What Brisket Should I Buy? (Prime, Choice, Select or Wagyu)

The first step towards smoking the perfect brisket begins at the store. Having a good understanding of the different grades of beef increases your chances of nailing a brisket. We put so much thought into every aspect of smoking a brisket, but often overlook the beef grade. Sometimes you can get everything else right, from the temperature to the wrapping and spritzing, yet still your brisket isn’t perfect.

Since smoking brisket requires many hours, a brisket with a high level of marbling is most recommended. Prime and Choice grade briskets contain a high marbling score, whereas Select grade brisket has no marbling, which makes cooking difficult to manage.The USDA grade meat based on age and the level of fat mixed with muscle, which we call marbling. Above everything else, the marbling score will determine the level of flavor and juiciness. The different beef grades include Prime, Choice, Select and Commercial. There are sub-categories within these beef grades such as breeds like Angus or Wagyu, and grass-fed and grain-fed cattle.

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Key Points

Here is a summary of the key points:

  • When smoking a brisket, it is important to consider the grade of beef you are using. The different grades are Prime, Choice, Select, and Commercial.
  • Prime and Choice grades have a high level of marbling, which is the fat mixed with muscle fibers, and is important for flavor and juiciness. Select grade has no marbling, making it more difficult to cook.
  • Wagyu beef has a high marbling score and is known for its flavor and tenderness, but it is also more expensive.
  • It is recommended to use a brisket with a high level of marbling to increase the chances of a juicy and flavorful result.
  • The USDA grades beef based on tenderness, juiciness, and flavor, as well as the age of the animal and marbling.
  • You can find briskets at stores like Costco, Sam’s Club, and Walmart, as well as online at places like Snake River Farms.
  • Prime grade brisket is the highest quality and has the most marbling, making it easier to cook and resulting in a juicier and more flavorful end product. It is more expensive, but may be worth it for special occasions.

What Are The Different Brisket Grades?

If you can buy a brisket with a high level marbling, you’re increasing your chances of juicy and flavorful piece of meat. We know fat equals flavor, so a high level of marbling will significantly increase the flavor. Also, a well-marbled brisket won’t dry out because the fat within the muscle fibers will melt and keep the meat lubricated.

Beef GradeMarbling Level
Standard CommercialNone

How Is Beef Graded?

For the consumer, the USDA grade beef for tenderness, juiciness and flavor. Another consideration is the age of the animal, and the level of marbling. Wagyu, for example, has the highest marbling score, which is why it’s so expensive. Marbling is the fatty lines that you see in meat. The more marbling, the juicier and tastier the beef.

Where To Buy a Good Brisket

Popular places to buy brisket are places like Coscos, Sam’s Club and Walmart sell briskets at an affordable price. If you look out for specials at these places, you can get yourself a bargain. There are now dozens of online butchers who will deliver a brisket directly to your door. Snake River Farms is one of the more common online butchers who sell high-quality briskets.

Have you tried smoking a Wagyu brisket yet? You can get one delivered to your door from Snake River Farms.

Marbling – The Main Difference Between Brisket Grades

Brisket is a large cut of meat that is going to sit in your smoker for 10 to 18 hours. The biggest danger we face as pitmasters is drying out the brisket. A cheaper brisket with very little marbling is harder to keep moist during the long cook. Compare this to a quality grade brisket with a large amount of marbling. After 18 hours in the smoker, the fatty marbling will keep the meat moist, making for a juicer brisket.

USDA Prime Brisket

The highest quality brisket that you will see in stores is USDA Prime brisket. According to the USDA, Prime beef is young, well-fed cattle. A Prime brisket has significant marbling with about 10 to 15 percent fat, which is a nice ratio. Prime beef will be tastier than a Choice brisket, although they are less common and usually only seen in steakhouses and restaurants. Also, expect to pay a few dollars more per pound for a Prime brisket.

A Prime brisket will contain a decent amount of marbling which will not only give the brisket an enormous amount of flavor but also it will make the brisket juicy. Expect to pay more for a prime grade brisket, but it’s well worth the money if you’re smoking a brisket for a gathering where you really want to impress the crowd.

Prime grade brisket gives you every chance of succeeding before you’ve started because you don’t have to stress about juiciness or flavor. You shouldn’t have to inject or brine a Prime brisket because it will have enough fatty marbling to keep it moist and full flavored. Even though a Prime brisket is easier to manage, you still need to practice brisket fundamentals such as wrapping, temperature control, resting, etc.

