Once you’ve mastered the art of barbecue, you might start thinking about raising your own chickens, hogs, or even cattle. If you do raise a steer for butchering purposes, you’ll probably want to know: How many briskets per cow can you expect to procure?
How Many Briskets Per Cow?
There are two briskets on each whole beef carcass, one for each side. The brisket comes from the section above the foreleg and below the chuck. Since a whole brisket is so large, it’s often divided into two smaller portions known as subprimals.
The brisket is a huge cut of beef, often weighing up to 20 pounds. In order to cut down on the cooking time and make the cut more manageable, butchers will sometimes divide it into its two subprimals (see separate section below).
Brisket is cut from the steer’s pectoral area, beneath the chuck and above the foreshank. The muscle fibers are naturally tough, having gotten a prime workout during the steer’s lifetime. However, the meat is also very flavorful.
When you cook brisket for long enough—up to 2 hours per pound, depending on the cooking temperature—the connective tissue in the meat converts to gelatin. The muscle fibers relax and the fat renders, leaving you with a finished product that’s juicy and tender.
There are two distinct portions to a brisket. While smoking a whole brisket—sometimes called a whole packer—is a rewarding experience that yields a great deal of delicious beef, the subprimals cook more quickly on account of their smaller size.
The more popular of the two, the flat end, is usually easy to find in supermarkets and smaller grocery stores. This portion of the brisket weighs around 5 to 10 pounds and has a thick, visible grain.
A brisket flat is long and vaguely rectangular, with a fat cap on one side. This fat provides the relatively lean beef with moisture during the smoke, but if it’s on the thicker side, you’ll want to trim it down to about 1/4 inch before seasoning the meat.
The other end of the brisket is called the point. Its appearance is more irregular, with a grain that runs in several directions and a lot of intramuscular fat. Depending on the size of the steer, the point typically weighs around 4 to 9 pounds.
Serious pitmasters enjoy smoking brisket points because all that intramuscular fat gives the meat a juicy texture and unbeatable flavor. You can also use the point to make burnt ends, which are considered a delicacy among barbecue enthusiasts.
If you want to smoke just the point or the flat of a brisket and are having trouble deciding which one to get, think about how you want to present the meat. The point is better shredded or chopped, while the flat can be carved into beautiful slices.
Be aware that it can be hard to find a brisket point for sale without the flat. Try asking your butcher if they can cut the point end off a whole packer for you. Alternatively, you can go ahead and buy the whole packer, then divide it yourself.
Pro Tip: When carving the brisket flat into slices, make sure to cut against the grain. Otherwise, the meat will be tough to chew.
How Much Meat Will a Brisket Yield?
Your total meat yield will depend on the starting weight of the brisket. Since raw meat contains a high percentage of water, the cooking process will cause it to shrink.
As a guide, assume that your meat yield will be about 50 percent of the weight of the raw brisket. Therefore, a whole packer that weighs 20 pounds should yield about 10 pounds of usable beef.
Remember that the point end of a brisket is fattier, and therefore might draw a lower yield. Conversely, the leaner flat end might deliver a bit more usable meat than you expect.
How Many Briskets Are On A Cow?
Since the steer has two forelegs and the brisket comes from the area above the foreleg, there are two briskets on each whole carcass.
This concept is confusing to some shoppers because of the subprimal cuts we discussed earlier. Each brisket has two subprimals, so if you divide the briskets along this natural line, you can get 4 generous cuts from a single steer.
Other budding pitmasters might be aware that the brisket comes from the portion above the leg, but don’t understand the difference between the foreleg and the rear shank. The cut taken from above the rear shank is called the round. While it may be used in similar cooking applications, it’s not the same cut as brisket.
Cows vs. Steer
How many briskets per cow? Some purists would cause further confusion by replying that there are none. Although cow is often used as an umbrella term to refer to all cattle—especially the ones raised for slaughter—it’s also a specific type of animal.
A cow is a female that has given birth to at least one calf. Before giving birth, the female cattle are referred to as heifers.
The males, on the other hand, are often castrated at 3 to 6 months of age. At this point, they become steer. These are the animals that are typically raised for butchering.
If a male remains intact, it’s known as a bull. Bulls are used for breeding purposes. In other words, on a cattle farm, the cows are the mothers and the bulls are the fathers.
The meat from a steer that’s raised for slaughter should be well-marbled and full of flavor. Beef from a breeding cow, meanwhile, isn’t as desirable. That’s why many consider it a misnomer to refer to beef as “cow meat.”
How Long Does It Take to Raise a Calf?
People who raise cattle for butchering purposes keep a specific schedule in mind. Like humans, cows have a 9-month gestation period. That means that if a cow is impregnated in September of one year, it should give birth in June of the next.
It’s best to allow the bulls and heifers to mate only a couple of times per year, to ensure that the calves will be born in the spring or the fall. These conditions are better for the cows and the calves, as the weather is neither too cold nor too hot.
A newborn calf drinks only its mother’s milk. Weaning should take place at around 6 months, at which point the calf’s young body is capable of converting grass into nutrients.
After weaning, the calf should dine on grass for at least a full year and up to 16 months. As the grass is converted to nutrients, the calf will grow and build muscle. This will ensure that the beef you get from the fully grown steer is a quality product.
To recap, if a cow is impregnated in summer, it will give birth the following spring. Assuming the calf is healthy, the weaning will begin in the fall. Roughly one year after that, the fully grown animal will be ready for butchering.
The Bottom Line
Do two briskets per steer sound like too few to you? If so, you’re not alone. Once you’ve gotten a taste of perfectly smoked brisket, you’ll want to make it again and again.
However, bear in mind that briskets from a mature steer can be enormous. If you’re able to procure a couple of 20-pound briskets, you could be dining in style for quite some time.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!