The brisket is one of the most popular cuts of beef for smoking. When you put it on your smoker, one of the first questions is which is the best way to smoke a brisket. Cook brisket fat side up or down? Some recipes tell you to keep the fat side up but then your neighbor Pit-master tells you the only way is to cook it fat side down.
What we can tell you though, most times cooking fat side down is better if your smoker’s heat comes from the bottom. The brisket will be protected from direct heat and prevent it from burning. If your smoker’s heat comes from the top, then it’s better to cook fat side up.
With so much to know about brisket, read on, and discover which side up is the way to go. Find out if your smoker type makes a difference to the way you cook brisket. Plus, we’ll share some tips from the experts so you know how to prepare this beef cut to perfection for your next barbecue.
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What You Need to Know About Brisket
This cut comes from the breast area of the cow located below the shoulder. It’s tougher meat but if done properly, it can be tender and full of flavor. The recommended ways are braising slow roasting, or smoking. In other words, it needs to be made using the low and slow technique.
Brisket is a large cut of beef, weighing anything between three to eight pounds. It’s a long piece of meat and is often sold in two pieces. This cut consists of the point (also known as the deckle) and flat cut.
The deckle is a thicker piece of meat with a denser layer of fat on it. The flat end is thinner and leaner. People gravitate to the fattier, point end. It adds more flavor to stews and Pit-masters love this cut when smoking meat.
Using brisket in a stew recipe means you don’t have to stress about whether you cook the meat either way. It’s another story, though, when slow-roasting brisket in the oven or smoking it in your smoker when having a BBQ.
Up or Down? The Pros and Cons
Now we are ready to go into the details of whether it is better to cook the brisket with the fat side up or down. Let’s see what the pros and cons are for each way.
Brisket Fat Side Up
The debate on whether to cook fat side up or down started when chefs questioned the conventional method of cooking this beef cut. It was first believed, the fat melted into the meat, making it tastier and juicier.
This theory went out the window when cooks experimented with the fatty layer going at the bottom. And, discovered brisket tasted delicious this way round too.
But, this doesn’t mean roasting or smoking with the fat upwards is never an option.
Here are some pros to cooking this way:
- The fat will melt off and drop to the bottom of the pan. This will prevent the lower side as well as the top half of the brisket from drying out.
- It protects the meat from burning so if you’re using a smoker with a top heat source then facing upwards is the way to go.
- It’s a good way to get that barbecue bark your guests will die for!
- More fat renders out this way.
With all these pros to having the fatty layer upwards, you may wonder what could be the disadvantages of preparing the beef cut this way.
The cons listed below are:
- You risk drying out the meat if not closely watched or if you don’t wrap the brisket during roasting or smoking. This will also make it harder to create that barbecue bark loved by so many fans of this meal.
- All that delicious rub you slathered on before putting in the cooker will run off as the fat melts.
- The meat could stick to the grill rack, ruining the presentation at mealtime.
- The sliced cooked meat could have layers of grease on it.
Cook it Fat Side Down
When you cook this cut fat side down, you’re eliminating most of the disadvantages of cooking brisket with the fat layer on top.
Let’s run through the pros of keeping the fatty layer downwards while cooking this beef cut:
- Most appliances have their heat source coming from below. The fatty coating will prevent the meat from burning.
- The insulation created from this layer will also stop the meat from drying out.
- The melting fat comes into direct contact with the fire, creating an infusion of smoke to enhance the flavor of the meat.
- Your favorite seasonings in your dry rub will stay where it should without being washed away.
- This method is the best way to get perfect BBQ bark.
So, what are the cons of smoking or roasting brisket with the fat cap below? The main disadvantage is if you go this route with a top heating cooker, you’re going to have burnt and dried out meat.
Watch the experts as they do brisket both ways!
Should Brisket be Flipped and Wrapped During Cooking?
Flipping brisket is a compromise many recipes and cooks recommend. This method entails changing the meat over while cooking it. Depending on the heat source, you would start with it facing upwards or downwards.
Rotating the brisket has some advantages such as:
- Even cooking Turning the meat helps to distribute heat exposure more evenly.
- Less drying out While one side is exposed to the heat, the other side gets to rest. This allows the juices to settle throughout this portion of the meat and retain moisture.
- A uniform bark Flipping the brisket often makes it easier to create that scrumptious barbecue bark.
The disadvantages of flipping can include the following:
- Meat sticking to the grill rack If you start with the fatty side up, you may end up with meat sticking to the rack. When you flip it, the meat will tear, and not only will you lose juice but the appearance on serving will look tacky.
