Mastering the Art of Choosing the Ideal Brisket

If your brisket looks like this, you're doing something right.

Barbecue season is upon us. It’s time to clean up the grill and dust off our secret sauce and rub recipes, and start shopping for that perfect cut of meat. One of our favorites, beef brisket, can be tricky to get just right, so we asked a local expert, Erica Figueroa, for her family take on preparing a juicy, mouth-watering brisket.

I am proud to say I am part of Chief’s Smoke Joint BBQ, which consists of two married couples. Married couple number one is Jorge and me. Married couple number two consists of our good friends, Kathy and Darryl Drake. We are based right here in Rockwall and specialize in smoking brisket, sausage, ribs, and chicken. We make some mouth-watering sides, such as cowboy beans, potato salad, and coleslaw.

While I regularly contribute my skills in the kitchen, typically, I leave most activities having to do with choosing and smoking the meat to my husband and Darryl. Recently, my husband suggested that Kathy and I get more involved with the handling of the meat just in case one day either he or Darryl are not able to do it. As with most changes, my first reaction was to fight the change. I mean, things were going fine as they were, right? Then I realized Jorge is right and I slowly embraced the idea. I began to see it as the chance to add more skills to my barbecue toolkit. It was fitting this happened when it did since we had just celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8 and March is also Women’s History Month. This was women’s empowerment in action!

We planned a visit to the grocery store to choose the ideal brisket. Read on to see what I learned:

  1. A brisket will have one side that is mostly a fat layer; that side is called the fat cap. The other side that is mostly meat is called the flat. Look for a flat that has some marbling (lines of fat) throughout the meat. This marbling ensures the meat will have flavor and tenderness as it cooks.
  2. Look for tenderness. How can you tell? Choose a brisket that folds fairly easily.
  3. Look for a brisket that is not too large or you may be cooking much longer than you expected! Briskets take about an hour and 15 minutes per pound to break down the tough meat. Keep that in mind when choosing your brisket. Chief’s Smoke Joint usually chooses briskets that weigh 14 to 15 pounds.
  4. Look for a modest-sized fat cap. A good fat cap measures about one inch. Remember, you will trim some of the fat from the brisket and you pay for the brisket by the pound. Therefore, if you choose a brisket with too much fat and end up trimming a good portion of it, you will lose weight from your brisket. The goal is to pay for more meat than fat.

These rules apply to smaller briskets, too. Although if a brisket weighs five pounds, it’s probably only the lean part of the meat (the flat) and not an entire brisket. You probably wouldn’t want to smoke just the flat because without the fat, it would dry out easily.

That’s it! With these few, simple tips, I felt confident in my knowledge to choose the perfect brisket. I looked forward to the next time we would get together to smoke one of these briskets we methodically chose. Because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about for us. The process of smoking meat and making food brings us together. We share stories and some laughs around the smoker while we anticipate the result—some good, old-fashioned Texas barbecue. In much the same way, we hope others come together around a table of our food to share good times, too.

Story and photo by Erica Figueroa