Though it was once regarded as good only for stew meat or grinding into hamburger patties, brisket is enjoying a renaissance. It’s an incredibly popular cut for cooking low and slow on a barbecue grill, infusing it with rich smoky flavors and transforming its tough muscle into tender and juicy meat.
To really make the best of this primal cut, though, you’ll have to know how to cook it, what to serve it with for a full meal, and more.
In this guide, I’ll be putting my experience working in South Carolina barbecue restaurants to good work — and I hope that I can share everything you’ll need to know to make the most of your brisket, be it flat, point, or a full cut.
Brisket Point vs Brisket Flat
Before we get into the specifics of what to do with a brisket point cut, we should be totally clear on our brisket terminology.
- Both the brisket point and flat come from the same primal cut — the full brisket, also known as the packer’s cut or simply untrimmed brisket.
- But when you cut an untrimmed brisket in two, you get the point cut and the flat cut.
Brisket flat is the lean part of the full cut. It gets its name from its ability to lay flat, which comes from the trimming of fat and sinew. This makes it quite a lean cut of beef, and it requires special care to cook well and make it tender.
Brisket point is the fattier side of the full brisket cut. It’s packed with flavor, but generally less desirable for stew meat. But it’s a huge favorite for barbecue “burnt ends” — which we’ll teach you how to make later in this article.
If you’re interested in learning how to cook full brisket and brisket point, read on. But if you’re needing to cook brisket flat — the most commonly sold cut in grocery stores — go check out our companion article on Brisket Flat instead.
What Does Brisket Point Taste Like?
Cows use the muscles in the brisket region to walk around all day long, so they have plenty of time to develop muscle fibers that can get in the way of enjoying your meal.
That’s why brisket is almost always cooked low and slow, preferably over natural wood smoke for even more flavor (sometimes with a brisket rub as well). This gives the heat plenty of time to render the fat, making it soak into the muscle and tenderize the proteins.
And the result? After 10+ hours at 250 degrees or so, a brisket can come out tender enough to pull apart with a fork, and flavorful enough to impress any meat eater.
Most of the time, though, brisket is cooked as a whole cut. That’s because the point and flat are complementary to each other: The leaner flat provides a beefy protein base, while the fattier point gives plenty of flavor and renderings to tenderize the meat.
So brisket point cooked on its own will have a rich flavor, but maybe almost too rich — there’s just too much fat to make it delicious on its own. But if you treat it more like bacon or pork belly, brisket point can take on a new depth of flavor in recipes like barbecue burnt ends (more on that in a moment).
How to Cook Brisket Point
Because you’re working with an especially fatty cut of meat when you cook brisket point, not just any cooking method will do (here we’re assuming it’s defrosted of course). In fact, when brisket is smoked whole, the fatty ends of the meat — part of the point — are often cut off and set aside!
But in the barbecue cultures that I’ve been blessed to visit and work in, these cut off ends can actually be turned into the best part of the meal.
Legend has it that burnt ends started as a Friday tradition in Kansas City barbecue restaurants. The fatty point cut ends of brisket had been set aside all week, and pit masters were looking for the best way to use them.
But because of their high fat content, these pieces took a really long time to cook and render their fat — so long, in fact, that you almost had to let them burn up to get them nice and tender!
And so barbecue burnt ends were born. Returning these fatty cubes to the smoker, they get cooked for another few hours at about 225 degrees. Slather them in plenty of KC barbecue sauce, and you get a delicacy fit for a Midwestern king.
The best tutorial that I’ve found for making burnt ends comes from Hey Grill Hey on YouTube; she even covers how to separate flat from point in a full brisket! Check out her recipe below:
What to Serve with Brisket
Of course, any barbecue meal worth its salt doesn’t just focus on the meat — it has to be accompanied with a half dozen sides or so to count as a real meal! With that in mind, here are some of my favorite sides that I’ve picked up while working in barbecue restaurants across the country:
Hush puppies are an underrated side that can quickly become the star of the show. You’ll need a deep pan and plenty of hot oil to fry them in — but the recipe is really quite simple.
