Dizzy Tips: Choosing the Best Meat for your Barbecue
Learning to take tough cuts of meat and cook them to be tender, moist, flavored with the right amount of smoke and with the perfect crust takes plenty of hard work and practice.
But your technique is only part of the equation.
A carefully selected piece of meat can really make a big difference in your true slow-cooked barbecue.
For this article, we’ll talk about beef brisket and pork shoulder, but the same tips apply to beef chuck/shoulder, and beef/pork ribs.
Choosing Beef Brisket
Whole “packer” briskets, which include two main muscles, the point and the flat, are the best choice for barbecue, and generally weigh 10-15 lbs. However, in many parts of the country, it’s hard to find anything but the flat cut (the large flat muscle…usually around 3-6 lbs.). If you can only find the “flat”, it will still make good barbecue, but we always choose packers when available.
Beside the cut, these are the things we look for in a brisket:
- The grading of the beef is a good place to start when choosing.
- For our competitions, we are able to get USDA Prime graded beef, and if you have a source AND the budget, it is a great way to go.
- USDA Choice grade is much more readily available and is also a very good grade to use.
- USDA Select grade can produce some decent barbecue, but the fat content is so low that it really needs to be cooked perfectly to be very good.
- Inspect the surface of the flat. Assuming you are looking at a Choice grade or better chunk of meat, there should ideally be ribbons (striations) of fat running through the grain in the muscle. Put two side by side, and you’ll notice one probably has more internal fat than the other. The more internal fat, the more flavor and moisture in the final product.
- Check the briskets to see how easily they flex. If they bend easily, that gives you a good idea how tender the final product will be. Beef improves as it ages, and generally a flexible brisket has a little more age, and/or a little less connective tissue.
Choosing Pork Shoulder
When selecting meat from the shoulder, whether it be the picnic, the Boston butt, or the whole shoulder, it is a good idea to use a reliable meat packer or butcher that you know gets pork from a good source.
Pork is not graded like beef, so it is even more important to know what you are looking for.
Things to look for in a pork shoulder:
- Make sure the meat is all-natural. The easiest way to ruin your barbecue is to purchase an enhanced piece of meat. Avoid anything that says “self basting” or “injected with a solution”.
- The meat should be reddish pink, and not light pink.
- The fat cap should be pearl white.
- The meat should have plenty of internal fat. Analyzing the fat content in pork takes a little practice because it all looks fatty to the untrained eye.
- It always helps to have several to compare. You’ll start noticing the fat in certain muscles.
- Unlike beef, the fat is not always in straight lines embedded in the grain, it is more of an irregular marbling pattern. Try and look at the same muscle in each piece you compare, and you’ll notice that some are way more marbled than others. Some of the main “veins” of fat will be thicker. Once you see it, it will be obvious that the hog was eating well and not skipping breakfast.
- A fat pig is a happy pig, and a happy pig tastes good!
There you have it. Now go and make some killer barbecue with our slow smoke recipes
Good luck, and we hope these tips help you in your quest for the perfect BBQ!
See our expanded Dizzy Tips on Meat Selection
Dizzy Tips: How to Select Pork Shoulder for Pulled Pork
Dizzy Tips: How to Select Beef Brisket