What Exactly Is Brisket? Here’s Everything You Should Know About the King of Braised Beef

updated Mar 24, 2022
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

If you’ve had corned beef or pastrami before, then you’ve had brisket. This large piece of flavor-packed beef is often cured or smoked, but it’s also one of the best cuts for braising and slow cooking. There’s much to learn, though, when it comes to what brisket is and how it differs from other types of meat. Let’s talk about where this hefty piece of beef comes from and how to buy and cook it!

(Image credit: Christine Gallary)

Where Does Brisket Come From?

Brisket comes from the breast section of the animal, under the first five ribs. It is a large cut that is sold boneless and usually weighs anywhere from 8 to 20 pounds, making it quite a hefty-sized cut.

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

How to Buy Brisket

Luckily for those who don’t want such a large cut of meat, brisket is usually cut down further into two sections that you can choose from, each with slightly different qualities:

  • Point Cut: More flavorful but has more fat running through the meat than the flat cut; shaped a bit like a triangle; great for shredding.
  • Flat Cut: Less fatty, with the fat in a layer on the bottom; usually more expensive since it is more attractive and easier to slice nicely; more rectangular or square in shape.

You can typically buy varieties of brisket from your local grocery store. Feel free to ask your butcher if you have more specific questions when it comes to shopping for brisket. Butchers can often provide some insight into what to look for based on your preferences.

How to Cook Brisket

Brisket is a tough cut of meat, but this toughness can be counteracted with long, slow cooking which gives the chance for the abundance of connective tissue to break down and gelatinize into a rich, tender meat. To cook brisket, go with a good sear to start to develop some flavor, then braise until meltingly tender like you would a pot roast. Plus, you could even use your cut of meat for an easy, low-effort dinner — here’s how to make beef brisket in the slow cooker.

Brisket is a great make-ahead dish since it actually tastes better the next day, after the flavors have had a chance to develop and come together. Another advantage is that the fat that melts into the cooking liquid will solidify and be easy to remove after a stay in the refrigerator. Just make sure to keep the brisket stored in the cooking liquid the whole time so it stays moist.

Brisket is the cut of meat used to make corned beef and pastrami. Corned beef is brisket cured with spices and salt before being simmered in water, and pastrami takes the extra step of smoking the brisket before the final cooking. Speaking of smoking, brisket is smoked simply with a rub of salt at barbecue places until it’s infused with delicious smoky flavor.

Whether you’re corning, curing, smoking, or braising brisket, it’s a satisfying way to enjoy a cut of beef that’s very different from steaks or ground beef!

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

Brisket Recipes