Brisket Basics: Buy and Prep

After years of watching others cook some amazing brisket for you, this might be the year you decide to take on the challenging cut of meat for yourself.  In this two-part article we’ll take a look at each part of the process to help those Gents that just need a bit of encouragement to get after it and make this the year they make their first brisket.

Buy

The only type of cut you don’t want for brisket is USDA Select.  The price of brisket seems to go up all the time, and given its history as a throwaway cut or something to be ground into hamburger, it’s perhaps a sign of just how far brisket has come that it’s no longer confined to Select and Choice grades, but comes in Prime and even Wagyu.  Which grade should you get?  The best you can afford, with a note that Wagyu brisket is something you should definitely treat yourself to at least once.

Generally you’re going to want to get a full packer, which will be in the 12-14 pound range before trimming.  While you’ll find brisket in many grocery stores, you’ll always get the best service from your local butcher, who can also get to know your likes and dislikes and can hence help you pick out better cuts for the flavors you are aiming for.

Obviously with many of the briskets in packaging already it may be hard to inspect it too much, but look for good red color in the meat and “bend,” some flexibility right off the bat.

What is Brisket?

If you’re looking at a full/whole packer, these are the overlapping muscles from the chest of a cow.  The animal will use these muscles to walk, run, push itself off the ground so it’s made up of tight connective tissue.  When you are looking at the brisket itself you are going to see a “point” that is usually fattier and the “flat” which will have less fat.

Prep

Your butcher may have already trimmed down the brisket for you, in which case, great, you don’t have to worry about it.  However, if that hasn’t been done, you’ll want to trim it when it is cold, right out of the fridge.  You’ll want to trim your fat down to about a quarter of an inch, particularly the fat cap itself.

There are lots of opinions on brisket rubs.  Rather than get into those debates, we’ll reference Central Texas style, which tends to simply use kosher salt and coarse grain black pepper for the rub.  Some prefer to slather some pickle juice or yellow mustard (or both) on the brisket before laying down the rub, but like anything, this is going to come down to your preferences.  

Once your prep is done you’ll want to leave it at room temperature for at least an hour before cooking.  In the meantime, you can get ready for the cook.  You should budget between 30-60 minutes per pound which puts a 16 pound brisket at between 10-12 hours.  If you hope to eat in the evening, you’re going need to start your cook early in the morning.

In our next article we’ll examine the cooking and cutting process.

Any tips you would add for your fellow Gents?  Let us know in the comments below.

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