One trick to barbecuing a better beef brisket is to start with better meat. The quality between the various types of briskets that are available is substantial. It is not uncommon to find two briskets of substantially different quality being sold side by side at identical prices. It is also possible to improve the quality of most briskets with a little time and patience.
The first thing to examine when shopping for a brisket is to determine the grade of the meat. Beef is typically graded as either being “Select”, “Choice” or “Prime”. Beef that is graded Select is very lean with very little marbling of fat within the muscle fibers. Beef that is graded Prime is rich in marbling which results in a melt in your mouth experience. Beef that is graded Choice has marbling that falls between the two extremes. In general, the greater the amount of marbling the better the brisket will be.
It is extremely rare to find Prime beef in supermarkets. Less than 10% of all beef receives a Prime grade and it is typically reserved for restaurants and commercial customers. This leaves us with choosing between beef that is either Select or Choice.
The grade of the beef brisket will be marked on the cryovac wrapping. It is important to realize that if you cannot find the grade then this is what is referred to as a Packer brisket. This is a brisket that got packed without any grading taking place. It is best to assume that such briskets are equivalent to Select. Another marking that is sometimes stamped onto Choice briskets is CAB. This acronym stands for Certified Angus Beef and is a marking only given to the top 5% of Choice beef. A simple rule to remember is that there is no such thing as a bad CAB brisket.
What is remarkable is that when briskets are shipped to supermarkets in case quantities there will be a mix of packers, Select, Choice and CAB grades. Quite often the same price is applied to all of them and you will find a Packer brisket and a CAB brisket being sold for the exact same amount. Do yourself a favor and grab as many CAB briskets as possible!
There is a final type of brisket that is extremely rare to find in supermarkets but that can be ordered through specialty meat stores. The last type of brisket comes from Wagyu beef which is so rich and succulent that the marbling surpasses even the Prime grade. It is becoming common to see Waygu briskets on the competitive barbecue circuit as intense competitors search for any new angle to win.
By working with briskets that are at least Choice in grade (and preferably CAB) you will find you can produce a much better product than if you were cooking a Select or Packer brisket. Pay attention next time you are at the store and you might be surprised at the differences you see.