Your Pound of Flesh: What Part of the Cow is Brisket?

The brisket is a cut of beef that comes from the breast muscles of a cow.

Working as a professional chef isn't just about learning how to cook dishes well, it also involves picking out the best and freshest foods. After many years of practice, I can now pick out a cut of brisket that is perfect for any dish.

In this post you will discover what part of the cow is brisket, how to choose an excellent cut yourself, and more. Lets begin!

Brisket

What is Brisket?

Beef brisket falls under the category of forequarter cuts - the front half of the animal. It is a triangular cut taken from the breast or lower chest portion of the cow. It is essentially the deep pectoral muscle. Beef brisket is one of the primal cuts of beef.

It is a tough cut to cook with. This part of the animal is well-exercised and as a result, well-muscled. To add to this, it is largely comprised of connective tissue. You are left with a thick and coarse grained meat.

This can sound rather off-putting but the truth is that brisket is one of the most flavorful cuts of meat. Even the fact that it can be a little fatty is an advantage. When cooked correctly, the fat tenderizes the meat giving you a tender and tasty cut of beef.

A good brisket requires time, patience, and a willingness to get this dish just right. It can seem quite overwhelming but with the right instructions, you can conquer this dish in no time at all. In fact, once you get started on it, you will discover just how simple it is to manage.

How is Brisket Used in Dishes?

Brisket is a lot more versatile than you may have realized. When you think of beef brisket, your probably think of the braised or smoked brisket.

However, did you know that it is also used as a man ingredient in corned beef and pastrami? It is often used for pot roast and, if you have ever had Vietnamese pho, then this is the meat that is used here as well!

How to Choose Beef Brisket?

Now that you know what part of the cow is brisket, it is time to move onto something just as important: selecting the brisket. Here are the top tips to follow:

Know Your Cut

The first thing that you should be aware of is that there are two types of beef brisket. These are known as the flat cut and point cut. Together, these two cuts make up a whole beef brisket, which is sometimes known as a full packer.

The point cut is a knobby piece of meet that extends over the rectangular flat cut. It has more marbling and is considered the more expensive cut.

While the flat cut of meat is lean, it is topped with a thick fat cap. It also has a more uniform shape, making it a popular cut among chefs. The fat cap on this slab does need to be trimmed, but a little bit does help to add flavor.

Despite offering more flavor, some people do prefer the flat cut as it offers more bang for your buck. With the other cut of brisket, trimming away the fat can make you feel like you are losing out on meat.

Choose the Proper Size

These cuts of beef can vary quite a bit in size - you can expect anything from 2 pounds to 14 pounds. When choosing size, the rule of thumb is half a pound per person. Now this calculation should leave leftovers so you shouldn't be tempted into buying much more than this.

Consider the Appearance

It is important to remember that brisket isn't steak. Thus, when looking for a good slab, it isn't the marbling that you should be focused on. Rather, pay attention to the color. The brisket should be a deep and rich red. As for the fat, it should look clean and white.

What is Brisket Called at the Grocery Store?

Although you are now aware what part of the cow is brisket, you should also know that it can fall under various names. While beef brisket or packer brisket is a common enough term, you will find that this meat is also referred to by its specific cut.

If you are in another state or other region, then it is a good idea to do some research. Here, the terms and labels aren't quite as straightforward. For instance, in some areas, packer brisket may be referred to as flank.

Always be certain of what you are asking for.

Trimming the Fat - What You Should Know

When preparing brisket for the cooking process, your first order of business involves trimming any extra fat. Now, the key here is to remove some, but not all of the fat. A thin layer of fat adds flavor and also makes the meat more tender.

bbq brisket

So, what size should the layer of fat be?

Well, this is a personal choice but you should try to leave about 1/8th of an inch of fat. This should be just right.

How to Cook Brisket?

There are many different ways to cook brisket - it is a versatile piece of meat. The one that remains the same for every dish, though, is slow cooking over low temperatures.

As mentioned, the brisket muscles or rather the pectoral muscles of this part of the cow are incredibly tough. There is also plenty of connective tissue. The meat can be cooked over low temperatures to break down the meat fibers and create a delicious and succulent treat. As a result, the cooking process can take hours.

Here are some of the different methods for cooking brisket:

Smoked Brisket

This is perhaps one of the more popular ways to prepare beef brisket.

The first step with smoked brisket is season. Since the smoker is responsible for creating a gorgeous smoky flavor, you can keep the seasoning simple. Perhaps some salt, black pepper, and garlic powder.

Let the seasonings sit for as long as possible. This will allow the flavors to permeate the meat, particularly the salt.

Then, it is time to prepare and preheat the smoker. Here, feel free to add apple or cherry wood to the smoker. This imparts a wonderful flavor to the brisket. Once the smoker has heated up, place the brisket in and smoke for several hours.

Check the cut of meat every hour or so. To check if it is done, gently stick a fork in. If the fork easily slips in all the way through without any resistance, then it is done. You can also use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature to make sure that it is cooked all the way through.

Pot Roast

Pot roast is another one of the popular preparation techniques. Here, the brisket is prepared in the oven.

You start off by browning the brisket - around 5 minutes per side. Then, you create a sauce from broth, tomato sauce, red wine, carrots, and seasonings. This is added to the brisket pan and it goes back in the oven for about three and a half hours.

The remaining liquid and ingredients can be strained and cooked up as a serving sauce.

