoked brisket by far remains the most loved one by people across the globe.
What to Look for When Buying a Brisket?
If you think ANY brisket available at the grocery store will make up for a delicious grilled brisket, you are wrong! You need to consider a few things when buying a packer brisket.
First, you must look for the fat layer over the top of the beef brisket – point side of the piece. Make sure you purchase the one with a decent layer of fat. Yes, you can trim it later on – before smoking – but the piece you’re buying shouldn’t be fat-less either.
Besides, the fat should be hard and white. This signifies that the brisket is fresh. But, again, make sure you do not buy a brisket with an overwhelming amount of fat. In other words, its ratio shouldn’t be more than the meat – you’re buying the meat, not the fat, just saying.
The thickness of the flat is yet another thing to consider in a packer brisket. A thick enough flat gives decent slices. Nonetheless, it can be challenging to figure out its thickness because it is packed.
However, you can ask your local butcher to help you select a thicker cut. Butchers have a knack for determining a thicker, finer brisket even when packed.
A well-marbled piece is also a factor to consider when examining the meat portion. Marbling refers to the intramuscular fat that keeps the meat soft and moist when smoking. They appear as minor marks scattered throughout the piece of meat.
It won’t be wrong to say that they are a huge indicator of beef quality.
Below, we’ll discuss the brisket grades and size you need to consider when purchasing a whole brisket for your next BBQ dinner.
Beef grades – in the US – are ranked based on the amount of fat marbled throughout the cut. The more the fat interspersed throughout the meat, the higher the grade and the more tender and juicier it will be than brisket with a lower grade.
Though there are several grades of beef, as a customer, you’ll mostly come across the prime, select, choice, a wagyu beef cuts.
Let’s take a quick look into different brisket grades.
The first on our list and for the right reasons. According to the USDA grading system – and Canadian grading scale – Prime is the highest grade of beef.
The prime cut has more marbling than other beef cuts and is naturally softer, too. Note that you can easily mix them up with Choice grades at Costco or Sam’s. Therefore, it’s best to look at the fat side of packaging for USDA prime stamp.
If you don’t want to purchase the whole packer brisket from a local store, you can ask your butcher to order one for you. You can also make an online purchase.
Because of its high grade, it is unsurprisingly more expensive compared to other grades.
Wagyu is basically from a breed of cow in Japan and uses a different grading scale. It is also known as the American Kobe Beef and the USDA does not grade it.
The Kobe Wagyu cattle produce a considerably-marbled brisket. However, price is one significant downside. First, it costs a lot more than other briskets. Second, you also need to pay a hefty price for the shipping.
However, this Japanese beef is often graded more than Prime brisket, as they are incredibly flavorful and soft.
Nonetheless, this grading might not hold much credibility as prime because the USDA does not grade it. Besides, Wagyu brisket is unpopular among the judges and challenging to cook. As such, more people opt for prime briskets.
Select grades are readily available at the grocery stores. These are the second-lowest grades of brisket and have the least amount of fat.
The lesser the fat, the firmer the meat will be. If you’re hosting a dinner party, it’s best to dip this brisket in brine to achieve tender and moist meat. However, if you’re participating in a competition, it’s best to avoid this grade.
Otherwise, you might end up cooking dry meat.
Costo, Sam’s, and several other butchers have this grade. Simply put, it is the most common beef grade you’ll come across and the most used in competitions.
It has a small amount of marbling but still more than select grade.
If you hit the grocery store today, you’ll come across several choice grades, but not all will be better. Size, marbling, and thickness are a few factors to consider when selecting a choice grade.
The fact that this grade is popular in competitions speaks volumes about its quality. Nonetheless, experts recommend injecting the barbecue brisket to ensure it stays juicy during the smoking process.
Certified Angus Beef
The beef cuts Certified Angus Beef has more marbling and is exceptionally juicy and tender. However, only a few top-grade USDA choice beef and prime beef are sold under this label.
People often assume the bigger the brisket, the better. But, unfortunately, that’s not true. Here’s why.
Do you know the top factor that contributes to the weight of brisket? It’s the fat!
So, more fat doesn’t indicate quality brisket.
