Do You Cook Brisket Fat Side Up Or Down?

Do You Cook Brisket Fat Side Up Or Down?

There are a lot of things that people debate about when it comes to cooking: whether to flip the steak or not, whether to put salt on the chicken before or after it’s cooked, and so on. But one thing that seems to be up for debate more than most is how to cook brisket. Some people swear by cooking it fat side up, while others say that fat side down is the only way to go. 

So which is the right way? Let’s take a closer look at both methods and see which one comes out on top.
Do You Cook Brisket Fat Side Up Or Down

What Is The Brisket Fat Cap?

The fat cap is a thick layer of hard fat on top of the brisket that melts during the smoking process, basting the meat and keeping it moist. It can be dark brown to black in color.

In order for this fat cap to render properly, you must trim it down from its original thickness to about 1/4″ or less in order for it to properly break down. This is a relatively easy task with the right tools but can become a laborious one without them.

Do You Cook Brisket Fat Side Up Or Down?

It’s a question that comes up all the time – do you cook brisket with the fat side UP or DOWN?

The answer is – it depends. And we’ll get to that in a minute (and no, this isn’t like the famous chicken and egg dilemma).

Brisket cooked competitively will be prepared before cooking and divided into two pieces. The first piece has the “fat cap” facing UP, while the other piece has the fat cap facing DOWN. The reason for doing this is simple: whichever submission (first piece/second piece) cooks more quickly should theoretically yield better results since there is less time under heat without protection from smoke and rub flavors.

So if you’re preparing your own brisket at home, which way should you do it?

Well, in most cases, the brisket will naturally “frown” when hung vertically in the smoker. This means that with the fat cap UP, exposed to heat and smoke for hours at a time, it’s likely to become shriveled and burnt. Fat side DOWN is better since there is no direct exposure to heat during cooking (and assuming you’re using indirect heat).

Also consider that when you slice your brisket against the grain after smoking/cooking, exposing more surface area on top of the meat where there was formerly fat will allow more crusty bark flavorings to come in contact with sliced meats… but again, this all depends on how you like your brisket.

Cooking Fat-side UP or DOWN depends on how you prefer your brisket slices served. If you like a clean cut with the grain, then cook fat side UP so that when sliced, the meat will slice smoothly and not be “pulled” by excess fat. But if you want to maximize flavor and bark textures from rubs, allow the fat cap to face down during cooking so that it doesn’t shrink excessively from heat and block flavorings from getting into the meat where they can do their work (marbling facilitates this flavoring).

About Brisket Fat Side Down

Fat is flavor. That’s why, as a general rule, you want to leave it on when cooking ribs and other meats that are slow-cooked; the fat keeps them moist. When you’re barbecuing though, things get a little more complicated. Some folks prefer to barbecue with their brisket fat side down because they think it puts all of the tasty goodness in direct contact with the heat source – protecting the meat from drying out too much during low heat cooking. Others argue there’s not enough evidence-based proof either way so you should try both ways if you have an available grill time to spare just to see what works best for you under your conditions at home/venue. This opinion will focus on how to handle meat with the fat side up and why.

Brisket Fat Side Down – Pros 

There are a few reasons brisket aficionados prefer barbecuing with the fat side down: 

* The fat melts off the meat and runs directly onto the coals or flame, creating a flavorful smoke that flavors the entire brisket. 

* It helps to even out any hot spots during cooking by dispersing heat across all parts of the meat. 

* After taking your perfectly smoked meat off the grill, you can then slice it and use that tasty accumulated sauce to pour over each serving just before serving. 

Brisket Fat Side Down – Cons 

Here’s why some folks don’t like this method: 

* One argument is there is no statistical between barbecue results when fat side up vs. fat side down because hot spots in the grill can create variations in cooking times and temperatures no matter what way you place the meat on there from a single cook session. 

* Some folks argue that your brisket doesn’t get enough direct exposure to the heat source because it’s surrounded by other meats or even just artificial walls like wall studs and sides of the barbecue pit. They argue this means your brisket will never get appropriately seared, leading to a lack of development of flavors during cooking.

