In Texas, brisket is truly king. We can all think of the BBQ joint we love and know that juicy, jiggly, tender, and tasty bite of point or flat meat. It takes a lot of time, energy, and even science to produce (and reproduce) that flavor and texture.
The lack of inter-muscular fat, and loaded with insoluble collagen makes this cut of meat a real beast to tackle for the backyard cook. Even decorated chefs have their share of issues when dealing with this treat.
First and foremost, we have to select a brisket from the butcher shop. There are a few basic things to look for in a cut of meat; grade, size, and fat content. These are going to be the top priority for your brisket selection.
There are many different grades of brisket by the FDA, and they rate a cut of meat for quality.
The base quality would be referred to as, select. Don’t let the name fool you, select just means it was just above grinding grade. Next up, Choice. Choice can be a great brisket or an average brisket, really depending on the next two categories we look at. Moving up the chain we find Certified Angus Beef. Now, this is a really interesting subgroup that can be as great as prime (next on the list) or equal to choice. Prime, other than Wagyu, prime is top of the chart and most likely more available than wagyu in your local market. Of course, there’s much more that goes into these gradings, and how they can be better or worse than one another, we will address that another time. All of the grades listed won’t alone, make a brisket great. Size and fat content matter.
Size does matter! Sorry guys, but it really does. Does that mean getting the biggest brisket on the shelf? No way! A brisket consists of two muscles, better known as the flat and the point. The flat contains less inter-muscular fat, and the point is rich (we will go more into this in the next section). When we talk about size, the focus will be on the amount of point meat, and even the size of the flat. I like to make sure the flat, in particular, is at least an inch thick to ensure maintaining moisture during the long cook. Brisket, due to many factors, must be cooked over a long period of time to break down the colognes and make it tender. In doing so, the risk of drying out is a major concern and with thicker cuts, this mitigates drying out. For the point, a good size will yield more of the best part (in my opinion) of the brisket itself - the moist! Determining meat size, yield, and even size will take knowing what fat is on it and a good idea of how much.
When determining fat content we have two main things to consider - hard or soft, extra-muscular or inter-muscular. Hard and soft are fairly simple to differentiate by simply squeezing the meat. Hard fat is usually found at the seam between the point and flat, also known as the deckle. Inter-muscular fat can sometimes be hard to see due to the packaging, extra-muscular fat, and labeling. However, there’s a simple way to test that with the “bend test”. To perform this, simply grab the brisket from the middle and see how good it flops! The floppier it is, the more likely it is to contain good amounts of inter-muscular fat. Furthermore, you can often see the striations of the fat in the meat itself. Often referred to as “marbling”, the more of this the better ( this is a factor in the grading process as well). A floppy, marbled, cut of brisket with minimal hard fat cap, is going to be the best pick of the pack!
With these considerations, go out and grab your brisket.
We will continue articles with the trimming process, rubs and spices, cooking style, and finishing with resting techniques.
Until then, keep smoking and drink more water!