As a barbecue lover, I’m forever extolling the virtues of beef brisket. From the crunchy bark to the melt-in-your-mouth interior, it delivers a taste sensation that can’t be beat.
The downside? A properly smoked beef brisket can take all day to prepare. Fortunately, there’s a way around this. If you don’t have time to smoke the whole brisket, you can scale down by choosing either the point or the flat. The question is, which one do you choose? This guide to brisket point vs flat will help you determine the answer.
Brisket Point vs Flat
The point end of the brisket has a jagged triangular appearance and an irregular grain, with plenty of marbling. This makes it ideal for chopped or pulled beef. If you want to carve the brisket into slices, go with the flat. This section has a uniform rectangular shape and a leaner texture, although it does have a nice fat cap to contribute flavor.
What is Brisket?
Beef brisket is one of the primal cuts of the steer, located just below the chuck (or shoulder) region. As such, there are two briskets per animal, one on each foreleg.
Because these muscles are used to carry a great deal of weight, the brisket has a lot of connective tissue that can be unpleasantly tough if the meat isn’t cooked properly. As a result, brisket was not a very popular cut until someone discovered that the low-and-slow technique could be the answer. The long cooking time allows the fat to render and the connective tissue to break down, leading to tender and tasty results.
Typically, when you’re smoking a brisket, you want a whole packer version, which is left untrimmed. The fat should be glossy and white, the lean meat a deep ruby color.
A whole packer brisket is made up of two separate muscles: the point (also known as the deckle, and the flat. Because the brisket is so large—around 10 to 16 pounds—butchers will often split the meat into these halves in order to move the product along.
These smaller portions are easier on the wallet than a whole packer brisket. Because they weigh less, they’ll also cook more quickly. Here’s what you need to know about the point and the flat halves.
About the Point
The point of the brisket is where most of the fat resides. It’s small and thick, with visible connective tissue. Because of the generous fat layer, it has more flavor than the flat, but there’s not a lot of meat left over once the fat cooks down. For this reason, the point is often ground into meat for hamburgers.
About the Flat
You might also hear the flat referred to as the first cut. This muscle is leaner, and it lays flat when the deckle is removed, hence the name. There’s a thick fat layer on top known as the “cap,” which renders during cooking to give the flat more flavor. The cap is usually trimmed down a bit before cooking. If the butcher hasn’t already done so, you can take care of this step yourself.
The flat cut is larger than the point, with a long rectangular appearance. Because it slices well, it’s often used for corned beef sandwiches. If you’re shopping for beef brisket in the meat case at the supermarket, you’re more likely to come across the flat.
Brisket Point vs. Flat: Which is Better for Smoking?
Both the flat and the point are delicious when cooked properly on the smoker. That means you might have a hard time deciding which one to prepare. A solid understanding of the difference between the two cuts will make the choice easier.
If you’re planning to slice the brisket, go with the flat portion. The rectangular shape and lean texture make it easier to produce uniform slices. The meat will be flavorful, but not too fatty.
On the other hand, if you prefer to shred the meat for barbecued beef sandwiches, you should have good luck with the point. The meat will be fall-apart tender and full of delicious beefy flavor. Just remember that the higher fat content means you’ll have less meat to work with once the brisket is done.
How To Separate the Flat and the Point
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to divide a whole packer brisket so that the flat and the point are two separate entities.
1. Place the brisket on a clean work surface, fat side down. In this position, the flat is situated on top, with a visible fat layer between it and the point. Once you’ve identified this layer of fat—which is called the nose—you’ll be able to divide the two halves more easily.
2. Using a sharp butcher’s knife, cut downwards into the fat layer. You might want to make scoring marks along the nose beforehand to give yourself a visual guide.
3. Continue to cut, following the nose where it curves around under the flat. At this point, you’ll have to lift the flat with your free hand as you slice through the layer of fat.
4. As you reach the end of the point, slice completely through the thinnest portion so that the two halves are fully separated.
5. Trim off any exterior fat from the point. Once you’ve done this, you’re ready to season and smoke whichever half of the brisket you’d like—or both at the same time, if you prefer.
If you’d like a visual demonstration on how to separate a whole packer brisket, take a look at this video tutorial.
The Bottom Line
If you don’t have time to smoke a whole packer brisket, it’s fine to choose between the point and the flat. Both cuts yield delicious results when prepared on the smoker. Just remember that the flat is leaner and easier to slice, while the point yields a more intense beef flavor and less meat overall.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!