About Brisket Fat Side Up

Some people find it easier to barbecue with the meat fat side up because there are no worries about hot spots, uneven heat distribution across the grill, or what have you. Here are some reasons why they do this: 

* The brisket has direct exposure to the heat source with each long side exposed, allowing it to develop hotter spots that lead to delicious bark formation on the surface. 

* It allows more of the beef fat – which is exactly what you want when smoking a piece of beef brisket – to drip down onto your coals or flame so it can create its own smoke flavor.

Pros Brisket Fat Side Up

From an overall grilling standpoint, nothing beats cooking your brisket with the fat side up. You get that smoky flavor and delicious bark on your brisket while also having all the fat drip onto your coals to create a flavorful smoke. It’s definitely an easier method of smoking and it might even be less hassle than having to turn the meat over halfway through cooking (which you’d need to do if cooking with the fat-side down). 

Cons Brisket Fat Side Up

As we said, the only downside of barbecuing your brisket with the fat side up is that you’ve got to manage hot spots and try not to jab holes in the meat as it cooks. This also means you need to keep a close eye on your grill temperature during cooking as well as monitor how much smoky flavor your coals/flame are emitting; too much smoke will make for a bitter barbecue.

About Brisket Flipping

This is where you switch the placement of your brisket so that the flat side faces up halfway through cooking. This method isn’t for everyone but it’s an option to consider if you’re looking for ways to get more even heat distribution while cooking your smoked meats, especially when dealing with thick cuts like beef brisket. 

Pros Brisket Flipping 

* Most folks agree that this method creates better bark development on the meat because both sides are exposed to direct heat. 

* Manually flipping the meat during barbecuing ensures some parts won’t be overcooked while others are still cooking, leading to an evenly cooked piece of barbecue. 

* If you’ve ever had trouble getting certain parts of your brisket to cook to perfection, like getting it done all the way without losing any juices or burned ends, this method might be for you because it helps to create less temperature variance throughout your brisket. 

Cons Brisket Flipping

This isn’t an easy technique to master because if you flip your meat too early or too late, you’re unlikely to see much improvement in the overall barbecue results. It’s also a bit of a hassle unless you’ve got two pairs of helping hands around to help cool the meat during flipping. And lastly, it could potentially lead to dangerous grill-to-meat contact so make sure you have sturdy oven mitts ready when trying this method out.

Step-by-Step Guide: How To Prepare A Brisket Flat?

1 Always start with a fresh brisket flat. This is the true secret to success in any beef brisket recipe. Any off flavors will be cooked into the meat, especially if you are cooking low and slow for more than 6 hours. If you are doing BBQ on a grill then this is not as big of an issue because your meat will only touch the grates. 

