Like anything else, it all starts with base-quality. If you’re going down to the nearest low-grade (Wal Mart, Save-A-Lot etc) grocer and buying a bottom-shelf brisket you’re giving yourself a tough row to hoe from the start.
The top barbecue houses in the US switched to prime grade years ago, and if you want to approximate their quality then you’re going to have to improve your sourcing.
Costco generally has top-grade brisket at a fairly reasonable price. If you have a good quality mom and pop butcher in your town establish a relationship with him. Find out what kind of beer he likes to drink, buy him a six pack every now and then. If he has other vices find out what those are and help him to indulge.
The sky’s the limit. Don’t be afraid to break a law or two if it means building a strong bond between you and your meat man.
It also helps to develop knowledge on beef. Dan S. Hale, Kyla Goodson, and Jeffrey W. Savell of Texas A&M University have penned a nearly exhaustive guide on beef grading that we consider to be essential reading.
Another good way to improve your barbecue game is to establish a relationship with an area beef farmer. When he gets ready to take a steer to slaughter see if you can buy a fourth or a half of the animal once it’s been dressed.
Remember that the creature is going to taste its best up to the age of 30 months. At 2.5 years the meat will begin to toughen as the bones ossify. Cattle is no different than humans in that sense. We all reach a peak and then begin the inexorable downhill slide.