The holy grail of barbecued meats is smoked brisket. When cooked properly, it should be tender, juicy, and smoky enough to tingle the taste buds. Brisket is one of the most popular smoked meats in the country, whether eaten alone, slathered with barbecue sauce, or served in a sandwich. Every aspiring pitmaster aspires to master this cut of beef, but it can be difficult to work with.
The best types of brisket to smoke are Prime and Choice. Why? Prime brisket has a lot of marbling, making it juicier and tender. The highest quality type of meat you will find. Another high-quality type of brisket is Choice beef. Choice beef is secondary to Prime beef but still high-quality meat, with less marbling but still juicy and flavorful. Other than these types of beef, there are other types you can consider.
Read on to know their differences and which would be the best option for your next smoked meat.
What to Look for When Buying a Brisket?
You’re mistaken if you think ANY brisket from the grocery store will suffice for a delicious grilled brisket! When purchasing a packer brisket, there are a few factors to consider.
First, look for the fat layer on top of the beef brisket – the point side of the piece. Make sure to get one with a thick layer of fat. Yes, you can trim it later – before smoking – but the piece you purchase should be something other than fat-free.
Furthermore, the fat should be hard and white, indicating that the brisket is still fresh. But, once again, avoid buying brisket with excessive fat. In other words, its ratio should not be greater than the meat – remember, you’re buying the meat, not the fat.
Another factor to consider in packer brisket is the thickness of the flat—a thick enough flat yields good slices. Nonetheless, because it is packed, determining its thickness can be difficult.
However, you can ask your butcher to assist you in selecting a thicker cut. Even when packed, butchers have a knack for determining thicker, finer brisket.
When examining the meat portion, look for a well-marbled piece. The intramuscular fat that keeps the meat soft and moist when smoked is referred to as marbling. They appear as small marks scattered throughout the meat.
They are, without a doubt, a significant indicator of beef quality.
What is the USDA Grading System and How Does it Work?
Before deciding between grades, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rating system.
Meat inspection for wholesomeness is required and funded by tax dollars. Meat quality grading is a service that meat and poultry producers/processors request and pay for.
Marbling, or the fat dispersed in the lean meat of the ribeye muscle, is the main factor that distinguishes all quality grades.
It’s worth noting that a “Prime” ribeye muscle also means the rest of the cow is prime.
There are three levels of quality:
- USDA Prime – Extensive marbling
- USDA Choice – Less marbling than Prime, but still high quality.
- USDA Select – Lower fat and more uniform in quality than choice and Prime. Because it contains less fat, it lacks juiciness and flavor.
There are two other qualities:
- Certified Angus Beef (CAB) Briskets
In the United States, beef grades are assigned based on the amount of fat marbled throughout the cut. The more fat interspersed throughout the meat, the higher the grade and the more tender and juicier the brisket.
Though there are different grades of beef, as a customer, you’ll mostly encounter prime, select, choice, and wagyu beef cuts.
Young, well-fed beef cattle are used to produce prime beef. It has a lot of marbling (fat interspersed with lean meat) and is usually sold in restaurants and hotels. Prime roasts and steaks are ideal for dry-heat cooking methods like broiling, roasting, and grilling.
According to the USDA grading system and the Canadian grading scale, Prime is the highest grade of beef. You can easily combine them with Choice grades at Costco or Sam’s. As a result, look for the USDA prime stamp on the fat side of the packaging.
Ask your butcher to order one if you want to buy only part of the packer brisket from a local store. You can also buy something online.
It is unsurprisingly more expensive than other grades due to its high grade.
Choice beef is of high quality but has less marbling than Prime beef. Choice roasts and steaks from the loin and rib are tender, juicy, flavorful, and ideal for dry heating. If not overcooked, many less tender cuts can also be cooked with dry heat. These cuts will be most tender if braised, roasted, or simmered in a tightly covered pan with a small amount of liquid.
This grade is available at Costco, Sam’s, and other butcher shops. Simply put, it is the most common beef grade and the most commonly used in competitions.
It has some marbling but less than the select grade.
If you go to the grocery store today, you’ll see several good grades, but only some will be better. When selecting a choice grade, size, marbling, and thickness are all important factors.
The popularity of this grade in competitions speaks volumes about its quality. Nonetheless, experts advise injecting the barbecue brisket to keep it moist during the smoking process.
This is the second-lowest grade of brisket I’ve seen. Lower grades, such as standard, cutter, and so on, contain the least fat and are firmer. If possible, refrain from using these in competitions commonly found in supermarkets.
The lower the fat content, the firmer the meat. If you’re hosting a dinner party, brine the brisket first to ensure tender and moist meat. However, if you compete, you should avoid this grade.
Otherwise, you risk cooking dry meat.
Wagyu is derived from a Japanese breed of cow and is graded differently. It is also known as American Kobe Beef, and the USDA does not grade it.
Kobe Wagyu cattle produce a heavily marbled brisket. However, one significant disadvantage is the cost. For starters, it is significantly more expensive than other briskets. Second, you often must pay a significant amount for shipping if you are still looking for it locally.
However, because it is so flavorful and tender, this Japanese beef is frequently graded higher than Prime brisket.
Nonetheless, because the USDA does not grade it, this grading may lack credibility as Prime. Furthermore, Wagyu brisket is unpopular among judges and difficult to prepare. As a result, more people prefer prime briskets.
Certified Angus Beef
Certified Angus Beef contains more marbling and has an exceptionally tender, juicy flavor. This brand name is only used for USDA Prime beef and top grades of USDA Choice beef.
Different Parts Of Brisket
When you open your store-bought packer, you’ll notice various brisket parts.
Your brisket’s point cut is small, rounded, and a few inches thick.
This part is made of pectoralis superficial muscles and overlaps the flat cut. The deckle is a thick connective tissue that separates point cut and flat cut.
This part, in particular, has a higher fat content and cooks up quite juicy. It is challenging to cook evenly because the thickness varies from a half-inch to a few inches.
The deckle is the large swirl of cartilage and fat that divides the pointcuts and flat, and it’s easy to see in an untrimmed brisket.
Trim this section away to ensure your brisket lies flattered on the smoker. It will ensure that your brisket cooks evenly. Furthermore, you can easily separate the cuts at the end of smoking.
Fortunately, most packer briskets sold in the United States are deckle-free, so you won’t need to trim them. However, if you come across one with a deckle, remember to trim it.
Brisket Flat Cut
A flat cut is one end of the brisket with a more even square edge and thinner and flatter than the other.
The pectoralis profundi, or deep pectoral muscle, is used to create the flat cut, and it is one of the most common cuts found in the meat department.
This cut is larger than the point cut and accounts for most brisket. It is a popular choice among most cooks because it cooks quickly.
Furthermore, you can easily cut out decent slices.
Because the flat cut is flatter and thinner than other parts, it reaches the required internal temperature faster. On the downside, the cut is prone to overcooking. You may overcook it because it has less fat and is leaner. However, it will keep the piece moist if it comes with a good fat cap.
The fat cap is the thick layer of fat on one side of the brisket, and it is about an inch thick and extends from the point to the flat cut of the piece.
It is made up of both soft and hard fat. The only difference is that soft fat will melt during cooking while hard fat will not.
Because both types of fat promote moistness, they should not be cooked together. Instead, trim the fat cap to between 1/4 and 1/8 inch and remove any excess hard fat at the cut.
This thickness will keep your brisket tender and moist while smoking.
For someone who loves brisket, use Prime Grade or Choice Grade briskets. You can use select, but you must be careful in preparing and smoking it. Wagyu, on the other hand, is a pricey meat that tastes better on steak than on smoked briskets.