Also, note that longer, larger brisket can have a flat ending in a narrow strip of meat – not good either. Because you want to make decent slices, this type of flat won’t be a good choice.
So, shorter brisket can be better. But, again, observe the squared end of the piece to figure out its thickness—the thicker the meat, the better.
Where to Buy a Brisket?
Because of the increasing popularity of briskets, they are becoming readily available at grocery stores. If you aren’t skilled enough to determine the best brisket in the store, it’s best to reach out to a local butcher.
You can explain your demands to the butcher, and they’ll get you exactly what you need.
However, if you want to purchase yourself, Sam’s Club and Costco consistently provide quality whole packer briskets. The next thing you need to pay attention to is the fat content and marbling in the meat (beef grades)
Expect to spend anywhere between $3-$7 per pound. However, this can vary depending on the season, demand, and of course, your location.
If you want to level up your eating experience, you can go for Wagyu brisket. Yes, you’ll end up spending a pretty penny, but the brisket will melt in your mouth and taste a lot flavorful than other grades.
All in all, there are no fixed rules about an ideal place to purchase a brisket from. You can order online, ask your butcher, or buy one yourself from a local store.
Different Parts Of Brisket
Once you open up your store-bought packer, you’ll see different parts of the brisket.
Below, we’ll discuss in detail
The point cut of your brisket is small, rounded, and a few inches thick.
This part overlaps the flat cut and is made of pectoralis superficial muscles. Both point cut and flat cut are separated by a thick connective tissue known as the deckle.
This part, in particular, has more fat and cooks up pretty juicy. It is a little hard to cook evenly because it differs from a half-inches up to a few inches in thickness.
The big swirl of cartilage and fat dividing the pointcuts and flat is the deckle. You can see it clearly in an untrimmed brisket.
To make sure your brisket lies flatter on the smoker, you’d need to trim this part away. It will allow your brisket to cook evenly. Besides, you’ll be able to separate the cuts at the end of smoking easily.
Luckily, most packer briskets available in the US are deckle-free, so you won’t need to trim them anyway. Nonetheless, if you run into the one with deckle, do not forget to trim it out.
Brisket Flat Cut
One end of the brisket has a more even square edge and is more thin and flat than the other end; this is called a flat cut.
The flat cut is made of deep pectoral muscle called pectoralis profundi. It is one of the most common cuts encountered in the meat section.
This cut is larger than the pointcut and contributes to most of the brisket. Because it cooks up quickly, it is a popular choice among most cooks.
Besides, you can cut out decent slices – without much hassle.
Since the flat cut is flatter and thinner, it reaches the required internal temperature sooner than other parts. However, on the downside, the cut is at risk of overcooking. Because it has less fat and is leaner, you might end up overcooking it. But if it comes with enough fat cap, it’ll keep the piece moist.
The fat cap simply refers to the deep layer of fat on one side of the brisket. It is about an inch thick and covers the piece from the point to the flat cut.
It consists of both soft and hard fat. The only difference is that the soft fat may melt during cooking, but the hard fat won’t.
Because both types of fat promote moistness, it doesn’t mean you should cook them as it as. Instead, make sure you trim the fat cap somewhere between 1/4 and 1/8 inches and get rid of excess hard fat at the point cut.
This thickness will be enough to keep your brisket tender and moist during smoking.
Ways to Cook a Brisket
Brisket is not limited to one or another recipe. There are plenty of ways to cook a scrumptious brisket. However, the key to all BBQ briskets is low and slow smoking.
When you cook low and slow, your brisket cooks evenly and remains moist and tender – the basic principle of preparing delicious meat.
Below, we’ll discuss some popular ways to cook brisket.
Smoked or grilled brisket is hands down the most popular cooking technique, and for good reasons. You end up with a palatable and finger-licking beef piece.
The key is to smoke the brisket slowly on the wood fire or charcoal grill. You can choose any wood pellets if you choose the former method; it depends entirely on your preferences. The most popular ones include apple, cherry, and hickory chips.
Smoking will take 12-18 hours, but the texture and flavor are unbeatable.
If you want to complement your cooking efforts, we suggest following the Texas Crutch method introduced by Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas.
