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How to Pick a Good Brisket (Buying Tips Guide)

Brisket is arguably the holy grail of barbecue. But when you go to the store, there can be a lot of brisket choices and sizes. So, how do you pick a good brisket?

Start by picking Prime or Choice brisket. Then look out for dark purple-ish meat that has a “fat cap” at least 1/2 inch thick, and is streaked with flecks of glossy white fat. Also, look for one that isn’t significantly thinner on one side than the other, as this can cause uneven cooking.

Of course, Wagyu brisket is often an option, but it is more expensive.

The marbling is vital as it’s central to whether the brisket would be juicy, tender, and flavorful. But this is just a small part of what we’ll learn.

In the article, we’ll explore which cut of the brisket is the best, what a good brisket looks like, and which one is better: Prime or Choice.

We’ll also check out which one is ideal: The point or the flat cut. And, we’ll conclude by considering a “taboo”: whether cutting the brisket in half before smoking is OK. After all, some whole briskets are huge and might not fit as one piece in your smoker.

Let’s dive right in…

pick good brisket lg

Which cut of brisket is best?

The point is the best cut in a brisket because it has more fat and is more marbled. Naturally, it is the more tender and flavorful cut. It is smaller, thicker, and more marbled than the flat, which has more connective tissue which can make it tougher.

First off, let’s back up a bit and understand what’s brisket.

Beef brisket is the chest muscle that’s found near the front legs of the steer. It’s a tough cut — it’s not tender because it’s actually muscles that are close to the legs and do receive a lot of workouts.

It’s huge and is made up of two cuts — the flat and the point, also known as the first and second cut, respectively.

They are almost always sold separately. But you can also buy the whole brisket —- in other words, the point and the flat combined. Larger briskets are great, but they are huge!

It’s known as a “full packer” or “packer” brisket. Unless you’re cooking for a large number of people, you won’t need to buy a brisket this large.

What does a good brisket look like?

A good brisket has a dark purple-ish color, it’s floppy, and it has a fat cap; a layer of fat on one side that is at least 1/4 inch thick. The other side will also be flecked with fat. The more the fat, the more flavorful, the more tender, and the juicier it will be. 

But the grade of the beef is the first factor to check out — Choice is good, but Prime is better. Avoid Select brisket as it will naturally be lower quality.

If you’re buying a whole packer brisket — that’s the whole brisket, look for one that has a uniform and thick flat, with the flat being at least 1-inch thick at the end.

You also want to look for a brisket that has a fat cap which should be no thicker than 1 inch. 

I say no more than 1 inch because you’ll be trimming off the excess down to somewhere between 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch. So a really thick fat cap means, since you’re paying by the pound, you’ll be wasting money paying for that much fat.

The cap keeps the meat moist and traps evaporating moisture. The fat should be white and glossy.

You want to look out for brisket that’s highly marbled, a reflection of the intramuscular fat. If you look closely at the meat, you can see whether it’s well-marbled or not. It’s simply the white flecks of intramuscular fat on the cut.

Now, if you’re going to wrap your brisket a few hours in, as people like BBQ-god Aaron Franklin do, you’ll want butcher paper, not foil.

Is parchement paper the same as butcher paper? And do grocery stores sell parchment paper?

In a recent article, I said they often do. But I also explored whether butcher paper is sold at Walmart, Target, and Home Depot and whether you can use wax paper instead.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Is Prime or Choice brisket better?

Prime brisket is better than Choice brisket because Prime beef is the highest grade of beef. It is beef that has the highest marbling, which makes it more tender, flavorful, and juicier. But Prime is very rare. In fact, on average, about 2% of beef receives the grade “Prime.”

Prime and Choice are beef grades applied to meat by the USDA.

They are labels that indicate the quality of the meat in terms of tenderness, juiciness, and flavor. Prime is the highest of the grades. It’s indicative of meat from young cattle that have been fed well.

This is shown in how much marbling it has. This is usually more pronounced when one checks the “point” end of the brisket.

Choice is good. In fact, because of the scarcity of Prime, Choice is what is often used at BBQ restaurants. It has less marbling than Prime, as such is not quite as tender. But it will still make a fine choice.

Lots of people shop at places like Sam’s Club or Costco. And both offer a large array of meat. But who has better meat, Sam’s or Costco’s? 