Slow Cooker Brisket

This is quickly becoming a popular cooking process as it requires very little work on your end. Here, you create a rub out of spices and work it into the beef brisket. Make homemade barbecue sauce and add this to your slow cooker. Place the whole brisket inside and cook for 8 to 10 hours, depending on the size of the brisket.

You can also cook down the other ingredients in the slow cooker to create a serving sauce.

Sous Vide Brisket

This method of cooking the brisket is a little bit more unusual, but still worth a try! You get the smoky flavor of a traditional smoked brisket with the added bonus of moisture and tenderness.

Make a rub and work it into the brisket. Add liquid smoke and vacuum seal the whole brisket. Set your precision cooker to 135°F (57°C) and add the brisket to a water bath.

Then allow the meat to cook for 24 to 36 hours, until it has reached the desired level of tenderness.

Can You Make Corned Beef at Home?

Yes, you can make corned beef at home, but you should know that this process can take days. Thus, this method of preparing brisket requires effort and patience.

For corned beef, you will require a salty curing brine. To the brine, you will add pickling spices. These can include whole coriander, allspice berries, mustard seeds, cloves, peppercorns, and more.

The brisket will then be placed in the brine for 5 to 7 days, until the corned beef is sufficiently tender and the connective tissue aren't as tough anymore. Every day, flip the brisket over to the other side, this ensures that the entire piece of meat is pickled equally well.

How to Slice Brisket the Right Way?

Believe it or not, slicing the brisket is just as important as how you slow cook the meat. Here is how to do it the right way each and every time:

brisket with sauce

Let the Brisket Rest

This is key - never cut into a brisket shortly after you remove it from its heat source. It needs to rest so that juices can redistribute throughout the slab. Not only does this make the meat more tender, but it also ensures in a tastier cut.

If you are in a rush, let the meat sit for at least an hour. It is best to way for up to three hours before cutting into the cooked brisket, though.

You should also not slice the brisket unless you are ready to eat. While the meat is intact, it will hold onto its moisture. Once it is exposed to air, however, it will begin to dry out.

Use a Good Knife

Look for a long, sharp, and serrated blade - around 14 inches should work. A longer blade ensures that all the meat is cut at once. If there are any tough parts, then the serrated edge of the knife will tackle these with ease.

Slice Against the Grain

If there is still any excess fat, now is the time to cut it off. You may want to avoid going overboard, though , as the fat does hold a lot of flavor. That being said, there are some who don't enjoy the taste or the texture of the fat, and this is fine.

The reason that you need to cut against the grain is because the connective tissue of the brisket can be tough and chewy when it is intact. When you go against the alignment, you are able to cut through this, resulting in a more tender bite.

The first thing that you will need to do is to find the grain. You can do this by cutting a small corner in the brisket. This will allow you to see how the muscle on the brisket is aligned. Always watch every slice that you cut as the grain can change midway through the brisket.

Cut the meat gently - use the same technique as you would if you were cutting a slice of bread. Don't cut downwards, but avoid sawing through the meat as well.

Don't Discard the Burnt Ends

The burnt ends can be tricky to chop and most people assumed that they are charred and throw them away. You shouldn't do this, though! This bits are incredibly tasty. Make sure to add them into the rest of the meat before serving. It will round up the whole flavor of the brisket.

How to Serve Brisket?

There isn't a set list of sides for brisket - it is up to your preferences. Mashed potatoes, white bread, coleslaw, corn on the cob... the list goes on. Roast vegetables and potato salad are a great way to go as well. There are some people who will even eat brisket with mac and cheese.

Think about the sides that will work well with a barbecue and go from there!

Storing Brisket

If you aren't planning on eating the brisket right away, then let the meat sit its juices and liquids for a while. This will allow it absorb flavor and get nice and tender. The brisket will also retain this texture when reheated later on.

It is best if you cut the brisket into slices before storing it. Otherwise, you will need to thaw and reheat the entire block of meat if you want to use it later on. It is a good idea to save any sauces or juices from the dish and freeze as well. This can be used during the reheating process.

When reheating the brisket, you have two options. The first is to place the slices in a pan and add the sauce or some broth. If you have frozen a large chunk of the meat, then reheat it in the oven, adding sauce, broth, or some other kind of flavorful liquid.

Why is Brisket So Expensive?

If you have recently checked out the prices of brisket, you may be wondering what on earth is happening. Why has this meat gotten quite so expensive?

Well, there are a few reasons for this.

First and foremost, there are only so many slabs of brisket per cow. Now that you are aware of what part of the cow is brisket, you can understand that it is in short supply.

To add to this, cuisine such as Texan and Korean barbecue has become insanely popular recently. Brisket is a popular ingredient in these dishes. Not only are people buying them up to recreate their own food, but there is plenty of competitions with restaurants as well.

This means that not only is there a greater demand, but there is less brisket to go around too.

How can you still get brisket at a decent price?

If your grocery stores are quoting crazy prices, then you may want to check out smaller local butchers. They may be able to offer you a better price.

Or, just simply buy a smaller piece of meat. Brisket goes a long way so even a smaller quantity can amount to quite a bit. When you throw in sides, you have yourself a full meal!

The question of what part of the cow is brisket can seem like a simple one, but there is so much to learn about this type of meat. Knowledge is the key to choosing the right slab of meat and then cooking it until it is just perfect.

I had to go through years of lessons, but it was all worth it to share it with you! Now you know exactly what to do every step of the way. This puts you in a far better position to create the brisket of your dreams. You are even aware of how to cut and store the meat as well.

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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