USDA Choice Brisket

The USDA choice brand brisket is ideal for smoking. This brand of brisket is mid-priced, but high quality with lots of marbling. Choice ideal for meat smoking enthusiasts, and probably the most common brisket grade you will see in stores. I understand 50 percent of all beef seen on the shelves is USDA Choice. A Certified Angus Beef (CBA) brisket, is a USDA Choice sub-level. For years, Walmart sold “Choice Premium”, which is very close to USDA Choice brisket.

USDA Select

A USDA Select Brisket is leaner than other beef grades with very little marbling. Tenderness isn’t a problem with a Select brisket, however it will lack the flavor and juiciness of Choice, Prime and Wagyu briskets. If you are on a low-fat diet, then Select is a great selection, but this brisket grade will be a challenge to keep moist over the 10 to 18 hour cook. You will need to do everything else right, and more. Here are some things to consider before smoking a Select grade brisket. These techniques will improve the juiciness of your smoked brisket.

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Can You Smoke Select Grade Brisket?

Normally Choice or Prime would be the recommended grade of brisket, simply because a Select brisket will be difficult to smoke. Select grade beef is lean and contains no marbling, which will make it a challenge to cook. Because of the low level of fat, Select grade briskets are more likely to dry out. However, there are a few tricks you can use to ensure a Select brisket isn’t beyond repair.

Wrap Your Select Grade Brisket in Bacon

Bacon is often used to wrap lean roasts, and a Select grade brisket can be treated the same way. The bacon fat will prevent the brisket from drying out and will give the meat a huge flavor boost. However, the bacon wrapped brisket will change the texture of the bark, which may deter some people. A Select grade brisket is usually tender, so if you can substitute the fat, you should get excellent results if you do everything else right. So if you see Select packer briskets on sale, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy one.

Certified Angus Beef (CAB)

Breed also plays a huge role in the brisket’s quality. A Black Angus brisket will have an enormous amount of flavor if you can get your hands on the genuine product. A common blend you will see in America is Wagyu beef mixed with Angus. Certified Angus is a brand of beef known for its amazing flavor. Certified Angus Beef (CAB) is usually either Prime or Choice. This beef brand is more expensive than other beef because of the certification process.

Choice vs Select Brisket

There seems to be an interesting debate in the barbecue community about Choice and Select grade brisket. Many pitmasters won’t even go near a Select brisket, while others are prepared to take a chance.

Some pitmasters argue that the difference between Choice and Select beef is more noticeable when chewing steaks, but with large roasting meats like brisket, the difference isn’t significant in the brisket flat, but more so in the larger point muscle.

No doubt there is are different levels of marbling between a Choice and Select brisket. It just depends how much money you care to pay for a Choice brisket, and if you believe the marbling level between the two justifies the extra cost.

A Select grade brisket will take longer to cook because of the lack of marbling. You will find a Choice brisket with a high marbling score, or a Prime or Wagyu brisket will reach probe tenderness sooner than a leaner Select grade brisket.

Choice vs Prime Brisket

Some pitmatsers believe the difference between Choice and Prime is minimal once you have trimmed away the extra fat from a prime brisket. When preparing brisket for smoking, we only leave 1/4 inch of fat. Prime beef has more fat than Choice, but we trim away much of the fat. The important difference is the level of marbling between the two grades. Some believe the difference isn’t worth the extra dollars.

Grass Fed vs Grain Fed Brisket

Although grass-fed beef is promoted as being healthier, a grain-fed brisket will be larger, contain fat and therefore more marbling and flavor. There’s a noticeable difference in the color of a grass-fed brisket, which tend to have a darker cherry red meat. A grass-fed brisket will be more expensive because farmers have to put in more work on the soil to produce quality certified grass-fed beef. Grain-fed beef is raised eating grass. The only difference is farmers offer the cattle grain and grass as they approach slaughtering age. A grain-fed brisket will be easier to manage since it will have a decent layer of fat and marbling. However, grain-fed briskets are huge, and as you may know, large briskets are difficult to cook. If you are a health conscious person, grass-fed is probably better suited. If you’re all about flavor and size, then I would go for a grain-fed brisket.

Select Grade Brisket – 5 Ways To Help It Survive

If you have a Select grade brisket, it will be lean, contain very little fat, and the lack of marbling will make things difficult for a long smoke. The absence of marbling puts your brisket at risk of drying out, so you should do all you can to help the Select grade brisket retain moisture. Here are 5 things you can do to improve your Select brisket.