  1. Next, remove all of the fat from between the point and flat sections so it looks like one solid piece of meat again. 
  2. Score both sides of the brisket at about 1/4 inch deep by cutting lines in a crosshatch pattern about 1 inch apart. The order doesn’t matter but try to cut through just enough meat that smoke can get through. 
  3. Season the brisket with your choice of BBQ rub or regular salt and pepper. If you are using a rub, work it into the meat in an even coating. Salt will suck moisture out of the meat by pulling liquid to the surface when you season. This liquid is called exuded liquid. To avoid this liquid from forming up on top of your brisket flat you want to lightly cover that area with some non-iodized salt. When this liquid comes in contact with the salt it will adhere to it and form tiny beads so it can be easily wiped off before cooking starts instead of having an ugly pool on top of your flat. 
  4. Place both point and flat sections together so they look like one solid piece again. This time start by placing the fat layer on top of the point. Next, roll the flat into a cylinder shape and tie it with butcher twine at 1-inch intervals by running your string under and back over each piece of meat. 
  5. If you are doing low and slow then go ahead and smoke it with your choice of wood pellets for 4 to 5 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 170°F. 
  6. Now that your brisket is finished going low and slow in a smoker, you can make a delicious beef brisket in a crockpot. Just add in all of your favorite ingredients including some sliced onions, chili beans, pinto beans, black beans, corn, beef broth, diced tomatoes with green ch, chili powder, cumin, garlic, and salt. If you want to make it spicy then add in some diced jalapenos too! Cook on high for 5 to 7 hours or on low for 10 hours.
  7. To finish the brisket flat under the broiler, slice the point off of the flat section so it looks like a shirt sleeve. If your butcher did this for you already then just skip this step. 
  8. Next, place a large cast-iron skillet or heavy baking sheet with sides on high heat until very hot, about 30 seconds. Add just enough vegetable oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan before placing half of the flat meat side down first and some sliced onions over the top if desired. Sear quickly without it around as much as possible so it will crisp up on each side. 
  9. Now, flip the piece of meat around so onions are on top and sear the other meat side briefly so they get browned too. 
  10. Next, add in your choice of beef broth, tomato sauce, or barbecue sauce to cover all sides of the meat being careful not to wash off any rub from the top. 
  11. Finally, transfer this pan into a preheated oven at 450°F for 15 minutes before removing from heat and slicing flat across the grain into 1/4-inch thick slices holding with some tongs while doing so.
  12. To make corned beef brisket in a crockpot, simply cook everything as instructed above but you can leave out the BBQ sauce if desired. Add about 1/2 cup of salt to the crock along with 4 cups of water and place lid on top. Turn onto a high heat until it boils then turn down to low for 8 hours. 
  13. For corned beef brisket in an Instant Pot, just cook everything except for the BBQ sauce as instructed above but set your pressure cooker timer for 90 minutes instead of 8 hours. Just be careful that you don’t overcook or else it will turn out dry.
  14. Finally, if you want another popular choice than slow cooking, oven baking, broiling, or pressure cooking your beef brisket flat then try out how to cook a large piece of flat brisket in a cast-iron skillet. All you have to do is brown the meat first then add in some kosher salt, Worcestershire sauce, beef broth, barbecue sauce, prepared mustard, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, and cayenne pepper. Then bring to a boil before placing on an oven-safe lid or tightly-wrapped aluminum foil over top for 1 hour at 400°F.

Tips of How To Prepare A Brisket Flat 

  1. The proper way to remove excess fat is by inserting a sharp knife on the fat side. Make sure that you are doing this in order to make room for rubs and marinades which can penetrate easily on the flat side since there’s more space now with all the excess fat removed. 
  2. Try not to trim any excess fat from the brisket flat because it will help retain moisture during cooking plus it also adds flavor while barbecuing. 
  3. It’s best to use a dry rub instead of a marinade when preparing your brisket flat because it can penetrate easily on the meat. A marinade, on the other hand, will only do some flavor coating on the surface. 
  4. To achieve that great smoky flavor, cook using indirect heat using charcoal briquettes or wood chunks with a water pan at least one-hour prior to cooking. Direct grilling is not advisable since the high heat will dry out your meat faster while causing excessive flare-ups which can char your meat surface before reaching its optimum internal temperature.
  5. When barbecuing, keep in mind that you need to cook your beef brisket at least per hour and fifteen minutes for every pound of meat. This will ensure that you reach the desired internal temperature before removing it from the grill or smoker. 
  6. You can also use a foil pan when barbecuing so in case it’s already reached its optimum internal temperature before reaching your preferred doneness, you can just move the meat inside and let the juices in the pan absorb in it while it remains hot and juicy. 
  7. If in case you want to add color and flavor to your brisket flat, baste regularly with mop sauce during the cooking process.
  8. Make sure that you get rid of any remaining grease present on the meat after it has reached its optimum internal temperature before letting it rest to ensure that the remaining grease won’t be absorbed by your brisket flat slices. 
  9. Ensure that you keep a constant watch during cooking because aside from an unattended high heat will char the surface making it dry and tough, a flare-up can char your meat as well. To avoid this, use indirect heating for about one hour then cook using direct heat until your desired internal temperature has been achieved. 
  10. If you are barbecuing at lower temperatures of 250 degrees Fahrenheit or 120 degrees Celsius, make sure that you leave ash in the firebox since all meats should always be cooked by indirect heat.
  11. Never lift the lid of your barbecue grill or smoker when you are cooking using low heat since every time it’s opened, the internal temperature will drop dramatically which will result in longer cooking times. In fact, increase barbecuing time for about 15 minutes if you wish to close the lid after adding coals or more logs. 
  12. You should also try not to trim meat prior to cooking because this can dry out your brisket flat making it tougher than usual so instead cut across the grain before serving. 
  13. To achieve moist and tender brisket flat, don’t forget to slice against the grain of the meat. This way you’ll be cutting all those connective tissues that would’ve made your meat tough if sliced with the grain. 
  14. If you are cooking using indirect heat, make sure that your brisket flat has reached its optimum internal temperature before letting it sit for 15 minutes prior to cutting since slicing while hot can cause excessive steam which might lead to loss of juices and drying out.
  15. When barbecuing/smoking beef brisket flat, baste regularly with mop sauce or marinade throughout the cooking process. This will ensure that all surfaces of your meat will be coated and glazed, adding more flavor to it as well as retaining moisture and resulting in a much juicier and tastier result. 
  16. Always ensure that the internal temperature of the meat has been reached before serving to avoid any health concerns. This will also avoid your meat from becoming dry and tough. 
  17. After barbecuing/smoking your beef brisket flat, always slice the meat across the grain rather than with the grain since this will ensure that all those connective tissues inside it have been rendered to give you a tender piece of meat perfect for sandwiches or panini as well as other dishes requiring sliced brisket. 
  18. You should know that marinating is not advisable when barbecuing/smoking beef cuts such as brisket because the salt in it can damage its surface making it quite unappealing and can result in longer cooking times too since we need to cook our meat by exposing directly to heat and smoke. This is why it’s best to marinate beef cuts such as brisket after barbecuing/smoking it.
  19. For efficient and effective basting, use a spray bottle filled with mop sauce or marinade to achieve even coverage. This way you’ll save more of the juice for your barbecue sauce or your dipping sauce. 
  20. You can also place aluminum foil under the meat so that any remaining grease present on its surface will be captured inside the foil preventing flare-ups which might char your meat making it tough and dry, this way you are not losing any juices because all those juices are being trapped inside your foil pouch filled with meats.

