Lean vs Moist Brisket: What’s the Difference? 

November 25, 2022

Lean briskets are denser beef cuts, have less fat, and have a more beefy flavor than moist brisket cuts. However, I’ll always go for the moist version because it’s fatty. There are more intramuscular fats or marbling that make your BBQ juicy, moist, and never dry out. 

I’ve learned all the differences between lean vs moist brisket since my cooking school days. So, in this article, I’ll help you explore the contrasting benefits of moist versus lean beef brisket, and how one can distinguish the differences. 

Lean vs moist brisket

Lean vs Moist Brisket: The Differences

Attribute

Lean Brisket

Moist Brisket

Cut

Flat brisket

Point brisket

Fat Marbling 

Less intramuscular fat

Lot of fat marbling

Juiciness

Less juicy

Quite juicy

Cooking Method

Hot and fast grilling

Low and slow smoking 

First, it’s quite easy choosing between a moist or lean meat from a whole brisket because they have clear differences.

Like I always say, beef briskets are composed of two types of muscles – the point and flat muscles. 

The bigger one known as the brisket flat contains a big fat cap and no marbling. So it’s quite lean. Lean cuts are often found on supermarket shelves and have their fats trimmed away.

The problem is the lack of internal fat doesn’t allow heat to penetrate or the inside to get more moisture that might help cooking. So it’s best if you cook it fast and hot. Otherwise, you won’t enjoy the steak. 

The point brisket, on the other hand, is somewhat smaller. But it has a lot of marbling that gives cooked meat more heat.  

Lean beef brisket is generally defined as a flat end of meat. This section has less marbling than the point, which is fatter. Lean or flat-end brisket is the curved part that has less marbling. If you select this option, then you are going to get meat from start to end. 

On the other hand, moist or fatty meat has streaks of fat running through the meat muscles called intramuscular fat. This infuses the meat with an intense beefy flavor.

Instead of moist, some pitmasters at the barbecue joint might call this type of brisket juicy, fatty, or highly-marbled brisket.

Moist Brisket vs Lean Brisket: What’s the Superior Cut?

The superior cut for me is the moist or fatty meat. It has all that the lean cut has but the lean side doesn’t have what the moist cut has. 

But what’s the superior cut – moist or lean meat – completely depends on the eater’s taste buds, moods, and needs. 

While the flat end is flavorful and more tender, the point meat is also flavorful, juicy, and never dried out. A true BBQ fan is always fascinated by the excellent taste provided by the points. They are absolutely great for taco filling or for recipes that need shredded meats. The meat is quite fatty but if cooked properly, the marbling will turn to the rendered fat. Then the rendered fat gives the meat an intense flavor and a crispy bark. 

Brisket is best smoked low and slow for several hours. A lean cut of meat ends up drying out and is best done hot and fast. Brisket cuts don’t allow that. They’re tough meat cuts that need low and long smoking to get tender. When the cooking is done, the meat is wrapped in aluminum foil and rested so that the remaining heat from within creates steam.

So, fatty brisket is best for the real brisket style of cooking. Fatty brisket cuts like the point meat have more fat marbling, rich flavor, and get quite juicy. So, you won’t need to do a lot of spritzing and it won’t dry up during a long cook. In the end, you can shred it to make a delicious sandwich or taco filling.

Flat-end cuts are attractive and easy to carve. Their aesthetically attractive shape would make them ideal for sit-down dinners or other formal occasions.

Some people like it because of its intense flavors. If cooked properly, this can produce unmatched deep and rich flavors. 

However, the brisket points are more forgiving when cooked longer. The result is particularly better when cooked in barbecue sauce.

Sliced Smoked Brisket

Why Do We Call Brisket Points Moist?

It’s called moist because of the fat marbling which helps moisturize the meat during cooking. This helps the steak get juicy and keep cooking without drying out, getting tough, or chewy. 

Our cuisine now has an aversion towards all things that contain “fat” in the name, besides the hard-core barbecue junkies. Years ago, restaurateurs in Texas found that it was better if brisket points were called “moist” and not “fatty.” 

How to Keep Briskets Moist?

Keeping brisket moisturized is a task that will require cooking the meat at a very low temperature. Cooking low and slow at around 225 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit will make your moist brisket retain the juice which is obtained from the moisturizing or liquefying of the fat marbling.

Low and slow ensures the moisture stays in. There is less evaporation which may be due to high-heat cooking. But when the internal temperature hits 195 degrees, then it’s time to remove it from the fire before it overcooks and dries out.

