Although often mistaken for each other, London broil and beef brisket are two entirely different cuts of meat with two different preparation methods.
While we can use both in dishes such as stews, pasta, soups, and more, each has its own way of cooking to achieve a juicy and tender consistency.
If you’ve accidentally bought a large London broil instead of a brisket, or came across a brisket when you thought you were about to prepare a London broil — don’t stress!
Here we take you through the main similarities and differences of each cut of beef: London broil vs. brisket.
London broil and brisket are entirely different cuts of beef and should be prepared differently to achieve tenderness and maximize the savory goodness of each cut.
London broil is cut from the bottom round muscle on the backside of the cow, whereas the brisket is taken from the chest. Typically London broil is much leaner than brisket and so is better suited for hot and fast cooking. Brisket on the other hand contains a great amount of fat and connective tissue throughout which requires low and slow cooking to become tender and flavorful.
Both cuts of beef can become wonderfully tender, but the differences between them call for a different method of preparation to achieve greatness.
So, just to be clear, London broil is not just another name for brisket, it’s entirely different.
What Is A London Broil?
Despite its name, London broil doesn’t actually originate from London. Although its origins are still up for debate, the terminology used is North American, not British.
London broil can refer to both the cooking technique of taking marinated tough and lean beef and pan frying it, or it can refer to the beef cuts you use for the technique itself.
So, in most meat markets you’ll find a London broil is a cut of beef broken down from the top or bottom round muscle of a cow.
If you were to ask your butcher for a London broil they’ll likely serve you a lean cut of top round, Coulotte, or flank.
Some of the earliest London broil recipes appeared in the United States, which is also where the term became synonymous with certain cuts of meat.
As a method of cooking steak, London broil is made by broiling marinated beef over high heat for a couple of minutes before cutting it into thin strips across the grain to achieve tenderness from a traditionally tough cut of beef.
What Is A Brisket?
Brisket is a cut of beef taken from the breast section of the cow, which is located beneath the first five ribs and above the front shanks.
It’s fatty and rich in collagen, which makes it fairly tough unless cooked low and slow in a slow cooker, in the oven as a roast, sous vide, or most famously — a smoker.
When choosing a brisket, you’re often faced with three choices: full-packer brisket, the flat, or the point.
A full-packer brisket is simply a large cut of beef taken from the cow’s chest area which includes both the flat and the point cut.
Brisket flat or brisket points are basically just the top and bottom half of a full brisket. The leaner half is called the flat brisket (first cut) and the fattier, marbled half is called the point brisket (second cut). Both cuts yield flavorful results when prepared in a smoker or slow cooker.
No matter which cut of brisket you’re dealing with you will likely see a great amount of marbling throughout the meat, and when cooking low and slow the fat and connective tissues effectively melt and turn to collagen creating a beautifully tender and savory piece of beef.
However, smoking a brisket can be quite a task, and you can very easily get a tough brisket or an overcooked brisket. It can also take a seriously long time to cook, being done too early, or too late to feed your guests!
London Broil Vs. Brisket: What’s the Difference?
London broil and brisket might look like the same cuts to the untrained eye, but there are several major differences in their properties and how they should be prepared:
Fat Content & Texture
Without overcomplicating things, meat is made up of protein and fat. The tenderness of meat comes from both the presence of fat, and the way it’s distributed, as well as the size of the muscle fibers.
The areas of the animal that get the least strain tend to have the thinnest muscle fibers and are much leaner. Whereas the areas of the animal which are constantly under stress tend to have thicker muscle fibers and fat.
London broil, coming from the round of the cow, is much leaner and has a lot less fat running throughout.
Whereas brisket, coming from the chest of the cow is much higher in fat and has a lot of connective tissue such as collagen, connecting the muscle fibers together.
Long story short, London broil is naturally lean and beef brisket is naturally fatty.
Because of the make-up of beef brisket, it’s best prepared at lower temperatures for extended periods of time, like when slow cooking, braising, or smoking.
This low and slow cooking of the brisket allows the fat to effectively melt and the connective tissue to break down into gelatin. This causes a ridiculously succulent and tender piece of meat.
London broil, on the other hand, is marinated for two to three hours and only done to medium doneness.
Unlike beef brisket, where it’s cooked for hours at a time, London broil is either grilled or pan-fried to doneness, or indirectly cooked to 135°F internal temperature and then finished in the pan to achieve a good sear. The marinade can be anything from soy sauce, olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar, etc.
If you try to smoke London broil for the same time and temperature as brisket it will come out very tough, as it doesn’t have enough fat and connective tissue to make it become tender.
Similarly, if you try to grill a brisket you’re going to be left with a very tough and chewy mouthful, as the connective tissue hasn’t had adequate time to break down yet!
When serving brisket to a crowd, always slice against the grain into quarter-inch slices. You want the hero to be the brisket, so don’t go and cover it with sauce but add it to the side.
You can also make hefty brisket sandwiches, or cut one-inch cubes from the point and make brisket burnt ends.
London broil is sliced against the grain too, as this shortens the muscle fibers making it easier to chew.
Like brisket, it can also be served in sandwiches or just with side dishes. There’s just one major difference: London broil is served with a special sauce on top. This can be steak sauce, mushroom sauce, or herb butter.
The natural beef flavor isn’t as prominent in London broil as it is in brisket, so the sauce or a bit of lemon juice is a brilliant way to add a bit of extra oomph to the dish.
Can You Smoke London Broil LIke A Brisket?
Although traditional London Broil is prepared hot and fast, barbecue enthusiasts (like myself) can’t help but wonder how good it is smoked low and slow – like a brisket.
The truth is, you can smoke London broil, however, it actually works better if you smoke it like a tri-tip rather than a brisket.
If you try to smoke London broil like a brisket it won’t come out as juicy, tender, and moist. Instead, it quickly drys out and becomes tough.
So, it’s actually much better if you smoke London broil so it absorbs some smokiness but still remains medium or medium well in the middle – around 150°F.
What About London Broil Burnt Ends?
Alright, things are getting serious.
Although burnt ends are traditionally made from either pork belly or brisket, there are those that simply love to experiment.
It’s been well established that you can also use beef chuck roast or pork shoulder for burnt ends.
But what about beef bottom round/London broil?
Well, If you’re really ambitious, you can certainly make London broil burnt ends too!
Just be aware, burnt ends are most divine when they’re made from meat with a high-fat content, as they more easily become crazy tender.
In saying that, if you slow cook London broil like you would a brisket, add plenty of butter and brown sugar, you will be able to get them to sweet, sticky, and caramelized – though they will be a bit tougher in texture than traditional burnt ends.
London broil and brisket are both super delicious when cooked properly.
The biggest difference between the two- other than the flavor, of course –is their preparation method. This is vital to play at the strengths of the make-up of the meat, being naturally lean or fatty.
London broil, like flank steak, skirt steak, or round steak, is typically grilled or pan-fried for no more than a couple of minutes after its marination period.
Brisket, on the other hand, is smoked, slow-cooked, or braised for six to eighteen hours — or sometimes even longer depending on your patience!
So, which cut is better: London broil or brisket?
Well, I’ll leave that to you to decide.