Here are some tips that will give you an insight into what happens when cooking meat with its fat layer facing up or down.

Bones and their relationship to meat: Bones don’t affect how well the meat is cooked but they do make carving easier if they are removed before serving. The best time to remove bones from any cut is about 20 minutes after it finishes smoking, while the meat is still warm.

Smoker Heat Distribution: A lot of heat comes from below your smoker grate, not directly below your meat/purchase as you might expect. The reason is because of the hot air from the burner/smoke generating device. The heat from this is what cooks your meat, not the smoke.

Smoker Heat Temperature: Depending on your smoker or grill set-up and how it’s used determines your cooking temperature. For example, a gas smoker will have very different required settings than a pellet grill. 

Bottom Vents: Bottom vents allow you to control the amount of oxygen that gets into your smoker which in turn controls the airflow and combustion of your fire. So depending on if you close or open your bottom vent will affect how fast and hot the coals burn down. Closing these vents can greatly reduce the temperature inside of your smoker for low and slow cooking by not allowing enough oxygen to get in.

Top Vents: Top vents allow you to control the amount of oxygen that gets into your smoker which in turn controls the airflow and combustion of your fire. So depending on if you close or open these top vents will affect how fast and hot coals burn down. Closing these vents can greatly reduce the temperature inside of your smoker for low and slow cooking by not allowing enough oxygen to get in.

Smoker Temp vs Food Temp: The chart below shows the relationship between food temp vs smoker temp when cooking with a typical offset smoker. This is important because what happens more often than not is that folks just assume all heat flows evenly throughout their BBQ pit, grill, or cabinet-style smokers.

As you see from the above chart, as the food starts getting to about 160 degrees F, it can take a very long time for that heat to transfer into the meat, especially if you have your vents closed or partially closed. And conversely, if you are running your smoker hot and have all of your vents open, then once the internal temp of your meat gets up around 250 degrees F, it will drop down quickly to about 225 degrees F within just a few minutes. 

Fat Layer: When you place your corned beef in the pan with the fatty side up, all of the juices and fats will flow towards the bottom where they will then baste and tenderize that end of your corned beef while it’s cooking in its own liquid and juices (which is similar to braising). This not only keeps your end result moist but also provides melted fats for dipping if desired after slicing. 

