Have you ever wondered to yourself "just what is a brisket?" You've probably eaten brisket countless times, knowing it was beef...or maybe not...and never really thought about where it came from.
Whole untrimmed briskets, packaged in clear shrink-wrap plastic, are also known as "packer cut briskets". Weight can range from 8 pounds up to 16 pounds or more. There are two of these on each steer, right and left. Some barbecue cooks firmly believe that the left side brisket muscles don't work as hard and provide more tender eating. All I can say about that is, whatever works for you.
The whole brisket includes two muscles, the flat and the point, and a
layer of fat on one side, often referred to as the fat cap. There's also
a band of internal fat running between the flat and point.
The flat runs along one side of the brisket, opposite the fat cap, and like the name suggests is a flat sheet of muscle. The point, also known as the deckle, sits on the flat, on the big end of the brisket. It is separated from the flat by an internal band of fat. The fat cap covers the point and the portion of the flat not under the point.
The fat cap plays an important role in cooking briskets, providing protection to the meat from high temperatures, and basting the meat with flavorful juices as it melts away. Out of the bag, the fat cap can be up to 1 inch thick in places. It's usually trimmed down to around 1/4 inch thick before cooking commences.
Another part of the brisket, hidden to the eye, is the connective tissues, which can be a problem or a benefit depending on how your brisket is cooked. In brisket served when cooked to medium or less, the connective tissue remains intact, and the meat is tough. Cooked to 185 degrees or higher, the connective tissues soften and gelatinize, releasing flavor and leaving the brisket tender.
Of the two muscles, the point us the most tender and juicy, but also the
fattiest. Some cooks remove the point when the flat is done and use it
to make additional "burnt ends". I prefer to eat it in its tender,
fat-laden and flavorful condition.
The meat has a grain to it, with the fibers running in specific directions in relation to the orientation of the brisket. The grains of the flat and point run in different directions, which means the two muscles need to be separated before the brisket is cut.
So what is a brisket to me? After the cooking, it's about 6 pounds of pure, smoky perfection!