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By Breanna Stark of @marriedtobbq

Brisket is the ultimate barbecue meat. Whether you’ve been smoking meat for years or you just bought your first smoker, brisket can be an intimidating cut to tackle. Before you’re ready to smoke your first (or 100th brisket), it’s important to understand where the brisket comes from and how it’s broken down.

Brisket is a large, tough cut of meat that used to be inexpensive because it was considered less desirable and often leftover after more tender cuts were removed from the cow. The breast area gets a lot of exercise and use during a cow’s life. As a cow stands up and walks around, the chest muscle gets a regular workout, building up a great deal of fat and connective tissue.

Brisket began to gain popularity in the mid 1900s with the rise and spread of BBQ culture beyond the Southern United States. Today, it’s seen as a favorite among beginner grillers and pitmasters alike.

What are the different parts of a brisket?

A whole brisket (also known as a full packer) is made up of two main muscles: the point and the flat. An average whole brisket weighs between 12 and 14 pounds, though they range from anywhere between 8 and 20+ pounds. Because of this large size, brisket is sometimes broken up into two cuts of meat to make it more commercially affordable and easier to handle.

You will commonly find brisket flats sold in grocery stores. You can sometimes find a brisket point sold on its own, but they’re harder to come across, in my experience. The brisket point also makes fantastic ground beef that can be used for burgers.

The Brisket Flat: Also known as the “first cut,” the flat is a leaner portion of meat, relative to the point cut. This portion of the brisket has the point removed, causing it to lay flat (hence the name). It comes from the area that’s attached to the breastbone of cattle and is typically the portion that sliced brisket comes from.

The Brisket Point: This is the fattier portion of the beef brisket that comes from the area attached to the cow’s ribcage. It is much thicker and smaller than the flat cut but it’s packed full of flavor due to the higher fat content. This portion of the brisket is ideal for shredding and is also the portion of the brisket you will use to make burnt ends.

Many times, when you are visiting a BBQ restaurant, they will ask what portion of the brisket you want your serving cut from. Some common nicknames for brisket cut from the point are “moist,” “fatty,” or “marbled.” Meat cut from the flat will commonly be referred to as “lean.”

Should I separate the flat from the point?

Many people separate the brisket flat from the brisket point and smoke each portion of meat separately. Personally, I like to smoke the whole brisket together. I find the fat from the point helps protect the flat from drying out, and you will end up with more moisture in your final product.

Separating the flat from the point does have some benefits though. For example, your cook time will be shorter, simply because the piece of meat is smaller. Another benefit is you will be able to cook each portion more evenly. As I mentioned before, the flat has significantly less fat and connective tissue than the brisket point. It is also thinner, meaning it will often cook faster.

If you decide you want to separate your brisket flat from your brisket point, it’s a fairly easy process:

  1. Identify where the flat and point are on the brisket. Lay your brisket with the fat cap down and you will see where the brisket starts to get thicker. You will find a little seam of fat that separates the point from the flat. Keep in mind that the top portion of the flat actually lays on top of the point, so the point curves down underneath the flat.
  2. Take a knife and follow that seam of fat. Take short, precise cuts all the way down the seam and, once it is cut through, you will be left with a separated flat and point.
  3. Once separated, trim any excess fat as desired before smoking each portion.

By following these steps, you will have successfully separated the flat and point, ready to be cooked as you prefer.

Understanding the distinct characteristics of the brisket flat and point can enhance your barbecue skills and help you make a flavorful cut of meat. Whether you choose to smoke them together or separate, mastering this process will help you achieve the perfect brisket. Happy smoking!