3 Important Questions to Consider When Buying Beef Brisket

published Mar 30, 2018
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Beef brisket is the cut we know and love for pastrami, corned beef, smoked barbecue brisket, and tangy, oniony braised brisket. It is readily available in every grocery store, warehouse club store, and your local butcher. When it comes to cooking your Sunday brisket, do you know what you should buy?

A little bit of knowledge will guide you through the supermarket case or help you tell your butcher exactly what you’ll need.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Do you need a full brisket or just a cut of brisket?

Brisket is a large cut of beef coming from the breast of beef or veal. It is a tough cut full of connective tissue and often has a layer of fat cap on top and fat marbled throughout the beef. Most often you’ll find a whole brisket that has been butchered into two cuts — flat and point — but some butchers and warehouse stores sell a full cut of brisket. A full brisket is most often purchased by chefs and hobbyist barbecue aficionados, because it is very large — between 12 to 16 pounds — and requires a cook who knows how to cook both cuts at the same time.

Unless you’re barbecuing the whole brisket, nine times out of 10 you’re just going to need a cut. If you find yourself unable to resist the savings of a whole brisket, buy it but ask the butcher to cut it into a flat and point cut for you.

Are you cooking corned beef?

Corned beef is brisket that has had a long cure in salty brine. “Corning” makes beef that is salty, a little sour, and sometimes spiced. Make sure that if you’re planning to cook a corned beef recipe that calls for a corned beef brisket that you are either buying prepared corn beef or that you have ample time (and the right ingredients) for corning your beef at home.

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

Do you need a flat or point cut?

This is the most important question to ask when buying brisket: Do you need a flat or point cut brisket? These smaller cuts come from the larger full brisket but they are two distinct cuts.

  • The flat cut is larger and more evenly shaped, usually a rectangle, and has a layer of fat on one side. Flat cuts of brisket are ideal for classic oven-baked brisket, slow cooker brisket with onions, and smoked brisket because it slices beautifully once cut.
  • The point cut is more marbled through and it also has more connective tissue and an irregular shape. Point cut brisket works well for slow braised beef that will be shredded for sandwiches or tacos.
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

How much brisket per person?

Brisket is prized for its ability to feed a hungry crowd (often inexpensively), but you’ll need to do some simple math to make sure that you have enough to feed everyone. Keep in mind that cooked brisket will shrink a bit as it cooks. That fat cap also accounts for a small percentage of the total weight.

  • Buy 1/2 pound of raw brisket per person.
  • Serve 1/3 pound of cooked brisket per person.

This planning accounts for the fat that will be trimmed or cooked away and shrinks as the meat cooks. Brisket makes excellent leftovers though, so if your budget allows, buy and cook extra to eat later.

Try These Brisket Recipes