Choice vs Prime Brisket (Do You Know Which One to Buy?)

Once an affordable cut of meat, the demand for brisket has seen the price rise dramatically in recent times.

For this cut of meat, prices can fluctuate dramatically between grades of brisket cuts.

So why the price difference and what do the grades mean?

Beef Grades

Beef cuts are graded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on certain quality characteristics.

Such as tenderness, flavor, and juiciness as well as the useable yield from the animal. The two most common terms used for grading are Prime and Choice.

Source: USDA

The most notable difference between the choice and prime grades is the level of fat throughout the cut.

Prime cuts tend to have a lot more intramuscular fat than the choice cuts, giving it a richer, juicier texture and taste. Choice cuts are a lot leaner. Both cuts are juicy and deliciously moist.

Overall, a fat content of approximately 20% is ideal to prevent the meat from drying out.

Below we’ll look at the rest of the ways choice brisket differs from prime brisket

Choice Beef Brisket

Appearance

Choice grade beef brisket is the most commonly sold grade of brisket.

It has significantly more marbling than the lowest quality Select grade, but less than the Prime grade. 

Other factors taken into account in the beef grading process are size, thickness, and uniformity.

All of these factors will affect the pricing structure. Even within this high-quality USDA Choice grade range, there can be a huge variance so have a good look when purchasing your cut.

When compared side by side with the Prime cut, the difference will be obvious. Choice has far less intermuscular fat weaving through the meat.

However, Choice cuts are still very good high-quality cuts of meat and are just as flavorsome and juicy when cooked correctly.

Cooking Suggestions

USDA Choice brisket are very tender and flavorful. They are best cooked low and slow. Braising, roasting, or simmering with a small volume of liquid in a covered pan are a good way to bring out the rich flavor of this cut. 

As the fat content is less than the prime, it may lean towards drying out if not careful.

The Choice grade of beef is perfect for recipes that call for the slow cooker, or marinades and sauces as these will keep the moisture levels up.

Prime Beef Brisket

Appearance 

Prime-grade beef brisket is the highest grade beef under USDA standards. Plus it’s grading of brisket that pitmaster and legend Aaron Franklin like to use.  Less than 2% of all beef cuts are classified as Prime. That alone impacts the availability and price.

The meat typically comes from young, well-fed beef cattle, therefore is extremely tender and well-marbled. Grass-fed beef cattle are in demand and tend to produce the best quality beef.

These high-quality cuts of beef are very much in demand in restaurants and BBQ shacks, and because of this, it’s also the most difficult to source and the more expensive cut.

A visit to a specialty butcher or meat market may be called for if you are determined to find a piece.

The highest quality grade brisket is classed as such due to the level of fat. Typically, it will have extra marbling throughout and present as a softer cut. This extra degree of marbling keeps the meat juicy and moist as it cooks, enhancing the flavors and preventing it from drying out.  

Cooking Suggestions

If you’ve managed to source a piece of this quality meat from the local butcher shop you’re in for a treat!

The best way to cook a Prime brisket is in a smoker or oven. Due to extra fat content, you can cook just as it is without the need for marinades or extra liquid.

For The Smoker
Season with the brisket rub of your choice, and place on the rack of your smoker. We recommend using mesquite or oak wood for brisket

The low consistent temperature will break down the connective tissue marbled through the meat, which in turn maintains the characteristic tenderness and juicy flavor.

You may have to wrap your brisket during the process, which will help you avoid the brisket stall. Once your brisket reaches an internal temperature of 204°F remove it from the smoker and allow it to rest in a cooler for an hour.

For The Oven
Simply season the raw brisket on both sides with the seasoning rub of your choice. Place in a roasting pan and roast, uncovered, for 1 hour.

If you want add beef stock and enough water to give about 1/2 inch of liquid in the roasting pan. Lower oven to 300 degrees F, cover pan tightly and continue cooking for 3 hours, or until fork-tender.

Making the Choice

When it comes to choosing between Prime or Choice beef, there are pros and cons to both.

Both are good quality pieces of meat, but the prime will naturally be more tender due to the marbling. 

Both can be cooked low and slow, perfect for grilling and smoking.

Beef prices will also affect your decision. Due to the scarcity of the cut – there can only be two briskets per animal – and the commercial demand on Prime cuts, it makes Choice cuts more friendly on your wallet. If you’re looking for brisket substitutes, a more affordable cut is smoked tri-tip. Also known as Santa Maria Brisket, and it’s popular on the west coast.

Did We Forget About Angus Beef?

Many folks think that Angus Beef is also grading of beef.

Angus Beef is actually a breed of cow, that originates from Scotland. The meat from Angus cow is highly regarded, so it is usually graded by the USDA as either Prime or Choice beef when it is imported.

Brisket can be a tough cut of meat, but this can be overcome with a long, slow cook. Giving the fat and connective tissue time to break down!

The trick to a successful brisket is patience, the process can take upwards of 15 hours. So get your timing right and you’ll have a meal worth raving about!

Smoke On!

Charlie

Author: Charlie Reeves
Hi, I’m Charlie, I am head taste tester at Simply Meat Smoking! I love it grilling, smoking, and getting out in the yard with the kids! The family also love to test all my recipes (especially my EXTRA CRISPY pulled pork, smoky pork loin, and ANY SEAFOOD I grill)

You will usually find me playing with the kids, perfecting my brisket bark, or sipping beers with boys around the fire. Can’t wait to share all my delicious smoking and grilling adventures with you!

You can read more on our About Us page.

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