Brisket is by far one the best cuts of beef to smoke and eat. It's also a pretty hard meat to substitute from both a taste and texture stand-point.
Even in terms of the time investment - brisket can take 12+ hours to finish.
With that said, there are a few substitutes for brisket that exist that can emulate the eating experience. Even the long smoke time if you enjoy it.
In my opinion, the best alternative for brisket is chuck roast, often called poor man's brisket.
Apart from chuck roast other great alternatives are short plate ribs - often called brisket on a stick - as well as tri-tip.
The closest alternative to brisket is Chuck Roast or "Poor Man's Brisket."
Chuck roast comes from the beef chuck primal, which is right above the brisket. It's typically used for pot roast or chuck roll; You might also see it sold as "shoulder steak."
In general, one of the biggest benefits of chuck meat is that it's not super expensive. The shoulder (beef chuck) plays a key role in the movement of the steer. As a result, the meat from this area is tough and has lots of connective tissue - like brisket.
Chuck roasts are fattier than other cuts from different parts of the steer. This is super beneficial if you're looking to substitute brisket as you want the fat dispersed throughout the meat (intramuscular fat).
When buying a chuck roast, I typically go with USDA Choice. As noted above, this cut of meat is inherently fatty and you won't need something like Prime to compensate.
For chuck roast, I follow the same exact strategy as when I smoke brisket:
I use the same rub, the same quality of meat (USDA Choice), the same hardwood (post-oak), and I smoke at the same temperature (250-275F).
Be sure to check out my smoked chuck roast recipe.
The result is a super flavorful piece of meat that takes half the time it takes to finish a brisket.
Short plate ribs come from the short plate primal. They're called either plate short ribs or simply short ribs. You may also see them called "loaded" beef ribs or "brontosaurus" ribs.
The short plate sits between the brisket (in front) and the flank primal (in back).
Short plate ribs are distinct from chuck short ribs in that the meat that's found in the short plate is in very close proximity to the brisket primal.
Chuck short ribs aren't great for smoking, they're better suited to braising in the oven. Where-as beef plate ribs work super well for smoking.
Essentially, you can think of short plate ribs as brisket on a stick as they are in close proximity.
Short plate ribs are also super forgiving to beginners. Honestly, you'd be super hard pressed to mess up any part of the process.
You don't have to worry about:
*I'd still suggest starting at 250-275F just for optimal smoke.
My biggest issue with plate short ribs is that they're impossible to find locally where I live. In the 28 years of living where I do, I've never seen them in a grocery store.
The only place I can find them is online and they're often super expensive - to the point where you're better off just buying a brisket. They can also take 8-9 hours to smoke and the meat yield is less than brisket.
Tri-tip is a cut of meat most often confused for brisket. Truth be told, tri-tip isn't actually a roast like brisket or chuck roast, it's actually a steak; Meaning, you can cook it like a steak.
Historically, the tri-tip was ground up for hamburger meat. It wasn't until the 1950s when Bob Schutz, a Safeway butcher of Santa Maria Market opted to grill it like a steak. Needless to say, he was happy with the results and so were customers.
Tri-tip comes from the bottom of the sirloin primal - between the ball-tip and bottom sirloin flap. It's called the "tri-tip" because it's a triangular shaped muscle with a tapered tip (scientifically, it's the tensor fasciae latae muscle).
You might find the tri-tip listed as a California Cut, Newport Steak, Santa Maria Steak, or even sometimes a "poor man's brisket."
Tri-tip is a very versatile cut of meat - it can be cooked as a whole roast (like brisket), reverse seared like a steak, or even chopped up into meat for kabobs.
Personally, I like to eat Tri-tip like a steak - it has a super forward beefy flavor and when cooked to medium-rare and sliced against the grain, it is very juicy and tender.
Be sure to check-out my smoked tri-tip recipe.
If you opt to cook tri-tip like a brisket, I'd strongly suggest getting a USDA Prime cut. Mainly because tri-tip is a rather lean piece of meat (like other cuts from the loin). USDA Prime simply means the meat will have more intramuscular fat which will help prevent the meat from drying out.
Of these options, the closet substitute to brisket is likely chuck-roast. Chuck roast is readily available in most grocery stores, it's inexpensive, and takes half the time it takes to smoke a brisket. It also comes from the chuck which has a wonderfully beefy flavor.
Short plate ribs definitely taste like brisket which isn't surprising as they're super close to each other on the animal. However, it's unlikely that you'll find them at your grocery store. If you have a local butcher, you could definitely ask them to see if they could get them. If not, a number of online butcheries have them available at a premium.
If you're looking for something that both tastes similar and also takes about the same amount of time to smoke, short ribs are a good alternative. Granted, they also cost about the same with less overall meat yield.
Tri-tip is also a great option to smoke like brisket. Personally, I'd rather smoke it and then sear it like a steak. It has an incredible amount of juiciness and is made tender when cut against the grain. It's also fairly inexpensive, even when purchased online.