Brisket is a cut of beef taken from just below the shoulder of the steer. A tough cut, it cooks up deliciously tender if cooked low and slow, especially with moist heat, and has a full beefy flavor. It is famously cured in a brine to make corned beef and is often served as the centerpiece of the Passover dinner. Brisket may also be cut up for stew and cooked brisket. Leftover brisket can be easily sliced into uniform pieces, making it perfect for sandwiches.
Brisket comprises two distinct muscles: the flat muscle and the point muscle. The flat muscle (the broad part at the upper-right end of the photo), as its name implies, is flat, wide, and fairly lean; it tapers at one end. At that tapered end, separated by a thick layer of fat, the flat overlaps the smaller, fattier point muscle (at the lower-left in the photo).
A whole brisket weighs in at between 10 and 15 pounds.
Though few cuts can top brisket for flavor, you can substitute other cuts when making a pot roast, including a boneless chuck roast or a blade roast or even short ribs.
Unless you live in Texas barbecue country, where brisket is the meat of choice for slow-smoking, you’re not likely to find a whole one in the meat case. Instead, you’ll see brisket halves, usually labeled "point half" and "flat half."
After cooking, the flat half (also known as the first cut, flat cut, or thin cut) holds together in neat slices, whereas the point half (also known as the second cut, point cut, nose cut, front cut, or thick cut) tends to shred.
When deciding how much to buy, keep in mind that brisket exudes a lot of juice during cooking and may weigh 40 to 60 percent less by the time it’s done. We found, for example, that our brisket recipe yielded about 5-1/4 pounds of cooked meat from 9 pounds of raw brisket flat halves. To offset the moisture loss, it’s important to choose briskets that aren’t trimmed of too much fat and that have nice marbling (intramuscular fat). The fat bastes the meat as it cooks and enhances the flavor, and then you can trim it away before eating.
Brisket is usually sold boneless, which makes slicing and serving a breeze.
Remove any excess external fat. Tougher cuts with lots of connective tissue do best with gentle, moist heat and lots of time; long-cooking stews and braises are ideal for cuts like beef brisket. The slow, low-heat cooking allows connective tissue to break down into soft, silky gelatin, which gives the braise or stew a wonderful, rich mouth-feel.