How to Decide Between Brisket And Steak

Brisket or steak? It’s a tough call, but we’ve got you covered. Here’s how to make the best decision for your next cookout.

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Are you all ready for a sizzling debate that’s been around since the dawn of meaty goodness? That’s right, I’m talking about the age-old question of whether to go for a brisket or a steak.

Now, I know some of you out there might think that this is like picking between Mama’s biscuits or cornbread, but hear me out. There are some key differences between these two cuts of beef that can make all the difference in the world when it comes to flavor, mouthfeel, and cooking method.

The brisket’s a large and lean cut from the cow’s chest. It’s meant to be cooked low and slow, to an internal temperature of 190-210°F, until the connective tissue in it melts away. Steaks, on the other hand, are small and succulent cuts from the cow’s back. They’re best cooked briefly and at a high heat, to an internal temperature of 145°F, plus/minus a few degrees depending on the desired level of doneness.

Let’s lay this out on a table:

DescriptionLean cut from the cow’s chest rich in connective tissue (collagen)Fatty cut from the cow’s back rich in intramuscular fat (marbling)
Cooking timeLong, typically several hours to overnightBrief, typically a few minutes
Cooking methodsSmoking or slow-roastingGrilling or broiling
Cooking temperature225 to 275°F450 to 550°F
Internal temperature (temp of doneness)190 to 210°F145°F
Comparing brisket and steak

Take a gander below to understand why smoking is the cooking method that does brisket the most justice — and why steaks turns out so succulent when prepared on the grill.

The Brisket, And Why It Ought to Be Cooked Low And Slow

The brisket is one tough cut of beef, y’all.

It comes from the chest of the cow and it’s chock-full of connective tissue that takes a special touch to get just right. That connective tissue, also called collagen, needs a high temperature to melt down into gelatin, the juicy goodness that we all know and love. But it takes time for that heat to work its magic all the way through that big piece of meat.

That’s why the brisket is best cooked low and slow in a smoker, so that heat can really penetrate deep into the meat and break down all that tough stuff, with the added benefit of the smouldering wood flavoring the brisket with its delicious smoke. Trust me, when done right, a brisket is a thing of beauty that’ll make your taste buds sing!

When I say the brisket is a big cut of meat, I ain’t just whistling Dixie.

We’re talking 10, sometimes 20, pounds of beef! And that’s before you trim off any of the excess fat or moisture loss, which means your final product is gonna be just about half that size. Now, that’s a whole lot of meat to work with, which is why cooking up a brisket takes some *serious* time and dedication.

“Just how much time is that, Sammy?” those among you who have never smoked a brisket before may be wondering.

Well, fellers, that’s 12 to 18 hours of smoking at a temperature between 225 and 275°F, which is why many a savvy smoker likes to start that bad boy up in the evening and — with catnaps and occasional tending to the firebox — let it do its thing overnight.

How to get it right: You know you’ve smoked a brisket to perfection if it’s juicy on the inside and has a black, crispy, smoky bark on the outside.

The Steak, And Why It Turns Out So Succulent With Grilling

Well, well, well, lookie here! We got ourselves a steak!

Now, this little darling is a far cry from that big old brisket we were just talking about, but it nevertheless packs a punch when it comes to flavor and mouthfeel.

The steak is a small and succulent cut that comes from the cow’s back, and it typically weighs in at around 12 ounces (that’s 350 grams for y’all metric-reading folks out there). It’s fatty and rich in intramuscular fat, called marbling, and it warrants just enough cooking till the fat has melted and the disease-causing bacteria on the surface have died off.

The keys to success when cooking up a steak is to bring the heat! I’m talking about a preheated grill cranked up to 450 to 500°F. This is equivalent to a medium-high heat on gas grills and lit, ashen-over coals on a charcoal grill. So unlike brisket, which has to be cooked low and slow, a steak ought to be cooked just enough until it’s ready to eat.

And don’t forget about that all-important internal temperature, which the USDA recommends to be at least 145°F for safe eating. But hey, depending on how tender you like your beef, some folks like to eat theirs a little on the rare side (which, if I may, can pose a greater risk of food-borne illness, so do keep that in mind).

How to get it right: You know you’ve grilled up a steak to perfection if it’s tender on the inside and has a delicious, dark-brown crust on the outside.

Bottom Line

Alright, let me break it down for you all real simple: a brisket is one tough customer that comes from the cow’s chest, and it’s just begging to be smoked low and slow until all that connective tissue melts away into juicy, meaty goodness.

Now, on the other hand, we’ve got ourselves a steak, which is one tender little cut that comes from the cow’s back and is just perfect for grilling up nice, hot, and quick. And we ain’t talking about grilling it for no 12 to 18 hours, folks! No, folks, we’re talking just long enough to get it up to a safe internal temperature of give or take 145°F.

So there you have it: a brisket and a steak, two very different cuts of beef that require two very different cooking methods, both of them marvelously delicious in their own ways.

By Sammy Steen

Sammy, Barbehow's editor, is a die-hard carnivore, barbecue whisperer, and self-proclaimed master of the grill.

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