What Part of the Cow Is Brisket? – Your Guide to Understanding Brisket

Who’s ready to talk about that holy grail of barbecue goodness, the beef brisket? Oh yeah, you know what I’m talking about. That mouthwatering, slow-cooked beauty that has a way of making friends and family gather ’round the grill like moths to a flame. No wonder why brisket has become one of the most popular cuts of beef.

But have you ever stopped mid-bite and wondered, “Hey, just what part of the cow is this brisket anyway?” Well, you’re in luck, because today, we’re going to tackle this large cut of beef.

To kick things off, let’s get a handle on what we’re talking about when we say “brisket”.

Brisket is primal a cut of beef from the lower chest or breast of a cow.

But don’t let the simple definition fool you. This humble piece of meat is a rockstar in the world of grilling and smoking, loved for its rich flavor and tender, melt-in-your-mouth goodness when it’s treated right.

Table of Contents

What Part of the Cow Is Brisket?

Picture a cow, and then focus your attention on its front breast portion. That’s right, brisket comes from the breast area of the cow. It’s not just any cut of beef, mind you. It’s one of the nine primal cuts, which are the big pieces of beef first separated from the carcass during butchering. Talk about being part of the beefy elite!

The brisket is a muscular area of the cow with a generous amount of fat, and it’s packed with tough tissues and collagen.

Now, because it’s so tough, you can’t just throw a brisket on the grill and hope for the best. Nope, brisket is a large cut that demands patience. You need to slow-cook it for hours which allows the heat to gradually break down all that collagen and connective tissue. The result? A tender, juicy piece of meat that’s worth every minute of the wait.

Cow Butchering Diagram

Point vs Flat: The Sub Primal Cuts of Brisket

Before we delve into our next topic, it’s worth noting that brisket can be purchased in two ways.

You can buy a whole brisket, a hefty chunk of meat that can easily weigh 18 pounds. It’s a true testament to your BBQ commitment that can easily set you back by 100 bucks. It’s like buying the whole cake because one slice just won’t do.

But if that sounds a bit too ambitious, don’t worry. Brisket can also be divided into two distinct sub-primal cuts, each with its unique characteristics.

  • The point cut
  • The flat cut

Now, let’s get to know these two cuts a bit better, shall we?

The Point Cut

The point cut is one portion of the brisket that’s attached to the ribs of the cow. It’s distinguished by its thickness and high-fat content. Located on the upper part of the brisket, it’s characterized by marbling or streaks of fat throughout the meat. This fat contributes to the rich flavor and moist texture that the point cut is known for.

Also referred to as the “deckle,” the point cut is particularly suitable for specific barbecue dishes like brisket burnt ends due to its fat content. The slow and steady cooking process allows the fat to render and baste the meat, enhancing its natural flavors and maintaining moisture.

Characteristics of the Flat Cut

The flat cut, on the other hand, is the other half of the brisket. It’s leaner and denser compared to the point cut. This part of the brisket, also known as the “first cut” or “thin cut,” has less fat marbling.

Despite its lean nature, the flat cut is far from being flavorless. It provides a robust beef flavor that’s appreciated by many barbecue enthusiasts. It’s excellent for slicing and often served as the centerpiece of barbecue meals.

However, due to its lower fat content, the flat cut requires careful cooking to avoid drying out. Maintaining a low and consistent temperature during the cooking process is crucial to ensure the meat remains juicy and tender.

What Are The Different Ways To Cook Brisket?