Basting: Basting is good for adding flavor to meat by continuously spooning hot flavored liquids over the meat while cooking. Basting does not keep the meat moist because any drippings are cooked off.

Step-by-Step Guide: How To Trim The Brisket?

The brisket is a flavorful but tough cut of meat that comes from the lower chest of the cow. When cooked properly, it is one of the most delicious meals you can find in your supermarket. Brisket must be cooked long and slow to break down all of its connective tissue and render it tender enough to eat. However, if prepared incorrectly, even with proper cooking time, it can become chewy or dry. To get moist and tender brisket you need to trim it well before cooking so that fat does not dilute flavor during the long cooking process. The following step-by-step guide will teach you how to trim the brisket for an even better tasting meal than ever before!

Step 1: Check The Brisket

Examine the brisket to make sure it has not spoiled. Look for any signs of discoloration, mold, or an unpleasant smell. If you find anything questionable about the meat, do not attempt to prepare it because this could give you food poisoning if done incorrectly. If everything looks well, then proceed with trimming the brisket.

Step 2: Remove The Exterior Fat And Muscles

This is usually where people go wrong when cooking a brisket; they leave too much fat on one side so that it does not render during cooking. To avoid making this mistake, start by removing all exterior fat down to the muscle tissue. Use your hand or sharp knife to scrape away any extra exterior fat that you find.

Step 3: Trim The Excess Fat

After removing the excess exterior fat, trim any remaining exterior fat down to 1/4 inch around the entire brisket from both sides. This will ensure a uniform cooking process so the meat does not have areas that are overcooked while other parts remain raw. Before cooking, visually inspect the brisket once more for any spots where you might have missed some globs of fat or thick patches of collagen or connective tissue fibers under the surface of the meat. These small imperfections can lead to chewy and tough portions during your meal prep so make sure you remove them before cooking with this step-by-step guide! 

Step 4: Make A Long, Deep Incision

Before cooking, insert a long and deep cut into the meat. This technique is known as “butterflying” in which you cut through the entire brisket so it opens up like a book on one side for even smoking or grilling. In order to butterfly your brisket, measure from the outer edge of the curved portion of the brisket with one hand and mark off a line with a knife in front of your fingers with your other hand. Now, carefully slice straight down this line until you meet resistance from the crusty collagen tissue that lines underneath it. Cut all along this tendon until you have completely “butterflied” your brisket flat against itself.

Step 5: Trim The Brisket For The Smoker, Oven, Or Grill

After “butterflying” your brisket, notice that an interior line of fat has exposed itself within the long incision. If done correctly, this exposed fatty tissue should create a uniform thickness throughout the entire brisket so it cooks evenly. However, if there are thick sections of exterior fat along with the exposed interior fat layer then remove them with a sharp knife until you have an even surface to cook upon. Once all excess fat is removed, transfer your uncooked brisket onto a foil-lined cooking sheet or pan for easy clean-up. At this point, you can season your brisket to taste with whatever spices you want before cooking!

Step 6: Preheat The Smoker, Oven, Or Grill

After seasoning your uncooked brisket for the seasonings that you prefer, place it in a preheated smoker or oven at 225 degrees to begin cooking. Once an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit is reached, remove the brisket from heat and serve hot immediately while it is still juicy!

Tools Needed To Trim The Brisket

Meat Claws – these are basically giant forks that you use to shred large cuts of meat. You can find them in many places online or at specialty cooking stores. They usually have steel tines and an ergonomic rubber handle.

-OR- Gloves – food-safe gloves, ideally ones made from nitrile so your hands don’t get all sticky and gross while handling spices and other things (it’s like working with latex).

Fat Cap Removal: The Right Way To Trim A Brisket Flat 

First, take off any hard pieces or pockets of fat that are hanging off the top of the brisket. You can use your hands or a knife to do this.

If you are using meat claws, you will then need to cut through the fat cap in order to expose the meat underneath it. This is where your work gloves come in handy because there’s no way you’re gonna be able to shred this stuff with bare hands!

If you don’t have claws, just start cutting through the fat layer until you’ve exposed about half an inch of meat.