Combine roughly equal parts of flour and cornmeal, then mix in a few pinches of baking powder, onion powder, and garlic powder. Wet this with buttermilk to create a batter that can still hold up on a spoon.
Then dip out balls of the batter and deep fry them for about a minute each, and serve with honey mustard.
Baked beans are about as classic as it gets for barbecue side dishes, and for good reason: They’re delicious, inexpensive, and easy to make.
Buy some of your favorite canned brand if you’d like — but I prefer to buy cooked pinto beans, drain them, and then stew them for a few hours with brown sugar, molasses, garlic and onion powder, and a generous dash of chili powder. Then when they’re just about finished cooking, add in a good splash of apple cider vinegar to balance out all that sweetness.
Potato salad is an excellent alternative to mashed potatoes, and it keeps better cold as well. Try using Yukon gold potatoes as the base, cutting them into 1 inch cubes and cooking them fully before mixing with mustard, mayonnaise, and bits of bacon. These are a perfect base for any spices and herbs you enjoy, so go crazy.
Deviled eggs complete any picnic lunch. Try making them with a stone ground mustard and cayenne pepper as part of the filling, and you’ll have a tangy taste that complements burnt ends very nicely.
Corn on the Cob
Corn on the cob can be dressed up to your liking, too. Butter, salt, and pepper is the classic seasoning, but a little bit of chili powder and a squeeze of lemon can go a long way too. Either way, make sure you roast them on a grill for maximum flavor.
Alternatives to Brisket Point
Because of how fatty it is, finding a direct substitute for brisket point is tough — if you’re set on cooking beef, that is.
Really, the best alternatives to the rich and fatty flavor of brisket point come from pork. Pork brisket is an awesome cut of meat that is routinely ignored even by experienced barbecue smokers. And that means it’s both cheaper than beef brisket, and often more readily available too.
Check out Porter Road’s pork brisket to get a feel for how affordable and delicious this substitute can be.
And if you’re looking for an alternative cut to use for burnt ends, pork is the answer again. A good quality cut of pork belly has about the same amount of fat as a brisket point (and sometimes even more). It cubes up nicely, and will cook down to a tender, juicy consistency just like brisket.
Where to Buy Brisket Point
It’s not too common to find brisket point for sale on its own — far more common is to find the whole packer cut for sale, which you can then cut into flat and point sections.
But if you don’t want to do any of your own butchery, the best way to buy a brisket point is to inquire with your local butcher shop. And really, this is the first place you should look when it’s time to buy any meat for grilling, smoking, and cooking.
Because the better your relationship with your butcher is, the better your access to top quality and odd cuts of meat will become.
If you don’t have a local butcher though, going to your grocery store’s butcher counter is the next best bet. And don’t discount other markets, too — I’ve found some excellent deals on brisket by shopping at Mexican markets near my house.
But if you really can’t find brisket point in any of those places, you can always order online too. Mister Brisket sells brisket points for a very good price, completely untrimmed and ready to be turned into delicious burnt ends.
Now let’s go ahead and wrap things up with some of the most common questions we’ve heard people asking about brisket.
Which is better flat or point brisket?
Both flat and point brisket have their place in barbecue cooking, with neither being better than the other overall. Brisket point is better for burnt ends though, while brisket flat cooks faster and is easier to make tender. If you cook the whole brisket cut though, you’ll get the best of both worlds.
How long does it take to smoke a brisket point?
You can count on a brisket point taking about an hour per pound to cook down to tender perfection. That’s assuming a 250 degree smoker, meaning that a 5 pound brisket point would take about 5 hours to smoke.
Should I separate the point from the flat?
This one really depends on what you plan on doing with your brisket. But generally speaking, no — you should keep your brisket whole if you bought it that way, and smoke the whole thing as one unit. This will give you the ideal ratio of fat to muscle, and make for the most tender and juicy result.