This method involves wrapping the brisket midway through cooking to speed up the stall. As a result, you’ll end up with juicy and soft meat. You can cover the brisket in aluminum foil or parchment paper.
If you like your bark crispy, it’s better to go with parchment paper as the aluminum paper will create a tight seal, softening the bark.
Oven Roasted Brisket
If you feel lazy and want to avoid the trouble of preparing the smoker, firing the wood, and waiting for hours, you can prepare your brisket in a slow cooker or an oven.
Generally, when you cook a brisket in an oven or cooker, it’s best to dip it in broth. The humidity of the liquid speeds up the cooking, and your brisket will be ready in less than 8 hours.
You can also braise your brisket, but only if the meat piece is leaner and has a low-fat content.
The only drawback of braising brisket or cooking it in the oven is that you won’t get a crispy exterior, no matter what you do. So, if you like your brisket crispier on the outside, it’s best to go with a smoker or a griller.
People rarely think about the brand when buying a brisket. Besides, most stores convey the idea that they butcher and package the beef themselves.
It is true in some cases, but not always. Mostly when you buy a brisket, it is packed and shipped to the store.
There are a plethora of brisket brands in the beef industry, and most are doing an incredible job making their way in the BBQ community.
We’ll highlight a few below.
Snake River Farms
Snake River Farms offers American Waygu and Prime briskets via mail order. This quickly earned them a name among people who prefer better quality and do not mind spending money in the process.
If you’ve been buying low-grade briskets from your grocery store, we highly recommend you give this brand a try; you’ll undoubtedly notice the difference.
Certified Angus Beef
Angus is the most common breed of cattle, and CAB (Certified Angus Beef) originates from there.
American Angus Association officially promoted the brand. The CAB uses its own rating scale for beef to earn the Certified Angus Beef logo.
As a rule of thumb, remember, beef labelled as CAB is on the upper scale of choice grade. Nonetheless, stockmen still prefer prime over CAB labels.
Franklin Barbecue, Austin, Texas – one of the best restaurants – uses USDA Prime Angus beef briskets.
Brisket Grades FAQs
We’ll discuss a few frequently asked questions by brisket lovers.
Is Choice Brisket Better than Prime Grade?
The United Department of Agriculture (USDA) considers prime the highest beef grade. The meat typically comes from young cattle and is exceptionally soft and well-marbled throughout the meat piece.
Choice beef is also good quality meat. However, one drawback is that it is not well-marbled or less marbled than the prime grade.
If you want to grill or smoke your brisket, we recommend you go for choice brisket. Otherwise, Prime brisket will do.
Overall, it cannot be said that choice is better than prime; both grades have their qualities and are suitable for particular cooking methods.
How to Know If a Brisket Is Done?
Because you’ve been cooking the brisket for the last 7 hours doesn’t indicate it is done. I mean, a 6-pound brisket will take more time to finish than a 20-pound brisket.
So, let time alone not be the determinant of cooked or uncooked brisket.
The best way to know if brisket is done or not is to measure the internal temperature. You can do so with a meat thermometer. Typically, a brisket is fully cooked when the internal temperature reaches 230F.
What Part of Cow Is Brisket?
The brisket is the breast area of the cow. No matter the type of cut or brisket, all come from the same section.
What Is the Best Way to Cook a Brisket?
The question is, how do you like your brisket?
If you like your brisket smoky and full of flavor, it’s better to cook it over a griller or smoker. Otherwise, you can prepare it in a slow cooker or oven, too.
If you plan to smoke your brisket, just keep a few things in mind. Make sure you cook it low and slow. Secondly, it’s best to follow the Texas Crutch method and wrap it halfway through cooking.
If you like your brisket extra moist, you can dip it in brine solution overnight.
Final Words on Brisket Grades
There are several brisket grades on the market, and some are graded more than others, which explains a lot about their quality.
While you can get an idea about brisket grades, types, and pieces online, nothing can beat the way a knowledgeable butcher can guide you.
You might not be able to figure out the best beef brisket on your own at the store. A butcher can advise you better about the brisket cuts. Besides, most grocery stores also take special orders for you, saving you time, and of course, money.