Arianna Foster
Published by Arianna Foster
Last Updated On: May 22, 2022

Corned beef, pastrami, smoked brisket, and the Jewish Passover main course. What do they all have in common? Aside from tasting and smelling great (I’m sure I can smell that meat), they are all prepared from the same cut of meat – the brisket. Have you ever wondered what part of the cow the brisket comes from?

Quick Summary

  • The parts of the cow that form the brisket.
  • What to look for when shopping for brisket.
  • How to cook brisket.
  • How Jewish brisket traditions merged with Texas smoking methods.

Though the brisket is the toughest part of the cow, you can create the most delicious and tender main meals with it with a bit of patience and the correct cooking methods. The maxim "low and slow" applies to cooking brisket. If the brisket has been given enough time and TLC, you won't be disappointed with the result.

Brisket Is Cut From The Cow’s Lower Chest Muscles

Cow in an open field

Brisket comes from the cow’s chest muscles below the first five ribs [1].

The brisket is comprised of the deep and superficial pectoral muscles. Cows don’t have collar bones, so the pectorals support approximately 60% of the cow’s body weight when standing or moving [6].

The ample connective tissue within the muscles is made up of collagen fibers and gives them their weight-bearing strength.

A whole brisket, also known as a packer brisket, can be a hefty cut of meat, sometimes weighing 10 to 18 pounds. The brisket is made up of two overlapping muscles. The first is called the "flat cut" and is the thinner section.

The second section is fattier and thicker, called the “deckle point or the point cut.” [2]

The flat cut is usually more costly because it is the nicer looking of the two cuts and is easier to slice due to its more rectangular shape.

The point cut is tastier, but it has a lot more fat than the flat cut. It has a triangular shape and is suitable for shredding.

How To Shop For Brisket?

Meat shopping

When shopping for brisket, you need to consider whether to buy the flat cut, the point, or the entire packer cut, which depends on how you plan to cook it.

Some points to remember when choosing your brisket are:

  • Pick a cut with good marbling. This refers to the streaks of fat in between the meat. It is vital for a juicy and tender brisket [5].
  • Certified Angus Beef or Prime grade beef is the best choice when cooking brisket due to the high level of marbling.
  • The “low and slow” cooking process gives the fat a chance to slowly render out, resulting in a tender and juicy brisket.
  • Make sure that you buy the proper cut for your intended dish. If you want to make pastrami or corned beef, you need the flat cut. Its shape makes it more suitable for slicing.
  • Braised stew dishes and smoked brisket will benefit from the point cut because it is richer and juicier.
  • Be careful not to buy corned beef when you're planning to smoke a brisket. They are visually similar, but corned beef has been saturated in salty brine. Although it can be smoked, it will taste similar to pastrami and not barbecue.

The brisket should have a fat cap even with no cuts or gouges exposing the meat. The fat should be white or cream [8].

The meat will shrink during the long cooking process. Liquid loss and the fat and sinew that is inedible will leave the brisket approximately 25% - 35% smaller once it’s cooked, so consider this when buying your brisket.

When buying brisket for a crowd, you can estimate about half a pound for each person [7]. Adding on an extra pound or two could stand you in good stead if your guests are hungrier than you thought. You can always freeze the leftovers.

How To Cook Brisket?

Raw meat with herbs

The two most common ways that brisket is prepared are smoking and braising [3]. Regardless of the method, you need to cook it for several hours until the collagen is broken down and the meat is finally tender.

Here are some hints at cooking a perfect brisket:

  • Whether cooking your brisket in an oven, a slow cooker, or an instant pot, take the time to sear the meat first. It caramelizes it and improves the flavor.
  • Brisket always experiences what is known as a plateau or a stall, which is what happens at 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Its temperature stabilizes and will not increase. We can equate it to the meat sweating, releasing moisture so that the brisket remains cool while it is cooking.
  • To counteract this, wrap the brisket in butcher paper or aluminum foil. The meat will draw in the smoke for the first few hours, reserving enough liquid for the rest of the cooking time.
  • Keep an oven-roasted brisket covered throughout the cooking process as the same evaporative cooling principle applies here.

How Traditional Jewish Brisket Met Texas Barbecue?

Two men barbecuing outside

Brisket stands out in the United States as the treasure of Texas barbecue, and it is also a traditional staple for many Jewish families, particularly around Passover time.

The two may be odd companions, but these traditions are intertwined [4]. Jewish families have eaten brisket for centuries, partly because the hindquarters of cattle are not kosher, leaving them fewer cuts to choose from.

When they needed to feed multitudes of people, the brisket was the cheapest option.

In the last half of the nineteenth century, many Jews emigrated to the United States and settled in Texas, which was spacious enough for cattle.

Passover brisket was cooked slowly but did not always end up as juicy as desired, and some believe that the settlers learned to smoke meat in the ground from the local native tribes. And that is how the two became one.

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The cow has large muscles below the first five ribs, supporting a good deal of its weight and making it a tough cut of meat.

But, because it needs a low and slow cooking process when that piece of brisket finally shows up on the table, it is tasty, juicy, and tender. All you need to do is remember: "low and slow."

It is also important to source your brisket from the best meat sellers out there. Check our detailed review on ButcherBox.




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