Should you smoke a brisket or a chuck roast? Will you or your guests be able to tell the difference? More to the point: Is one better than the other?
Let’s take a closer look at smoked chuck roast vs brisket.
Smoked Chuck Roast vs Brisket
Chuck roast is taken from the shoulder, whereas brisket comes from the pectoral region. Both are flavorful and tender when smoked, although chuck tastes more impressive when it’s first served. Brisket, on the other hand, makes for better leftovers—which is fortunate, as a cut of brisket is usually bigger than a chuck roast.
About Chuck Roast
The chuck comes from the shoulder region of the steer. It’s one of the eight primal cuts, which means it’s one of the large sections that butchers separate from the carcass during the initial stages of the process.
Chuck has an intensely beefy flavor, thanks to its high concentration of fat. It’s often ground into hamburger, but chuck roasts—which may also be labeled as blade roasts—are inexpensive and easy to find.
When prepared whole, the chuck benefits from long, slow cooking applications like braising. The meat should be tender when it’s cooked correctly, but the fat and muscle fibers need time to break down.
These muscles get a lot of exercise during the steer’s lifespan. That can result in tough meat. When you cook brisket low and slow, however, the collagen breaks down and the tough fibers relax, creating a finished product that’s tender and moist.
Understanding The Terminology
As we pointed out, blade roast is a common pseudonym for chuck roast. However, there are a few other terms that you should be aware of as well.
When people say they’re making a “pot roast,” most of the time, they’ll be looking for a chuck roast for their recipe. Some people might also use brisket for their pot roast, but it’s not as common, and the terms shouldn’t be used interchangeably.
An arm roast is taken from the shoulder area, which is technically part of the chuck. However, a true chuck roast is usually cut closer to the neck.
Similarly, the shoulder roast is cut from the chuck, but the meat is leaner and more tender than chuck roast.
The 7-bone roast also comes from the chuck, but it includes a cross-cut of the shoulder blade, which is shaped like the number 7. The name comes from this segment of bone—the roast doesn’t actually have seven bones in it.
A whole brisket, which is a huge cut of meat that typically weighs between 10 and 16 pounds, may be labeled as a whole packer. The meat is delicious when it’s smoked in this form, but it requires a sizable time commitment.
It’s not easy to find the point end of a brisket sold independently of the whole packer, but it can be done. Alternate labels might refer to this cut using the words “second cut” or “deckle.”
Chuck Roast vs Brisket: Breaking it Down
The price of beef can vary depending on the time of year, your location, the current cost of fuel, and the quality of the meat itself.
Chuck roast usually sells for $5 to $7 per pound. Although the whole chuck primal can weigh more than 100 pounds, an average chuck roast will weigh just 4 to 5 pounds, giving you a price range estimate of $20 to $35 for the whole cut.
You might be lucky enough to find brisket on sale for as low as $2 per pound, but prices that low are rare. On the other end of the spectrum, it might top out at $20 per pound. In general, though, an average cost of $5 per pound is a good estimate for brisket.
Bear in mind that a whole packer brisket will probably weigh more than a chuck roast. Even if the cost per pound is slightly lower, you’ll still be looking at a sizable bill.
You can offset this difference by purchasing a brisket flat instead of a whole packer. A flat will typically weigh between 6 to 10 pounds. Therefore, you might be able to purchase an 8-pound brisket flat for around $40.
When you compare a chuck roast with a brisket, you’ll notice that the chuck has a lot of intramuscular fat, or marbling.
While the point end of a brisket contains its fair share of marbling, the majority of the fat is on the outside of the cut. In fact, the fat cap is such a significant feature that there are debates as to whether brisket should be smoked with the fat cap up or down.
The chuck has more in common with the point than with the leaner flat end. Since the flat is the portion that’s usually sold in supermarkets, you might want to opt for the chuck roast if you’re looking for optimum flavor and richness.
While we’re on the subject, it’s worth pointing out that the chuck roast delivers a stronger hit of flavor.
Brisket is no slouch in terms of taste, and it presents beautifully on the plate. However, we’ve found that brisket’s flavor improves overnight, whereas chuck roast tastes better when it first comes off the smoker.
Since these cuts are both taken from working muscles on the forward-facing portion of the steer, they’re relatively similar in terms of texture.
Both the chuck roast and the brisket consist of flavorful meat that will be tough if it’s not cooked properly. As we mentioned, low and slow is the way to go, which is the best reason to consider adding them to the smoker in the first place.
This category is a draw, at least in terms of how long to smoke the meat per pound.
Chuck roast and brisket should reach the target temperature of 195-200 degrees Fahrenheit at roughly the same time when smoked side by side. Of course, that assumes that both cuts weigh about the same.
Plan on a cooking time of at least 1.5 hours per pound when smoking these cuts at 225 degrees. Every piece of meat is different, so some roasts might cook at a rate of 2 hours per pound, especially if the smoker temperature is erratic.
Both brisket and chuck roast can benefit from a simple blend of salt and pepper. Use a ratio of 1 to 1, and make sure to use only kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper for the recipe.
If you prefer a bit more spice, you can kick things up a notch by adding garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, or cumin to the rub. Brown sugar is another popular ingredient, but be careful—sugar may burn, which will make the bark turn out too tough.
In either case, use about 1 tablespoon of seasoning rub for each pound of meat.
Wood For Smoking
For smoked chuck roast, we like to use oak, pecan, or hickory. The beef is bold enough to stand up to these flavors, and they impart a savory richness of their own.
Similarly, oak is one of our favorite woods to use when smoking brisket. If you opt for hickory and you’re smoking only the flat, we would suggest mixing it with a milder wood like apple or cherry, as it can impart a bitter taste to leaner meats.
Since brisket cuts are typically larger than chuck roasts, it stands to reason that you’d get more meat from a brisket. Even if you were to smoke a 6-pound chuck roast and a 6-pound brisket flat side by side, however, the brisket yield would probably be higher.
A chuck roast has more intramuscular fat than brisket, as we mentioned earlier. While some of this fat will melt into the meat during the smoke, there will probably be a lot left behind as well. That means you’ll have less meat to work with.
Which meat is easier to carve into slices, the chuck or the brisket?
If you’re planning to shred the meat for sandwiches, this might not matter. For a formal gathering, though, slices arranged on a platter make for a nice presentation.
One of the reasons people opt to smoke the brisket flat alone is because it slices up beautifully. When carved neatly against the grain, the slices are as appealing to the eye as they are to the taste buds.
Because the chuck contains more marbling than the brisket flat, the latter looks much nicer on the plate. Slices of smoked chuck roast will have a more ragged appearance—though in their defense, they’ll still taste amazing.
If you’ve smoked the whole brisket or just the point, though, this category is a toss-up. You can still carve the flat into slices after dividing the brisket in half, but the point isn’t any easier to slice than a chuck roast.
In the end, smoked chuck roast and brisket have more similarities than differences. If you can find both cuts at an affordable price, go ahead and buy both so you can perform a side-by-side comparison. We think you’ll have a good time sampling the results.