Place one claw on either side and pull back towards yourself, ripping them apart and pulling out large chunks at once. Make sure not to dig too deep into the meat or pull up any of its connective tissue (the thick white collagen-like layer underneath the fat). This will make the brisket separate at the line of separation between lean meat and connective tissue.

You can also use your hands for this step, but be prepared to have some sticky fingers afterward!

Once you’ve exposed an inch worth of meat, flip over the flat so that now it’s laying face-down on its meat side.

The fatty side should be facing up now. Take care not to dig too deep into the fat or flesh, because you don’t want to rip anything apart yet. You still want one whole piece

Again using either your claws or bare hands, continue cutting through the fat cap until it is all visible meat with no more layers of fat attached. With either method, you should finish by pulling away big chunks instead of cutting through the fat.

Little by little, you’ll start being able to pull up the whole fatty layer in one go. Don’t force it or cut into any muscle if you can avoid it.

Once all of the fat is removed, flip your brisket back over onto its fatty side and make sure everything looks good! If you want, feel free to trim any remaining fat pieces off with a knife.

Make sure not to discard the crispy burnt bits at the bottom of your foil tray when serving!

A standard 10 lb packer flat will yield about 8-9 lbs finished product once fully trimmed down. I’ve found it’s usually around 75% lean meat and 25% fat, but this ratio varies from packer to packer.

A 12 lb brisket flat will yield about 10 lbs finished product once fully trimmed down. Again, I’ve found it’s usually around 75% lean meat and 25% fat.

After you finish trimming the flat, just wrap it in plastic wrap until it’s time to slice into it! You can also freeze it for up to 3 months before needing to thaw in the refrigerator overnight before slicing. Just make sure your vacuum sealer bag is sealed tight so no juices leak out when frozen!

FAQs

Should You Remove The Brisket Fat Cap?

The brisket fat cap is a layer of fatty deposits that are found on top of the muscles in beef briskets. This layer consists of not only fats but also collagen, blood vessels, and nerves. It should be noted, however, that this layer can vary significantly among individual carcasses depending on feeding regimen, breed, and other factors.

How Much Fat To Leave On?

It’s up to you how much fat to leave on your beef brisket while trimming it before cooking it. Some people like to keep the entire fat cap intact by simply cutting around it with their sharp knife. Others prefer to remove all or part of the fat cap for aesthetic reasons or health concerns (some studies show that excess dietary saturated fats may contribute to coronary heart disease).

Does Fat Braise Brisket?

Fat does not braise brisket. It can, however, moisturize and add flavor to it during cooking in a 3-2-1 fashion if you’re planning on smoking your beef brisket for the entire time on low heat at 225°F.

Does Brisket Burnt Ends Have To Be Made From Fatty Or Wet Point?

No, they don’t have to be made from the fatty or wet points. In fact, anybody can make burnt ends out of any cut of meat but the most common cuts used are the flat and/or deckle cuts from a whole packer brisket flats and/or deckles which are both located near the breast. However, this is speaking in a general sense since different people have different preferences. Some people do prefer to use fatty or wet point brisket burnt ends, while others are happy with any cut of brisket burnt ends they can get their hands on. If this is your first time making burnt ends then it might be best to start out with any kind you can get your hands on rather than limiting yourself to one particular cut.

Can You Make Burnt Ends From A Whole Packer Brisket?

It’s possible but it depends on how much space you have in your smoker. Most traditional smokers require at least several hours of cooking per load/brisket flat while some electric and pellet smokers can handle multiple loads at once given enough space and racks for the meat and heat and smoke circulation.

Final Thoughts

There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to fat side up vs. down: 

* Fat Side Up – It’s easier and better-suited for an overall grilling session but there might be some hot spots and sticking issues. 

* Fat Side Down – It creates more smoke in the cooking process but it’s harder to even out your grill temperature because you can’t easily slide in a rack of ribs, chickens, or other meats to create an insulating effect. It also creates some sticking issues during cooking because the juices might drain into the fire/coals rather than allowing them to drip off onto the side of the barbecue pit.

Hope this article has helped you decide which way is best for you when it comes to smoking brisket with the fat side up or down. Do what works best for you and don’t stress about whether there are “right” or “wrong” ways to smoke meat. Just have fun, relax, and enjoy the fruits of your labor! Grill On!

 

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