How to Pick a Brisket (Top 5 Considerations)

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Matt Richard

Choosing a quality brisket is one of the most crucial factors that impact the final taste. Many people know to look for prime grade and good marbling, but there’s MUCH more to it.

So keep reading because, in this guide, I’ll walk you through how to pick the perfect brisket for your next BBQ.

Key Takeaway

To pick a good brisket, choose prime grade with good marbling and a consistent shape. Look for a rich reddish-purple color, and ensure the end is at least 1-inch thick. Avoid the brisket if it’s discolored, has a large fat cap, or feels too wet in the package.

Brisket Basics

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s cover a few basics.

Selecting the Right Grade

When choosing a brisket, knowing the differences between the various cuts is essential. Brisket is a cut of meat from the breast section of the cow, often referred to as the point and flat cuts.

There’s also the “whole packer,” or a combination of both cuts, often weighing 18 to 20 pounds.

The quality of your brisket plays a significant role in the final result.

Here are the brisket grades:

  1. Prime: The highest USDA grade level, often with solid marbling.
  2. Choice: The second-best status. It’s still flavorful.
  3. Select: The last option with the least amount of marbling.

I can’t, in good faith, advocate for the select cut since I run a website about BBQing. So please opt for prime or choice. If you put this much effort into cooking brisket, you might as well opt for quality meat. 🤷‍♂️

Understanding the Point and Flat

The brisket has two parts: the point and the flat. The point is the larger, more rounded part and contains more fat, making it rich in flavor. It usually weighs between 3.5 to 10 lbs and requires more trimming.

On the other hand, the flat is the wide and flat part of the brisket and is typically leaner than the point.

Key Factors for Choosing a Brisket

Now that you know the basics, let’s get to the meat of this guide (pardon the bad pun).

Grades of Beef

I already discussed the USDA grades in the above section, but I should also mention Wagyu. If you want to splurge, try this Japanese beef.

It’s known for abundant marbling, which lends an unmatched buttery texture. Having said that, it comes at a significant price.

Marbling and Fat Content

Marbling, or the intramuscular fat within the meat, is crucial for a tender and flavorful brisket. Look for a cut with an even distribution of marbling throughout.

A layer of fat on the brisket’s exterior helps protect the meat during cooking and enhances the flavor. Ideally, look for about 1/4 inch of fat on the side.

Pro Tip

If there’s too large of a fat cap on the brisket, you’re wasting money because you’re paying per pound, and you’ll need to cut that excess fat off.

Weight and Thickness

The average brisket weighs between 10 to 20 lbs. If you’re relatively new to smoking brisket, start with a weight of around 12 to 14 lbs.

You’ll also want to ensure the thickness is mainly consistent. For example, the flat shouldn’t be overly thin on the end compared to the middle. In that case, the end would burn.

Color and Texture

A quality brisket will be dark red (perhaps almost purple). Don’t buy it if you notice a lot of discoloration or brownness, as it may be past the expiration date or wasn’t stored properly.

Once you’ve determined that the color is good, feel the texture. It should feel firm and not mushy.

Additionally, if the brisket is plastic-wrapped, it shouldn’t be too wet inside.


It’s vital to check the expiration date and inspect the meat to ensure it’s fresh. If the brisket has passed its best-before date, it’s best to avoid buying it as it may be spoiled and unsafe to eat.

Besides checking the color and texture, it’s equally important to ensure there aren’t unpleasant smells (indicating spoilage). Call me Captain Obvious, but I’ve got to say it! 👨‍✈️

It’s good to know that if you’re not ready to cook the brisket immediately, you can freeze it and thaw it later without compromising its quality.

Build a Relationship with Your Local Butcher

Connecting with your local butcher is an underrated way to ensure you obtain a good brisket.

They can offer valuable recommendations based on your preferences, such as finding the right cut to suit a specific recipe or cooking method.

Moreover, they typically have access to better quality cuts that aren’t available in larger supermarkets.

Helpful Tip

Ask the butcher to trim your brisket if you don’t want to do it yourself. Not all butchers offer this service, but I’ve found many that do.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are a few FAQs you may have about picking a good brisket.

What’s the Best Brisket Cut for Smoking?

The best brisket for smoking is an untrimmed “packer” (AKA “whole packer”) cut, which has the point and flat together because the fat content and marbling make for a more flavorful and tender result.

What’s the Ideal Brisket Size?

The size of the brisket depends on your preferences and the number of people you plan to serve. Whole briskets can weigh anywhere from 10 to 20 pounds.

Is the Brisket Point or Flat Better?

The flat cut is the option most people are familiar with. It’s the flat uniform part of the meat. On the other hand, the point contains more fat and is better for shredded meat or sandwiches.

Final Thoughts

A good brisket is well-marbled, dark red in color, and graded prime or choice. Additionally, look for a relatively consistent thickness.

Always ask questions if you’re at a butcher or find a knowledgeable employee at a grocery store.

By keeping these tips in mind, you’ll be able to find the perfect brisket that will leave your guests wanting more.

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Hey, I'm Matt Hollingshead, a BBQ enthusiast, beer connoisseur, and the founder of Grill Mentor. When I'm not trying new recipes with my Traeger or sampling a craft beer, I'm publishing articles for this site.

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