Tips for Buying Brisket
Butchers typically sell two types of brisket: flat cut and point cut. What's the difference between the two?
Brisket is a rich-tasting cut with moist, unctuous texture that stars everything from corned beef to braises and smoky barbecue. Once an inexpensive cut that was only available as U.S.D.A. Choice and Select, you can now find premium brisket categorized as Prime or even Wagyu.
A full brisket, the large slab of muscle from the cow’s chest, weighs upwards of 16 pounds, so butchers typically split it into two separate pieces: point cut and flat cut. Both cuts are beefy tasting and cook up velvety and moist, but they have some important differences.
OUR FAVORITE: FLAT CUT
The flat cut (the pectoralis profundus), which comes from the bottom portion of the whole brisket, is rectangular and uniform, making it visually appealing and easy to slice. It is relatively lean, but topped with a thick fat cap that renders during cooking, helping to keep the meat tender and juicy. This cut is readily available in most supermarkets and is generally less expensive than the point cut.
Make sure to trim the fat cap according to the instructions in whatever recipe you are using. In the case of our Home-Corned Beef with Vegetables recipe, for example, leaving too much fat in place will impede the curing process, while too little will result in overcooking. A small fat cap provides the best flavor here.
The knobby, irregularly shaped point cut (the pectoralis superficialis, also known as the deckle) comes from the top portion of the whole brisket. It has extensive marbling which keeps it moist during cooking. Because the point cut is thicker, it can take longer to cook than than the flat cut. This cut can be hard to find in supermarkets and, when it is available, it’s generally more expensive than the flat cut.
Also called the “packer brisket,” this huge cut is usually the provenance of pit masters. But if you’re feeding a crowd and up for taking on an all-day challenge like Texas-style smoked brisket, it’s well worth it. A full brisket will mean you’ll have leaner slices from the flat cut for those who prefer them, along with more well-marbled slices from the point. Just remember you’ll have to special order it from your butcher.