- Tearing of the fat layer During rotating, you may tear the fatty layer. This will also lead to loss of moisture in the meat and you could end up with a dried-out brisket.
- Washed off rub If you start with the fat on top, you’ll lose out on the rub flavorings as it washes off while it melts.
Wrapping during cooking is another technique Pit-masters use to prevent their brisket from drying out. This is often used if this beef cut is cooked fat cap up. If the BBQ bark doesn’t form then it’s a good idea to wrap it up.
What’s the right wrapping to use? You’ve got two options:
- Foil This works well for conducting heat and keeping all the moisture inside the meat. It’s also the perfect solution if you face a stall during smoking. Wrapping in foil does mean you end up with a brisket that’s tender and juicy but without the famous crunchy bark. It may also not have the strong smoke flavor you would get if done unwrapped. Your smoked or roasted brisket will have a different texture and taste, similar to pot-roasted meat.
- Pink butcher paper While also helping to keep in moisture and negating the stall effect, this paper does allow more moisture out and more smoke flavor in. You won’t get the deep, brown crispy bark as you would with smoking the brisket unwrapped. But, it will have more of a “bite” and a smokier flavor.
Heat Source: Does the Cooker, Smoker, or Grill Type Matter?
By now, you’ll realize why cooking this cut either with the fat cap on top or below makes a difference. The main reason is the heat source and preventing your meat from burning and drying out. So, yes it does matter what type of cooker, smoker, or grill you’re using and the size of the smoker.
We know now this cap must face where the main heat is coming from. Let’s look at some of the different smokers and how they change the way you do brisket in them:
- Horizontal offset smokers These offset smokers send in heat from the top. So, keeping the cap at the top while smoking the meat is the best way to go.
- Vertical and drum smokers The heat from these smokers are coming from below, so keeping your brisket facing downwards works well with these cooker types
- Kamado style grills These egg shape grills, based on the Japanese style Kamado grill, have their heat source coming from the charcoal below. So, down is the option here.
Basically, if you know your appliance well, you’ll know where the heat source is coming from. Then you also have the option of flipping or wrapping the cut to ensure your brisket cooks perfectly when you next have a BBQ.
Tips for Preparing for Smoking
You know which way brisket should go in your smoker. Whether you’re going up or down, here are some tips to prepare your brisket:
1. Keep it Low and Slow
Brisket is a large chunk of tough meat. Even with its thick layer of fat on the pointcut, you’re still going to need to cook it for a long time. This is the only way you’re going to get juicy and tasty meat at the end.
The ideal temperature for smoking brisket is between 250 and 275 degrees F. Pit-masters recommend estimating 30 to 60 minutes per pound. So, you’ll be cooking for up to 12 hours depending on the size of your brisket.
2. Trim off Some of the Fat
Some chefs like to trim off some of the hard fat. If you’re preparing the whole brisket which includes both the deckle and the flat, you could trim this fatty layer for even distribution. But remember, the fat does add some flavor and help to retain moisture so keep it up to a quarter-inch layer.
3. Season Your Brisket the Night Before
Dry brining is a good way of getting a juicier and flavorful brisket. You coat the whole brisket first with salt (if your rub doesn’t include salt in it). Then you add your seasonings and spices. This can include pepper, granulated onion and garlic, chili or cayenne pepper, and dried herbs.
Cover with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight. Remove an hour before cooking.
4. Marinate or Inject Your Meat
You don’t have to inject or marinate brisket before smoking it. But, if you’re experimenting with different techniques, then you could include this step during preparation.
Bone or beef broth is often used as the fluid for injecting into the meat. Or, you could simply marinate the cut overnight. There are numerous recipes for marinating so make sure you try different ones whenever you decide to marinate.
Add Flavor with Smoke
If you’re preparing your brisket for smoking, make sure you use your favorite blends of wood chips. The right smoke infusion goes a long way to giving your brisket that smokehouse flavor so many people love.
There isn’t a straightforward answer to whether cooking brisket with the fat cap up or down is better. There are pros and cons to which way you go. The main factor though is the heat source. If the heat is at the top, keep the fat on top. Likewise, if the heat is from the bottom, then the fat down acts as a shield to the meat.
The fat cap prevents the brisket from drying out or burning when facing direct heat. It helps to retain moisture, giving you juicier and tastier meat when served. You need to know where the heat source is if you’re choosing to go fat up or down.
You’re not limited to navigating the perfect brisket by doing it the right way up or down. Flipping or even wrapping your brisket also helps to give you a delicious tasting brisket.