1. Dry Brine

Salting the meat is an excellent way to help the brisket retain moisture during the long cook. A dry brine is very simple because all you need is some kosher salt, and time. The day before you smoke your Select grade brisket, apply a layer of kosher salt to the meat and leave it in the refrigerator overnight. On the day you’re ready to cook, apply a rub but make sure it doesn’t contain salt, otherwise your brisket will end up too salty. The salt from the brine will also flavor the meat. However, the salt may not work its way into the center of the brisket, especially if it’s a huge packer.


Another important technique that you can use on your Select brisket is injecting the meat with broth or marinade. Injecting is the only way you can get flavor and moisture into the middle of the brisket. This added moisture will benefit the brisket over the long 10 to 20 hour cook. Since your Select grade brisket won’t have that nice intermuscular fat, or marbling, the added moisture from the injection will be beneficial.

If you don’t have a meat injectors, you can get one for about $30 on Amazon: Simple Meat Injectors.

Meat injectors are cheap, and you can buy a decent stainless steel syringe on Amazon for about 30 to $50. They usually come with a couple of different needles and are very simple to use. For the marinade, I use Butcher BBQ, the award-winning brisket marinade that pitmasters use in competitions. You can also use bone broth or beef stock. Again, just be careful with the salt content. You need to manage the salt from your rub and your marinades because a salty brisket is not a good thing.

This brisket injection marinade is the secret used in competitions and made by a World Barbecue champion.

3. Wrapping

No matter what grade brisket you buy, wrapping is highly recommended. However, wrapping is more important with a Select grade brisket. Wrapping will hold in moisture, and create steam, almost brazing the brisket. If you smoke your brisket unwrapped, it’s going to lose a lot of moisture sitting on the grill for 18 hours. A well-marbled piece of meat will have natural lubrication and survive the marathon cook. However, a lean Select grade brisket would become far too dry. You can wrap your brisket in aluminium foil or butcher paper, but paper will preserve the bark, whereas foil will make the bark soft and soggy.

4. Spritzing and Mopping

Another technique that is very common when smoking brisket is spritzing or mopping. Spritzing or mopping your brisket is supposed to replace lost liquid, although there is much debate about whether this is true. If you are smoking a Select brisket, I would highly recommend spraying or mopping your brisket every hour. The main reason for spritzing your brisket is it will have a cool the meat, and slow down the cooking. To give you a brisket the best chance, you want to hold the meat at a low temperature for as long as possible. High temperature will cause more liquid to escape, causing the meat to become dry.

5. Wrap In Bacon

Wrapping lean meat in bacon is a common trick used by barbecue pitmasters. You won’t get that nice, crispy bark on your brisket, but it will have enough fat to keep the brisket moist. Use toothpicks to hold the bacon in place, and wrap around the roast.

Prime Grade Beef – The Perfect Hot-And-Fast Brisket

You may have seen the hot-and-fast brisket trends on YouTube or in the world of barbecue. As you would know, a brisket can take 18 to 20 hours to cook in your smoker and the safe low-and-slow cooking range is between 225°F and 250°. When I heard the people cooking briskets in the 350°F range in only 5-6 hours, I was extremely sceptical. However, after doing some research, I discovered it is entirely possible to do a hot and fast brisket—and it can still taste good. Although a hot-and-fast brisket will never taste as good as a low in slow, we don’t always have time to babysit a brisket for a full day. So I can understand the attraction.

Prime briskets are perfect for the hot-and-fast cook. What most YouTube pitmasters fail to mention when cooking these hot-and-fast briskets is the beef grade. Most will use a well-marbled Prime or Choice grade brisket because a Select or a leaner Choice brisket wouldn’t hold up to the high temperatures of a hot-and-fast cook. A Prime brisket will have a decent amount of marbling, so it will have a level of protection to keep it moist and flavorful.

My Favorite Brisket Tools

Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.

Meat Injector: Injecting meat is a great way to take your barbecue to the next level and help you make competition-style brisket. An injector is the only way you will be able to get flavor and moisture into the middle of the meat. The Beast Injector is a stainless steel injector that is sturdy and affordable. Check the latest price on Amazon here.

Brisket Marinade: The best injection solution on the market is the Butcher BBQ Brisket Injection. This marinade is used in competitions and is made by World Barbecue Champion pitmaster, Dave Bouska. You can find the marinade on Amazon here.

Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.

Brisket Rub: These days I make my own rub when possible, but I always have a few pre-made rubs for when I’m running low. Barbecue guru Malcom Reed produces Killer Hogs, one of the best brisket rubs I’ve found over the years. Another great rub is Slap Yo Daddy, made by brisket master and multiple World Barbecue Champion, Harry Soo.

Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.

Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.

Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.


Author and founder at Meat Smoking HQ

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