When it comes to cooking brisket, one of the most hotly debated topics is whether to cook it with the fat side up or down. Some people swear by cooking their brisket with the fat side up, while others insist that it’s better to cook it with the fat side down. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at both methods and give you our opinion on which is best.
Brisket: A Tough Cut of Meat with a nice Fat Cap
First, let’s define what we’re talking about. Brisket is a tough cut of meat that comes from the chest of the cow. It’s made up of two parts, the point and the flat. The flat is a leaner, flatter piece of meat, while the point is a thicker, fattier cut. When cooking a brisket, you’ll usually cook both parts together but sometimes grocery stores will only sell the flat.
Brisket Fat Side up or down: well it depends
Fat side up or down? The answer to this question does come with some caveats and although most commonly you will want to smoke the brisket fat side down, there are some scenarios where smoking the brisket with its fat cap up will yield better results.
If you are using a grill where the heat source is directly below the meat then the brisket should be placed with the fat side facing down. The brisket fat can act as a shield and protect the meat from radiant heat, flare ups and simply keep the meat from burning or drying.
As the fat renders, it will add fuel to the fire so always keep an eye on the brisket to ensure it is cooking well and end up with a juice smoked brisket.
However, if you are smoking brisket using a grill where the heat source is not directly below the meat, the brisket fat can be used as a natural flavoring source and help keep the meat moist.
If you are using an offset smoker, I definitely recommend smoking the brisket fat side up. Offset smokers cook using indirect heat and smoke and the meat is less likely to burn or dry up as is a traditional vertical smoker or charcoal smoker.
You can also place the brisket’s thickest side facing the heat source to protect the brisket even more.
Cooking with the brisket fat side up
Many pitmasters and home cooks swear by cooking their brisket with the fat side up. The theory behind this is that as the brisket cooks, the fat will melt and drip down onto the meat, keeping it moist and adding flavor. The fat will also create a barrier between the meat and the heat source, helping to prevent it from drying out.
Another advantage of cooking with the fat side up is that it can help create a better bark. The bark is the crust that forms on the outside of the beef brisket during cooking, and it’s a highly prized part of a good brisket. By cooking with the fat side up, the meat is shielded from direct heat, allowing the bark to form more evenly.
Advantages of Cooking with the Fat Side Up
When cooking with the fat side up, it’s important to trim some of the excess fat first. You don’t want too much fat on the top of the brisket, or it could interfere with the bark formation. Trim the fat down to about 1/4 inch thick, and make sure to leave a little bit on there to help protect the meat.
Cooking with the fat side up is a popular method for cooking brisket, and it has its own set of advantages. Here are some of the reasons why you might want to try cooking your brisket with the fat side up:
When you cook with the fat side up, the fat slowly melts and drips down over the meat, basting it as it cooks. This can help keep the meat moist and tender, resulting in a more flavorful brisket.
- Better Bark Formation
The fat on the top of the brisket can also help create a better bark. The bark is the crispy and flavorful exterior of the brisket that forms during cooking. When the fat is on top, it can help protect the meat from drying out and allow the bark to form evenly.
- Easier to Manage Temperature
When cooking with the fat side up ( in an offset smoker) , the brisket is elevated and further away from the heat source. This can make it easier to manage the temperature and prevent the brisket from overcooking or burning.
- More Attractive Presentation
When the fat side is up, the brisket can have a more attractive and impressive presentation. The fat on top can create a beautiful golden crust ( the bark ), and the meat can be more evenly sliced.
Trimming the Fat
When cooking with the fat side up, it’s important to trim the excess fat. You want to leave a layer of fat on top of the meat, but too much can result in a greasy and unappetizing brisket. It’s recommended to leave about 1/4 inch of fat on top of the meat.
Too much brisket fat will not render well and can ruin the texture of the bark. Meat fat can also burn when exposed to direct heat. This is good when wanting to sear a steak but not when cooking a brisket in your smoker.
Gas grills tend to flear up a lot when the fat cap is facing the burners.
