Brisket is a rather large cut of meat. It's sourced from the steer's chest and is a heavily exercised muscle.
The beef brisket primal is made up of two muscles, the point and the flat. When sold whole, the brisket is called a "Packer's brisket." However, these muscles are often separated.
The brisket flat or "lean" is a long rectangular piece of meat and contains less fat than the point or "fatty." Both muscles are separated by a layer of fat.
The word brisket is used to refer to a specific cut of meat from a steer (not to be confused with pork brisket).
Brisket is sourced from the lower breast.
On a per pound basis, it's more affordable than other cuts of beef, like ribeye steak or tenderloin; This is because Brisket is a heavily exercised muscle.
Beef brisket contains a large amount of connective tissue, collagen, and fat. In order to render these components, the meat needs to be slow cooked for an extended period of time.
The brisket beef primal is made up of the brisket flat and the brisket point - which are the sub-primal cuts.
The Brisket Flat is also called the "first cut," "deep pectoral," or "navel." More scientificically, it's called the pectoralis profundi.
However, for folks who do barbecue, it's called the lean. Lean refers to the amount of marbling or intramuscular fat in comparison to the point as flat has more lean meat than the point.
At a grocery store you'll often find the brisket flat separated from the point. When sold this way, most folks will buy it to braise in the oven or is a slow cooker as apposed to smoking on the grill.
The brisket flat makes up the majority of the brisket and typically weighs between 3 to 10 lbs.
Barbecue brisket flat is typically sliced across the grain and turned into pencil-thin slices.
The brisket point is also called the "second cut" or "round"; I've also heard it called the "nose" by some butchers. More scientifically, it's called the pectoralis superficialis.
However, to folks who do barbecue, it's called the "fatty" and in most cases, it's their favorite part of the brisket.
The point muscle has abundant marbling or intramuscular fat and connective tissue. Unlike the flat, regardless of the USDA grade you choose, the point will have no issues with getting a decent slice.
After the flat has been sliced across the grain, the brisket is "Texas Turned" - the grain of the point is the opposite of the flat so the meat is turned to slice across the grain.
The meat is then turned into slices and burnt ends.
There are three main differences between brisket flat and brisket point - size, fat content, and flavor.
The first is in terms of their fat content. Brisket point contains more marbled fat and connective tissue. The flat cut is leaner and will yield more lean meat than the point.
The second is in terms of their flavor. The saying of "fat is flavor" holds true. Brisket point has a more intense, beefy flavor than brisket flat. This is due to the extensive marbling or intramuscular fat that renders.
This is also why it's recommended to leave the fat cap intact to about a 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch thickness. This way, the fat cap will render and add succulence to the brisket flat in eat bite. The flat struggles to stay moist during a 12+ cook.
The third is in terms of their size. The Brisket flat makes up a majority of the muscle. It's rather uniform where-as the point is smaller and has a thick end and a thin end.
For some reason, a lot of resources like to call the point, the deckel (also spelled deckle). However, Brisket point is not the deckel.
When browsing the USDA Institutional Meat Purchasing Standard (IMPS) - the whole brisket you find at a grocery store is "120 Beef Brisket, Deckle-off, Boneless.
The IMPS defines this as:
"This item is as described in Item No. 119 except that the deckle (hard fat and M. intercostales interni on the inside surface) must be removed at the natural seam exposing the lean surface of the M. pectoralis profundi. The hard fat along the sternum edge must be trimmed level with the boned surface. The inside lean surface must be trimmed practically free of fat."IMPS
From the section above, we know that Brisket flat is pectoralis profundi. Meaning, the deckle is not the brisket point, nor the fat that's found between the muscles.
Deckle is the hard fat/cartilage that's attached to the steer's ribcage - The briskets you find at your grocery store have this removed
Note: From the IMPS, 120A is Brisket Flat and 120B is Brisket Point.
Often times, you'll find the brisket flat separated from the brisket point. For example, corned beef will often come pre-packed in a brine solution and can use either the flat or the point.
Some folks will even choose to separate both the muscles before or after smoking.
The muscles are easily separated as the seam of fat is quite evident. Using a sharp knife, you can quite literally follow the intermuscular fat.
It's not often that you'll find brisket point in a grocery store or even sold on its own. When separated from the flat, the point is often turned into hamburger or shredded for sandwiches. This is because the point has more fat meaning there isn't as much meat yield.
This really comes down to personal preference. However, most folks who do barbecue, likely will tell you that their favorite part of the brisket is the point.
When smoked whole, you'll have a section of the point that you can slice into "burnt ends." Which is the best part of the brisket.
This is also why folks choose to separate the flat and the point - rather than only getting a few small burnt ends, you can turn the entire point muscle into cubed up pieces of burnt ends.
Personally, I'm a big fan of using brisket flat for slices on a sandwich and then eating the point in slices or burnt ends on its own.