Both offer USDA Prime meat in addition to Choice. In a recent article, I get into that question. But the irony is that one of those stores is cheaper than the other while one has a tendency to have fresher meat. But there is one clear winner.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Is brisket point or flat better?

The point of a brisket has more fat and is more flavorful, making it more sought after, especially for “fattier” brisket. But it does not have as much meat as the flat. The flat is usually larger than the point and has more meat, and is overall leaner.

Some folks prefer the point because it is more tender and juicier.

Both are delicious when cooked well. So, it depends on what you want. The flat has less fat. If you’re being careful about your fat intake, the flat might be the way to go. It has a more rectangular shape, so it’s a lot easier to slice it into uniform pieces.

The point is the more tender and flavorful part because it has more fat. The downside is that you won’t have as much meat. It’s great if you prefer barbecued meat sandwiches.

Is Prime Steak Worth It?

In a recent article, I explained why that’s not always true. I conducted a blind taste test of USDA Prime, Select, Angus, and grass-fed ribeye steaks. I cooked them all exactly the same at the same time, and then we judged for ourselves.

Just click the link to read it on my site and see which one tasted best!

Is it OK to cut brisket in half before smoking?

As a general rule, it is OK to cut brisket in half before smoking. Brisket is usually smoked whole. But when smoking a whole brisket, if it will not fit into the smoker, simply divide the flat and the point before smoking.

Of course, if it will fit, by all means, leave it whole.

But it makes sense to cut brisket in half if you have a whole one that is too big for your smoker. Brisket is made up of these two different muscles — the fat and the point. You’ll need a sharp knife to carefully divide the full packer into the two sub-primal cuts.

brisket flat and point

Refer to this image, but the point has a tip and then folds underneath the flat. It’s easier to see if you lay a whole brisket on the table with the fattiest side down.

Then look for a fat seam separating the two.

Start cutting into the fat seam, knowing that it curves back. Just keep cutting into that fat seam until you are left with just a thin flap of meat. Cut through that, and you now have both the point and the flat to cook separately.

Want to know which grocery store has the best steak? 

Check out a recent article where I revealed that prime beef is available in small quantities at grocers such as Wegmans and Whole Foods. You’ll get the best steak at the latter.

I also included a guide on the parts of the cow different steaks are cut from. And what makes one steak better than another.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

How to cook a perfect brisket

For starters don’t go crazy with rubs or marinades. Salt and pepper are all you really need, and be generous with both. You want that smokey, beefy flavor to come through.

For perfect brisket, cook at about 250° for about 75 minutes per pound. Oak is a great wood choice. Be careful about using only hickory or mesquite as they can result in the brisket being too smokey and the meat flavor not coming through.

Cook it fat side up in your smoker, and if it starts to look dry, spritz occasionally with a mix of apple juice and/or apple cider vinegar and water.

You’ll see a lot of sites saying fat side down. But world-renowned brisket master Aaron Franklin says fat side up. In my experience, this does result in a moister brisket because as the fat renders, it melts into the meat instead of just down into your smoker.

After about 4 hours, when the brisket reaches an internal temp of 165°-170°, wrap the brisket in butcher paper.

Continue to smoke for the right amount of time until the brisket hits an internal temperature of 195-203°F. Then take it out of the smoker for 1 hour (still wrapped).

After 1 hour, remove from the butcher paper and slice it against the grain on the flat side. Always use a serrated knife. If you have a whole packer with both the flat and the point, keep slicing that way until you get to the point. The grain goes in different directions from the point to the flat.

So then just turn the brisket 90 degrees and continue to slice it against the grain.


In this article, we looked at which cut of the brisket is the best and which one is better: Prime or Choice grade brisket.

We also checked out which one is ideal: Point or Flat, and what a good brisket looks like.  And, we wrapped things up by considering if it is cool to cut brisket in half before smoking.

Ultimately the best brisket is going to be Wagyu beef, the point cut, and USDA Prime. If you can find grass-fed; even better! In most cases, you can find a great brisket right at your local grocery store. But if you have a local butcher; even better!

Ready to smoke a perfect brisket every time?

Check out this recent article on my other website that walks you through the brisket smoking process step-by-step. Just click that link to read it on my site.

Photos that require attribution:

Whole brisket by Brett Spangler and Brisket by Rebecca Siegel are licensed under CC2.0 and were cropped, edited, and had a text overlay added.

Jeff Campbell