Creating a Better Bark
To create a better bark when cooking with the fat side up, you may want to use a spritz or mop to keep the meat moist. A spritz is a mixture of water, vinegar, and other ingredients that you spray on the meat during cooking to keep it moist. A mop is a thicker mixture that you apply to the meat with a brush. Both methods can help create a better bark and keep the meat tender.
Cooking with the brisket fat side down
On the other hand, some pitmasters insist that cooking with the fat side down is the way to go. The theory behind this is that as the fat melts, it will drip down into the fire, creating a burst of smoke that will infuse the meat with flavor. They also argue that cooking with the fat side down will help the meat cook more evenly, as the heat will be able to penetrate the meat more easily.
When cooking with the fat side down, it’s important to make sure that the brisket is on a rack or something that will allow the fat to drip off. If the brisket is sitting directly on the bottom of the cooking smoker of choice, the fat won’t be able to drip off, and you could end up with a greasy, soggy mess.
The one important note here is, if you are using a small grill and the fire is directly below cook the brisket fat side down. Alternatively you can also wrap the brisket during the cook to keep it from burning and drying out.
Advantages of Cooking with the Fat Side Down
Cooking with the fat side down is another popular method for cooking brisket, and it has its own set of advantages. Here are some of the reasons why you might want to try cooking your brisket with the fat side down:
- Protection from Flare-Ups
When you cook with the fat side down, the fat acts as a natural barrier between the meat and the heat source. This can help prevent flare-ups and ensure that the meat is cooked evenly.
- Less Smoke Penetration but more “beef” flavor
When the fat side is down, the smoke has to travel through the fat layer. This can result in less smoke penetration and a less intense smoke flavor.
- Less Tender Meat but not burned
Cooking with the fat side down can also result in less tender meat. As the meat cooks, the fat slowly renders out but it drips down to the grease tray, resulting in a less juicy and tender brisket.
- Better Crust on Both Sides
When the brisket is cooking with the fat side down, it is in contact with the cooking surface, allowing for a crust to develop on both sides of the meat. This can result in a more flavorful and textured brisket.
Tips for cooking a great brisket
Regardless of whether you cook your brisket with the fat side up or down, there are a few tips that will help you get the best results.
- Use a rub – A good rub will help add flavor to the meat and create a great bark. There are many great brisket rubs out there, or you can create your own.
- Cook low and slow – Brisket is a tough cut of meat, and it needs to be cooked low and slow to get tender. We recommend cooking your brisket at around 225-250°F for about 1 hour per pound. This will give the meat time to break down and become tender. You can see our full recipe and method in our brisket article.
- Let it rest – After cooking, let the brisket rest for at least 30 minutes before slicing. This will allow the juices to redistribute and make the meat more tender.
- Invest in a good thermometer – To make sure your brisket is cooked to the right temperature, invest in a good thermometer. We recommend using a meat thermometer to make sure the internal temperature of the brisket reaches at least 195-205°F.
- If you are using a charcoal grill, set the coals on one side of the grill to create two heat cooking zones, a well known BBQ trick.
- Use woods like oak to add flavor.
- When cooking a brisket fat side up be sure to trim excess fat.
- Add extra BBQ seasoning to the brisket fat side so that flavor penetrates to the meat.
In conclusion, whether you cook your brisket with the fat side up or down is a matter of personal preference. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, and it’s important to find the one that works best for you. Regardless of which method you choose, make sure to use a good rub, cook low and slow, let it rest, and use a good thermometer to make sure the meat is cooked to perfection. With a little practice and patience, you’ll be able to cook a great brisket every time.
So which method is best, brisket fat side up or down? In our opinion, it’s a matter of personal preference. Both methods can produce a great brisket, and both have their advantages and disadvantages. If you’re new to cooking brisket, we recommend trying both methods to see which one you prefer. Always remember that if you cook brisket fat side down you likely will need to spritz the meat to keep moist.
Some people claim that fat side down tastes better and again, this is a matter of preference but technically this isn’t true since the meat is not benefiting from the fat flavoring.
That being said, we do have a slight preference for cooking with the fat side up. We find that it helps keep the meat more moist and can create a better bark. However, we do trim the excess fat down to about 1/4 inch thick to avoid any interference with the bark formation.