There are three main types of brisket – beef, pork, and lamb. In the case of beef brisket, this cut can be further broken down into other cuts.
In culinary school, I had to learn about the different cuts, figure out how to choose them, and discover how to cook them perfectly. My knowledge is now at your disposal!
In this post I will help you to identify the various types of brisket and give you in-depth details about them, including how to prepare them. Let’s get started!
Now, usually when people talk about brisket, they are referring to beef briskets. However, you can also find pork brisket and lamb brisket as well.
So, this begs the question – what is brisket?
This term is typically used to describe the breast section of the animal. It is often well exercised and is known for being a tough piece of meat, complete with lots of connective tissue.
Let me first break down the anatomy of a beef brisket for you:
As mentioned, beef brisket is taken from the breast section of the cow, right below the chuck. This brisket is made up of two distinct sections separated by a layer of fat.
A whole brisket is sometimes called a full packer brisket. It is topped off with a fat cap.
To start with, there is the point cut – sometimes also referred to as the deckle. This area is quite fatty and well marbled. It also sits on top of the other section of the beef brisket – the flat cut.
The flat cut is a leaner cut of meat. As such, the beef taste here isn’t as pronounced as with the point cut. However, this section is larger and more uniform in shape and size.
Smoked brisket is the most common recipe for this cut but corned beef brisket is a close second. Corned beef brisket is made by being cured in rock salt and brine. After this, the meat is slowly cooked until it turns into a tough but tender and flavorful meat.
In general, beef brisket responds well to slow cooking. The low and slow form of cooking allows the connective tissues to break down and turn into a more tender.
Pork brisket is not as easy to find as beef brisket. In fact, you will probably have to go to a specialty butcher to find what you are looking for.
Despite this, the beef and pork brisket have quite a bit in common. For one thing, pork brisket is made up of the bottom half of the shoulder section. You can also think of this section as a larger picnic ham with the bone taken out.
You are also going to find a great deal of fat and connective tissue here. This makes pork brisket an ideal cut of meat for roasts.
Finally, you have the most elusive brisket of them all – lamb brisket. You will be hard pressed to find this at your local grocery store. There is a good chance that you may need to special order it.
Now, if you have never heard of lamb brisket before, you can be forgiven. This is because this cut of meat is rarely sold by itself.
Lamb brisket is typically kept with the belly and sold as a full lamb breast. It does have a high fat content and it also contains a great deal of bone, sinew, and gristle. Despite this, it is actually quite easy to cook.
The other reason that this type of brisket isn’t popular is the taste. In general, lamb brisket tends to have a rather gamey flavor profile. This can be a rather acquired taste and many people don’t enjoy it.
Although you associate brisket with cows – and now with pigs and lambs – these muscles aren’t, exclusive to these animals.
They can also be found on elk, bison, and even deer. The reason that I leave this as a side note is that these types of meat aren’t as popular as the rest. Not to mention, it is harder to find butchers that offer such meat.
You are most likely to come across these animals if you live in certain parts of the country or if you hunt. In this case, of course, you will most likely need to figure out and butcher the animal yourself.
Now, I do want to let you know that the other game meat may not contain as much fat or marbling. These cuts of meat are likely to be a lot smaller and leaner.
Needless to say, you should also expect the meat to taste quite different, so be prepared!
As I have mentioned, beef brisket is far more common and more popular than either pork brisket or lamb brisket. Due to this, I would like to focus on it a little more.
If you are a fan of barbecue, then it is important to understand this cut. It will help you to choose better pieces of meat and ensure that you cook the brisket better too.
Here is what you need to know:
As with any type of beef, there are grades of beef brisket as well. These are Prime, Choice, and Select – with Prime being the best and most expensive cut.
However, the grading system doesn’t end there. These three categories can each be broken down into Upper, Middle, and Lower.
The beef briskets are graded based on the level of marbling as well as the age of the cow. In short, though, the more marbling there is on the beef brisket, the better it will cook.
Now, does this automatically mean that for the best smoked meat or corned beef that you need to choose the higher grade possible? Well, not actually.
After all, one of the reasons that people buy brisket is because it is a cheaper option. The low cost is particularly important if you will be turning your brisket into corned beef.
It is unnecessary to splurge on Prime unless it is a very special occasion. The layer of fat on this grade will ensure that it will end up a far more tender dish. The taste will be nice and beefy as well.
However, Choice will do just fine, especially if it is for Texas barbecue. If you choose Upper Choice brisket, you will find it virtually indistinguishable from Prime.
Then, what about what Select – is it worth the purchase?
Believe it or not, even seasoned pitmasters have had to use Select when the other grades were in short supply. And, while I am a believer that the method of cooking is just as important as the cut, it can be tricky to make a Select brisket taste as tender and delicious as you would like it to.
As I stated earlier, there are different sections of beef brisket. First, you have the full packer brisket. This is the most popular option for smoking.
However, a whole brisket can weigh anywhere from 12 to 20lbs. As such, it is typically meant for restaurants or if you are preparing to feed a very large crowd. Even then, you should be prepared for a lot of leftovers.
The full brisket is typically topped off by a thick layer of the fat cap. This is usually trimmed down before it is cooked, however.
It is due to this that most people prefer either the brisket flat cut or the brisket point cut. Let’s take a closer at the differences between these:
The brisket flat cut is larger in size. Thus, if you are catering to a crowd, then this is the option that is most often chosen.
As an added bonus, it is also quite uniform in shape. This makes the brisket flat cut easier to cook as it cooks at a more even rate, ensuring that the whole brisket cut is done at the same time.
