What Part Of The Cow Is Brisket? A BBQ Beginner’s Guide

A brisket is a cut of meat from the upper portion of the cow’s breast area. The term brisket comes from the French word brise-cœur meaning “break heart” or “split heart”.

Brisket is often sold as a separate item at butcher shops, but it is also commonly found as part of a whole roast beef.

What Part Of The Cow Is Brisket? A BBQ Beginner’s Guide

The brisket is considered to be the most flavorful part of the cow. It has a rich flavor due to its high-fat content. This makes it perfect for grilling. If you want to know more about Brisket and how to cook it BBQ style then keep reading. 

What Is a Brisket?

Brisket is a cut of beef that comes from the chest of the cow- the area below the shoulder region or ‘chuck’ that sits between the front two legs.

Cows don’t have collar bones, so the chest needs to be strong to help support the animal. This means that brisket is quite dense.

It is made up of both deep and superficial pectoral muscles, which gives it a good blend of connective tissue and fat. This makes the meat more flavorsome and tender as long as you cook it correctly.

The Old English word for brisket is ‘brushk’ which means tough. This is because it would have been very tough and chewy if it was prepared in an old-fashioned cooking style.

The Vikings also seemed to struggle to cook brisket well, as they referred to it as gristle or cartilage. The trick is to cook it at a high enough temperature that the fat melts, but not let the meat dry out and become chewy. 

Cuts Of Brisket

Brisket is considered a primal cut of beef. This means that it is removed from the carcass during the initial butchering process, along with 7 other primal cuts.

These cuts are then divided into sub-primal cuts, like different types of steak and roasting joints.

Brisket can be sold as a whole joint of meat, called a Full Packer, but butchers also separate it into the point and the flat. The point is the top end of the brisket and the flat is the bottom half.

Both parts are used in different ways. If you are experienced with handling meat then you will be able to buy a full packer and separate the flat and the point yourself. 

The flat is usually leaner and has a more uniform shape which makes it good for carving. It sits up against the ribs in the chest. It has a layer of fat around the outside rather than lots of fat marbled through the meat.

This fat layer is called the cap, as the flat cooks, the fat melts and drips into the meat. Once the brisket is cooked you can remove the fat, but you should always leave it in place during the cooking process.

Some people like to crisp up the fat towards the end of the cooking process. 

The point, also called the deckle, has an irregular, triangle sort of shape. It has plenty of fat marbling which makes it rich and beefy in flavor, and the grain is not very consistent.

It is perfect for making pulled beef. The point is usually cooked with a dry rub while the flat is grilled with minimal seasoning. 

Brisket can also be combined with ‘chuck’- shoulder- to be ground into mince to make beef burgers.

The marbling of the fat will make the burgers very juicy, however, they will likely shrink during cooking as the fat leaks out of the meat. 

Whichever cut of meat you decide to buy, there are two things you should look out for – the color of the meat and the color of the fat. The meat should be deep red, and the fat should be white with no traces of gray and yellow. 

What Is Connective Tissue?

Connective tissue holds the fibers of muscles together and is also found in tendons. Because brisket comes from the dense pectoral muscles, it contains lots of connective tissue. 

There are two different types of protein that make up connective tissue – elastin and collagen. Elastin is flexible and stretchy.

It has a lot of moisture in it, but this evaporates during the cooking process leaving the elastin tough and gristly.

Collagen is the strongest type of protein and all mammals have a lot of collagen in their body. As collagen cooks, it makes the meat soft and moist. 

The combination of elastin and collagen found in brisket means it is best to slow cook this type of meat in a low-temperature setting.

This means that the meat stays relaxed and the water evaporates slowly, preventing the meat from becoming too tough. 

How To Prepare Brisket For Cooking

How To Prepare Brisket For Cooking

The most popular method for cooking brisket is to smoke it. Smoked brisket is a signature dish of the Southern States of America, especially Texas. 

If you are smoking your Brisket then you will need to rub the meat with a blend of spices to season it before it is cooked.

You could buy a pre-mixed rub from a store or make your own. Most BBQ-style restaurants have their secret blend of herbs and spices that they use to season their meat.

Once the meat has been seasoned it can be smoked by cooking it over a charcoal fire or a wood fire, usually in a device called a smoker.

Part-way through the cooking process, the meat is wrapped in foil to seal in the juices and the moisture. 

Towards the end of the cooking process, the foil is removed and the temperature is increased to create a crispy edge.

This edge is trimmed off to create ‘burnt ends’ which are then used in sandwiches, burgers, or as a side dish. 

In Europe, brisket is often braised instead of smoked. In Britain, the meat is braised and then served with beef gravy as part of a traditional Sunday Roast.

In Germany, brisket is braised in beer. Each country has its style of cooking brisket, but many Asian countries slow cook the meat and serve it in a broth or as a part of a noodle dish. 

The great thing about brisket is that it is very versatile. As long as you choose a cooking method that will leave the meat tender and juicy, you can do whatever you like with it. 

How Long Should You Cook Brisket?

The length of time it takes to cook brisket will depend largely on the cooking method you are using. If you are smoking the brisket, the general rule is to cook the meat for one hour for every pound.

A full packer can weigh between 8 and 20 pounds, which means you could be cooking it for anywhere between 8 and 20 hours. 

If you go for a smaller joint like the flat or the point then it will take less time to cook as it won’t weigh as much.

Remember that the brisket will shrink as it cooks due to the fat leaving the meat, so you could lose up to one-third of the original size during cooking. 


Brisket is a dense but rich cut of beef that comes from the chest area of the cow. It is ideal for braising or smoking. 

John Rinder
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