It’s hard to beat a backyard get together with friends and family that has delicious, smoky, perfectly cooked brisket being passed around fresh off of the barbecue – but how do you know how much brisket you should be getting (and smoking) to make sure that everyone has enough?
And while we wholeheartedly believe that it’s almost impossible to have too much brisket, unless you have an unlimited budget you can blow on high-quality beef, you’re going to want to zero things in a little bit.
How many pounds of brisket per person? Some people say you can get away with about ¼ of a pound of brisket per person, but others recommend you bump that up a little bit to ½ a pound – if not, even a little more!
How Much Brisket Per Person Do You Need?
While brisket can definitely come across as a pretty casual and unsophisticated chunk of food (like every other bit of barbecue, really), anyone that’s ever taken the time to smoke brisket understands nothing could be further from the truth.
There isn’t a lot about brisket that you can “wing”. You need a plan or you’ll end up really unhappy with the finished result.
You need to know exactly how much beef you are working with, the quality and caliber of that cut, the exact amount of salt and seasoning you’re going to use.
And that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of how you’re going to smoke the brisket, the temperature you’re going to try and hold for hours and hours on end, and how you’re going to maintain that temperature zone low and slow until your brisket is perfect.
All of that is hugely important. All of it.
But before anything can happen with brisket you have to get your hands on a decent size chunk of beef – and that’s always going to be dictated by the amount of people that you’re going to feed.
Cuts of Brisket
You have a couple of different options available when you want to get your hands on cuts of brisket.
On one hand, you can go with a whole brisket called the Packer’s Cut. This is a monster side of beef, usually topping the scales at anywhere between 10 pounds and 16 pounds (and sometimes even bigger than that).
That’s usually enough beef for anywhere between 20 people and 40 people or so. It’s also the most popular way to do brisket, guaranteeing there’s enough for everyone.
You’re going to have plenty of meat with this cut but you’re also going to have plenty of fat that you’ll need to trim, too. A little bit of fat helps produce plenty of flavor, but too much fat will turn almost anyone off of otherwise fantastic brisket.
We dig a little deeper into that in just a minute, though.
Of course, if a packer is way too much brisket for the kind of party that you are throwing you want to either go with a flat or a point cut.
99% of the time you’ll want to go with a point if you’re having to choose between the two, if only because the flat is going to be a lot leaner and better suited to something like a braise.
You can certainly smoke a flat cut (and produce something really special) but it’s going to require a little more babying than a point will.
Flat cuts are generally bigger than point cuts, and you can expect them to tip the scales around 5 pounds all the way up to 8 pounds or so for the most part. Points are going to be a little bit lighter, maybe between 4 pounds and 7 pounds (though you can find some real monsters from big beef cows, too).
Know Your Crowd
You’re also going to want to think about the crowd that you are cooking for and how brisket crazy they are.
Anyone that likes beef is likely going to want to get elbow deep in brisket just as soon as it comes off of the smoker, but some folks – even big beef fans – may not necessarily be crazy about legitimate barbecue that’s been smoked the way that brisket has been.
If you have a lot of brisket fans, shoot for ½ a pound (minimum) of beef for each and every guest – adult or child. That’ll usually leave a little bit left over, but not much.
You might even want to bump it up to three quarters of a pound (though pushing it to a pound of beef per person is usually overkill).
If brisket isn’t going to be the star of the show you can dial things back to ¼ of a pound per person without any trouble. Just make sure that the sides and anything else rolling up of the barbecue is top-notch!
Rules for Making Great Brisket
Making great brisket is about two things more than anything else:
- The quality of the beef that you are working with
- Your ability to maintain even and consistent temperatures throughout the long-term smoke
As long as you dial these two factors in (and obviously have enough beef for everyone) you’ll likely avoid your barbecue going sideways for sure.
High Quality Meat Matters
The overwhelming majority of really high quality brisket isn’t seasoned like crazy, usually with nothing more than a little bit of salt and a little bit of pepper – letting the beef itself shine through.
That’s only going to be possible when the meat you are working with is top-tier.
Brisket has always been a relatively inexpensive cut (though prices have jumped over the last few years as people get turned down to high quality brisket) but you’ll still want to spend extra money to get something of real quality.
Grass fed, well marbled, high-quality beef will always have a bigger impact on brisket flavor than any special spice rub you can put together.
Low and Slow Always
There are some folks out there that would like to tell you it’s possible to “hack” the beef brisket smoking process and shortcut it by a handful of hours, but it’s important that you don’t pay them any attention at all.
Great brisket is always low and slow. We are talking about temperatures that are as close to 165°F as possible over a 10+ hour stretch of time to cook brisket that folks will rant and rave about.
Pellet smokers definitely make maintaining those temperatures a lot easier, but with a little bit of focus and extra effort you can get any smoker to hold temps around 165°F over 10 to 12 hours and make something really special, too.
Strategically Trim the Fat
Every brisket (whether you go with a packer, a flat, or a point) is going to have a bit of extra fat that needs to be trimmed off and remove before you salt, season, and stick it on the smoker.
Hitting that sweet spot between strategically trimming fat and not leaving it completely naked is something you really have to work hard at balancing.
Leave too much fat on your brisket and you’ll end up with a finished product that’s really rubbery and really chewy.
Trim off too much fat, though, and you’ll end up with something that tastes like dried beef jerky – with no moisture, no real flavor, and an overall horrible experience for everyone involved.
Trim things down so that there’s about an inch of fat left on the fat cap and you should be good to go.
To Crutch or Not to Crutch?
Whether or not you crutch your brisket is a personal choice, though it’s definitely a technique worth looking into.
Some people swear by the Texas crutch forgetting brisket past the “stall” that every piece of meat the size is going to have to fight through at some point. Some even say that it locks in a lot more moisture and a lot more juice.
Others don’t like the crest of a good brisket become soggy and sort of “sweaty” when you crutch, swearing by just spritzing and spraying their brisket throughout the cook to add extra moisture that way.
At the end of the day, it’s not a bad idea to experiment a little bit to see whether or not the crutch works for you.
All in all, when you get right down to it, you’ll find that it’s almost always impossible to cook more brisket than people are willing to eat.
This is barbecue that people will absolutely, flat out stuff themselves on – and for good reason!
If you’ve ever had good brisket (really good brisket) you know that most folks have a bottomless appetite for the stuff.
At the same time, if you’re shopping on a budget, it’s not a bad idea to stick to between ¼ a pound and ½ a pound of brisket per person. Maybe a little extra just to make sure there’s plenty for you to enjoy, too!