However, when it comes to flavor, the point cut takes the crown. This is why corned beef is made from it. Not only does it have a thicker layer of fat on it, but there is also more marbling throughout.
This results in a more robust beefy flavor for the point cut. Additionally, the fat helps to keep the meat moist.
Despite these differences, though, both the flat cut and point cut are cooked in the same way. You can even smoke them to make BBQ brisket if you like.
Although briskets can come from different animals, they do have one thing in common. This is that they are taken from a section of the animal that gets a great deal of exercise. Thus, these cuts of meat are quite tough.
This is why the most popular way to cook beef brisket, lamb brisket, and pork brisket is via slow cooking.
The slow cooker method allows time for the tissues to break down so that the meat can become more tender. The fat also has time to melt, adding moisture and flavor to the surrounding meat.
However, I will go into greater detail about cooking each of these kinds of briskets…
Apart from making corned beef, the best way to cook beef brisket is to smoke it. If you don’t want to smoke an entire BBQ brisket, then you can choose either a flat cut or point cut. They both taste excellent when smoked.
If you are looking for ease and quantity, then the flat cut is the way to go. The point cut is excellent if you are looking for more flavor.
Here is how to make smoked brisket:
Combine the ingredients of the dry rub and set aside.
Sprinkle the rub all over the brisket and press into the surface of the meat.
Preheat the smoker to 225 F.
Place the brisket in the smoker. The fat cap should be facing the direction of the heat source.
Smoke until the internal temp reaches 160 F.
Take the brisket out of the smoker and wrap in pink butcher paper.
Place back in the smoker and cook until the internal temp reaches 195 F.
Let the brisket rest for at least an hour.
Then, slice against the grain and serve.
The first thing that you will need to do is to trim the brisket. There may be sinewy pieces, silvery skin, and extra fats that need to be removed.
You will also need to trim the fat cap. While some fat is good, too much can interfere with the smoking process. Thus, trim it down so that it is 1/4th of an inch in thickness.
If you want to, you can dry brine the brisket ahead of time. This is a process where you sprinkle kosher salt all over the brisket and then let it sit overnight or for even a day. This helps to tenderize the brisket and is great for adding flavor as well.
Another thing that you can consider is injecting the meat. This is where a mixture of stock and melted butter is injected deep into the brisket. This is great for retaining moisture and can really help to amp up the flavor.
The great thing about injecting brisket is that this process works much faster than with the dry brine.
When it comes to choosing wood chips or pellets, stronger flavors such as hickory and mesquite are preferred. This is because the beef has a such a robust flavor itself that it can easily hold up to these woods.
When smoking larger cuts, it is best to wrap the meat when the internal temp hits 160 degrees F. At this point, a phenomenon known as the stall sets in. When this happens, the meat stops cooking for hours on end.
Wrapping the meat forces the temperature around the brisket to go up and for the meat to begin smoking again. This can speed up the cooking process considerably.
It is important to always let the brisket rest for as long as possible. Do this for at least an hour. This gives the meat to reabsorb any liquids or moisture that it has lost during the cook.
And, when slicing the brisket, make sure to cut against the grain. This will produce slices with a far better texture.
As I mentioned earlier on, you will probably need to ask for and cook lamb breast instead of just a lamb brisket.
The other suggestion that I would make is to use cook lamb in a vertical smoker instead of a horizontal one. See, when hung vertically, the fat from the lamb is able to drain away.
Now, under normal circumstances this wouldn’t be a good thing but as I said, lamb brisket tends to have a rather gamey taste to it. As the fat is allowed to drain, this gaminess decreases and the lamb adopts a milder flavor that is more palatable to all.
It is also a good idea to cook the lamb at a higher temperature than you would other kinds of briskets. Smoking the meat at around 300 degrees F helps the skin to become nice and crispy. Don’t worry, it is virtually impossible to overcook or dry out this kind of brisket.
I would advise you to keep the rub simple – kosher salt, pepper, and perhaps some paprika or chili powder should do the trick.
Once in the smoker, cook the meat for about 5 to 6 hours or until it is appropriately tender.
Due to all the sinew, gristle, and bones, cutting lamb brisket is no easy task. This is why it is simply best to pull the meat off the bone and eat in sandwiches, tacos, etc.
Here is a great recipe for smoked pork brisket:
Combine the ingredients of the dry rub in a small bowl.
Apply to the entire pork brisket.
Preheat the smoker to 225 degrees F.
Place the brisket in the smoker and cook until the internal temperature registers at 165 degrees F.
Then remove from the smoker and wrap in pink butcher paper.
Place back in the smoker and smoke until the internal temp reaches 190 degrees F. Take out of the smoker.
Let the pork brisket rest for 30 minutes. Then, slice against the grain and serve.
If you don’t have a smoker, this is fine. You can also cook the brisket in the oven. Make sure to still set the oven to 225 F, though. With the method, you will cook the brisket for about 4 hours straight or until the internal temperature registers at 190 F.
If you are smoking it, then there is the question of which wood chips or pellets you will need to use for your smoker.
I would suggest something mild like cherry or apple. If you would like a slightly smokier version, then try oak wood. Avoid anything too strong as pork can be rather mild flavored itself. So, you don’t want to overpower the taste of the meat.
There isn’t a best cut, per se. Rather, you need to specify if you want a flat cut or point cut. A flat cut is great for a large crowd while a point cut is the tastier option.
This is known as a full packer.
It is usually referred to as a brisket but if you are choosing smaller cuts, you will have to inform the butcher whether you want a flat cut or a point cut.
As you can see, there is more than one type of brisket. There is also a whole lot to learn about each of these types. Now that you are all caught up, though, cooking any type of brisket will be a breeze for you!