Now that we’ve gotten well-acquainted with our star cut of beef, let’s explore the exciting ways we can bring it to life on the plate. Although brisket isn’t a one-trick pony, it’s not exactly the 

  • Smoking – Place the brisket in the smoker and off you go. Smoking is the classic go-to method for many brisket lovers. It’s a bit of a labor of love, requiring patience and time (lots of it!), but the payoff is a brisket imbued with deep, smoky flavor and that melt-in-your-mouth tenderness that’s the stuff of BBQ legends.
  • Roasting –  For those who prefer to keep things indoors, roasting is a fantastic option. It’s all about cooking the brisket at a low temperature in your oven for an extended period of time. This method can deliver a beautifully tender brisket that’s perfect for a Sunday roast.
  • Braising – This is the superhero of cooking methods for transforming tough cuts like brisket into fork-tender delights. Braising involves searing the brisket, then letting it simmer slowly in a flavorful liquid. The end result will be a tasty flavor-infused pot roast. Sometimes, even your smoked brisket can end up tasting like a pot roast
  • Curing – A unique method that turns our beloved brisket into a whole new culinary delight. When you cure a brisket, you’re taking it on a flavorful journey that results in corned beef. This process involves marinating the brisket in brine with curing salts and seasonings for several days. The result? A deliciously tender, flavorful, and aromatic corned beef that’s a far cry from the canned stuff. It’s a corned beef experience that’s sure to make your taste buds dance a jig of joy. So, if you’re up for a culinary adventure, give curing a go!
  • Boiling – Just kidding, folks!

This cut of beef requires patience. Keep it low and slow, and it’ll reward you with a BBQ experience that’s nothing short of sublime. Rushing the cooking process or using high heat will only end with a brisket that’s as tough as cowboy boots.

TIP: You can braise brisket even on a standard gas or charcoal grill – sear it over high heat and then place it in a covered foil pan and keep the heat low for several hours.

How Long Does It Take To Cook Beef Brisket?

Brisket Burnt Ends
Brisket Burnt Ends

Alright, now we’re getting to the meat of the matter (pun absolutely intended!). How long does it take to cook this hunk of beefy goodness known as brisket? Well, my friends, if you’re looking for a quick fix, brisket probably isn’t your guy. But if you’re ready to invest some time in pursuit of BBQ excellence, then read on.

The time it takes to cook a brisket depends on a few factors.

  • Cooking method
  • Size of the cut
  • The temperature you’re cooking at

But here’s a general rule of thumb: brisket likes to take its sweet time – good things come to those who wait.

If you’re smoking your brisket, you can expect it to take about 1 to 1.5 hours per pound at a smoker temperature of 225-250°F. So, if you’re working with a 12-pound brisket, you’re looking at about 12 to 18 hours of cooking time. I know, I know, that’s a whole lotta time. But believe me, the flavor payoff is worth every minute.

If you’re roasting, braising, or slow-cooking your brisket, you can expect a slightly shorter time frame. Remember, low and slow is still the name of the game here. Of those methods, braising is perhaps the fastest way to cook brisket. Especially when done in a pressure cooker.

As for curing your brisket into corned beef, the process takes several days, as the brisket needs to thoroughly marinate in the brine.

Why Is Brisket So Expensive?

We’ve arrived at the million-dollar question (or should I say the $20-per-pound question): why is brisket so darn expensive? If you’ve ever found yourself standing in the butcher shop, staring at the price tag on a brisket and wondering if it’s made of gold, you’re not alone. Prices of brisket have gone up significantly over recent years. A couple of years ago, you could get it for about 3 bucks per pound. Nowadays? Expect to pay about double that. So why the high price tag? Let’s break it down.

  • Inflation: Over time prices of pretty much everything are rising. That’s inflation for you, my friends. In recent years, the whole world is suffering from incredibly high inflation and it, of course, affects beef prices as well.
  • Supply and Demand: The laws of supply and demand aren’t just for economics textbooks, they apply to our beloved brisket too. Over the past few years, there have been some serious droughts, causing many ranchers to reduce their herds. Fewer cows mean less brisket, but our appetite for good brisket hasn’t diminished. So, less supply + high demand = higher prices.
  • Feeding Prices: It turns out, cows are pretty high maintenance. They need to eat a lot, and the cost of their feed has been increasing. Just like how your grocery bill goes up when food prices increase, the same thing happens for ranchers. And guess who ends up paying for those extra costs? Yup, you guessed it, us brisket lovers.