However, note that excess humidity could cause the brisket to lose the crisp bark. You may decide to lock the juice in by giving the steak a reverse sear after hours of smoking. 

Another method to keep your brisket moist would be to spritz it with apple juice or cider vinegar. Spritzing brisket can help it keep the moist texture but this would be more needed for lean flat briskets. 

How to Keep Your Brisket Juicy While Slicing?

After long resting periods, an initially juicy steak may not remain moist. It may get a bit chewy and tough while and after slicing due to many reasons. Fortunately, I’ll show you some tips to help you keep sliced brisket tender and moist:

1. Cut Across the Grain

Always cut the meat across the grain. This is the golden rule for cutting beef, not just tough cuts like briskets. It helps you carve into the muscle and break the tough points. 

To see which direction the meat fibers go, start by cutting out the meat at a small corner. It will show how the grain moves through it. If the grain or the muscle fibers go horizontally on your chopping board, cut the meat vertically. 

While cutting, the knife and the grain must cross at an intersection, never going parallel or side by side. 

Otherwise, even if you’ve done all the hard work getting the brisket tender and juicy, you’ll find improperly sliced brisket difficult to chew. Meat cut across the grain cuts into pieces easily during chewing because the fibers are short. 

Against the grain, the muscle fibers run quite long. You’ll need to master how to swallow them rather than chew them. 

2. Keep the Cut Ends Together

When you press the sliced ends of the steak together, the juice will not run out, leaving the meat drier. 

This can be done before the cooking process so the juice doesn’t end in the drip pan. With this method, you’ll retain the fatty juice and water. 

Juicy Piece of Brisket

3. Cook Low and Slow

I always advise smoking or grilling tough steaks at low to medium heat to preserve the juice. You can finish your steak that way or do a reverse sear to better seal the moist part. 

4. Wrap It in Foil

Wrapping the brisket during and after the cooking process will of course help the juice lock in. 

The foil also locks all the residual heat inside during long resting periods. This residual heat then creates steam. Note that excess humidity won’t help you get the bark crispy.

FAQs 

Is Lean or Moist Brisket Better?

For me, the moist one is the best, especially if you want juicy but flavorful cuts. The lean side may offer better flavor after escaping from the big fat cap. So when you are ordering brisket your next step could be to follow Jack Spratt’s suggestion to go lean. However, you better ensure you’re an expert in cooking tough meats. Lean briskets tend to get tough and dry when not well prepared. 

Is Brisket a Lean Cut?

Brisket cuts are not particularly lean or moist. Almost all cuts vary in texture depending on many factors. I’d say briskets contain all elements of meat – the beef meat in the flat part, the white fat cap on the flat end, and fat marbling in the point cut.  It also depends on where you buy your beef. You’ll find leaner cuts on the supermarket shelves with the fats already trimmed away. The cuts at the butcher store tend to be fatty especially when the brisket has just been removed.

Is Lean Brisket Dry?

Yes, the lean cut ends up dry, especially when cooked too long and the internal temperature hits 195 to 200 degrees. Lean cuts are especially susceptible to drying because there is very little fat in the thick meat. In addition, unless the brisket is smoked perfectly, the fat and moisture evaporate quickly.

One way to prevent the steak from drying is to cook it in a stew. If you have to smoke or grill it, then keep it spritzed with apple juice, apple cider vinegar, or hot sauce every 30 to 45 minutes

Are Lean Briskets Tough?

Lean briskets are naturally tough cuts of meat. And not just lean briskets, all brisket cuts are generally tough. This doesn’t mean we lose our chance of a juicy and tender brisket. Wrapping them, keeping the juice from dripping out, and slicing them across the grain can help you have a more tenderized lean steak. 

BBQ Beef Brisket

Conclusion

Generally, a packer brisket usually has two muscle groups — the point and the flat ends. The point at the top is larger and well-marbled. This is the moist cut. 

However, rectangular flats under it are denser and have less intramuscular fat. This is what we call the lean beef brisket

So which is the better cut? Lean or fatty? Like I said, in the lean vs moist brisket comparison, the type of meat you eat determines which you consider the best. 

There was an age when lean foods were widely preferred by the masses. This is no longer the case today. BBQ enthusiasts are not only able to tolerate but also enjoy meat with moderate portions of fat. Asides from the taste, such meat stays juicier, is easier to cook, and is more comfortable to chew. 

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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