When it comes to barbecue classics, both brisket and pulled pork are way up there on the list of winners. It’s hard to beat the melt-in-your-mouth tenderness and rich flavor of either of these; both are hearty enough to satisfy the whole family and both have a well-deserved place in your smoker. Of course, both pulled pork and smoked brisket have their staunch defenders and their own set of pros and cons.
But which one is right for your next barbecue? The main considerations when deciding between pulled pork and brisket are price, cooking skill required, nutrition, and the style of meal you’re planning.
Brisket vs Pulled Pork? Deciding between two such incredibly succulent barbecue dishes will be tough, so let’s get right into the meat of the argument.
Pulled Pork Is Easier to Smoke Than Brisket
Although pulled pork and brisket are both best cooked low and slow, there is a definite difference in difficulty level between the two. If you’re a newbie to the barbecue game, pulled pork is absolutely a less intimidating endeavor than smoking a brisket.
Pulled pork has plenty of fat to keep the meat moist and tender, so it is fairly simple and straightforward to smoke, while the leanness of brisket means it can be a little trickier to get that perfectly tender texture, and if you do it wrong, you’re likely to end up with something more like tire rubber than delectable, tender cuts of beef.
Pulled Pork Is Less Expensive Than Brisket
There is no question that smoked brisket is delicious, but at three to four times the cost per pound of a Boston Butt, it is definitely a splurge.
Typically, a pork butt will run only a few dollars per pound, while a brisket can cost anywhere from $5-$15 per pound depending on local prices, the size of the cut, and the grade of meat you choose. The difference gets even larger when you’re lucky enough to find pork butt on sale for $0.99 per pound: the perfect time to stock up.
Which One Is Healthier?
Ounce for ounce, brisket is only slightly lower in calories and fat and marginally higher in protein than pork butt. The fat found in both cuts of meat is about one-third saturated fat, which the FDA recommends Americans should eat less of than they currently do.
Both brisket and pork butt contain important vitamins and minerals like B vitamins, selenium, and zinc. However, brisket is significantly higher in iron and is also a good source of the vital minerals phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium, giving it a slight nutritional advantage over pork butt.
Although neither brisket nor pulled pork is exactly a diet food, brisket has the added benefit of containing high levels of oleic acid which elevates levels of good cholesterol. Oleic acid is also found in popular healthy fats like olive oil. For nutritional purposes, you are a little better off opting for a leaner cut of brisket than pulled pork.
Smoked Brisket Overview
An excellent brisket is the pride of any pitmaster worth their salt.
This cut from the steer’s chest is packed with connective tissue, meaning that it is a feat of barbecue skill and patience to transform it from tough and chewy to tender and packed with flavor.
The brisket is composed of two sections: the flat and the point. The flat is more uniform and lower in fat and so holds together better for slicing, while the point contains a lot of fat which breaks down during cooking to add more flavor.
Tips for Smoking Beef Brisket
Use a simple rub to enhance the natural flavors of the meat and smoke. Your dry rub can include almost any spices that appeal to you, like garlic powder, onion powder, and a little or a lot of chili powder depending on how much heat you like but do include coarse kosher salt and a little brown sugar to help the bark caramelize.
Coat the meat with your rub the night before smoking and let that rub penetrate the fibers for at least six hours.
Always smoke brisket with the fat side down to protect the meat rom the heat of the fire.
When the meat reaches 160° F internally, wrap the brisket in foil and continue cooking until that reaches 185-195° F.
Let the brisket rest in a cooler for at least two hours before serving. This step is not optional!
Great Side Dishes for Brisket
While barbecue is not really a fancy style of cooking, brisket lends itself well to a sit-down dinner.
The rich, beefy flavor of brisket just begs for hearty, homestyle side dishes like collard greens, baked beans, and macaroni and cheese. If you want to go for a lighter and more casual meal, baked sweet potato fries and your favorite fresh coleslaw recipe round out a brisket dinner nicely.
Pulled Pork Overview
Pork butt comes from the hog’s shoulder, which is a well-used, heavily muscled area. Like brisket, pork butt contains a lot of connective tissue that renders down as the meat cooks, providing the rich texture and ample flavor of both.
If you can get a bone-in pork butt, that bone imparts a lot of flavor to the finished product as well as aids the meat in retaining moisture. If you can’t find bone-in, it’s best to tie your pork butt with some kitchen twine to help keep the moisture in.
For the best pulled pork, it’s a waiting game. You’ll need to wrap the pork butt in butcher paper when it reaches an internal temperature of about 160° F, after it has achieved a nice bark on the outside, to help it get through the stall.
Tips for Smoking Pulled Pork
Before you season your pork butt, coat it with a binding agent like yellow mustard or oil to help the spices adhere to the meat. Herb or garlic-infused oils are especially good to give your pulled pork that extra kick. After applying your chosen binding agent, coat the meat with just enough rub to cover the surface.
To make clean-up easier, you can smoke your pork butt in a foil-lined pan. Cooking the meat either on a grill rack or in a pan will make removing it from your grill or smoker much easier!
Low and slow is the name of the game. It’s best to smoke pulled pork at 225° F. If you must, you can smoke pulled pork at 250° F for the sake of timing, but you will lose moisture.
Be patient and don’t peek! Leave that meat alone for the first five hours of smoking time. After that, you can check it every hour and spritz it down with apple cider or juice.
Cook pork butt until the meat pulls clean from the bone. To reach this point, you want the meat to come to an internal temperature of at least 200 ° F before removing it from the heat to rest. Here is how I make Pulled Pork on a Traeger for some advanced tips!
Add your favorite barbecue sauce to the meat only after it’s been cooked and shredded.
Great Side Dishes for Pulled Pork
You can’t go wrong with classic barbecue side dishes for pulled pork. Hushpuppies, dirty rice, and succotash are perennial favorites, and coleslaw, cucumber salad, and potato salad are all popular sides for pulled pork because their cooling flavors complement the heat of a good, spicy barbecue sauce.