These are some of the most prominent reasons for the high prices. Remember. Everyone from the rancher to the butcher has to make a profit and it quickly adds up.

Is Brisket The Best Part Of The Cow?

So, we’ve been singing the praises of brisket for a while now, but is it really the best part of the cow? Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and taste is on the tongue of the BBQ lover.

Brisket has a lot going for it – it’s rich and flavorful, and when cooked properly, it’s tender and incredibly satisfying. But “best” is a subjective term, isn’t it? What’s best for one person might not be for another. Maybe you’re a rib-eye kind of person, drawn to its tenderness and marbling. Or perhaps you’re a fan of the short rib, with its meaty, beefy goodness. Maybe you’re all about that sirloin, or you’ve got a soft spot for a juicy T-bone.

For me, it’s certainly not the best part. I am that rib-eye kind of guy. But still, still I do like the flavor of the brisket as well.

Conclusion

Well, folks, we’ve journeyed through the world of brisket together, exploring its origins on our bovine buddies, deciphering the difference between point and flat cuts, and delving into the many ways you can cook this beefy beauty. We’ve even tackled the big questions, like why brisket costs as much as a small country’s GDP and whether it’s truly the crowning glory of the cow.

What we’ve learned is that brisket is more than just a piece of meat. It’s a labor of love, a BBQ tradition, and a culinary adventure. It’s a testament to the magic that happens when you cook something low and slow, transforming a tough cut into a tender, flavorful masterpiece.

So whether you’re smoking, roasting, braising, or even curing your brisket, remember to give it the time it deserves. After all, good things come to those who wait, and a well-cooked brisket is definitely a good thing.

And hey, the next time someone asks, “What part of the cow is brisket?” you’ll be able to tell them with confidence. Until next time, happy BBQ-ing!

FAQ

What is the best way to season a brisket?

Seasoning a brisket is all about personal preference. A simple rub of salt and pepper can let the beefy flavor of the brisket shine. But feel free to get creative with your spices! Some folks love a bit of brown sugar in the mix, while others swear by garlic powder, onion powder, or even a touch of smoked paprika.

How can I tell when my brisket is done?

The best way to tell if your brisket is done is by using a meat thermometer. You’re looking for an internal temperature of the meat of about 190-210°F (88-99°C).  You should be sticking the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat. Relying solely on the temperature is not always a reliable way to get great results. It’s important to follow tried and tested methods to ensure your brisket comes out perfectly cooked and tender.

What are "burnt ends"?

Burnt ends are a special treat! They are bite-sized pieces of meat made from the point cut of the brisket. Smothered with a Kansas City-style BBQ sauce, these little morsels are deliciously flavorful. Originally, they were sliced off the brisket as an afterthought, but they quickly became a popular dish and a staple of barbecue.

Can I cook a brisket in my slow cooker or Instant Pot?

Absolutely! While these methods won’t give you the traditional smoky flavor you’d get from a smoker, they can still yield a tender and delicious brisket. It’s gonna taste like pot roast. Not necessarily a bad thing.

How should I slice my cooked brisket?

Always slice brisket against the grain. This helps make the meat more tender when you’re eating it. The grain refers to the direction that the muscle fibers are aligned.

Can I freeze my brisket?

Yes, you can store brisket in the freezer, either raw or cooked. Place the brisket into a Ziploc bag to prevent freezer burn. When you’re ready to use it, let it thaw in the refrigerator.

Photo of author

John Carder

John Carder is the founder of FreshAirChef.com. He loves to cook outdoors, especially over a campfire. John has a lovely wife and two cats who he loves dearly. In his spare time, he likes to play soccer and paint; he's not particularly good at either, but he enjoys the process nonetheless. He also has silly long hair which often gets in his way while cooking!