What do black spots on brisket fat mean? Can you just carve them off when you’re trimming the brisket? And even if you do, will the meat taste any different as a result?
Read on to learn the answers to these questions, as well as any others that you might have regarding this interesting phenomenon.
Black Spots On Brisket Fat
When you see black spots on brisket fat, it usually means that the animal experienced some bruising at some point during the butchering process. If the meat was frozen, the spots might indicate a type of yeast growth. It’s also possible that the brisket came into contact with some type of grease or dye before it was packaged.
What Color Is Brisket Fat?
When you purchase a brisket, you may notice the long ribbon of fat that runs along one edge. This is called the “fat cap,” and it contributes flavor and moisture to the leaner flat end.
Brisket is made up of two muscles: the point and the flat. While the point contains a lot of marbling that gives it flavor and juiciness, the flat is naturally leaner. That’s not a bad thing, but it can make the meat turn out too dry, especially if it’s overtrimmed.
Both the fat cap and the marbling should be creamy white in color. Some of the fat between the point and the flat (called the “nose”) may be slightly darker, almost yellowish.
Similarly, the deckle, which connects the flat muscle to the steer’s ribcage, is often darker than the fat cap. This fat is harder and denser, and it usually won’t render out during cooking.
What If There Are Black Spots On Brisket Fat?
If you see discoloration on the fat cap, or on any other fatty portion of the brisket, it usually isn’t anything to be concerned about.
Your first order of business is to determine whether the brisket shows any other signs of spoilage. Give the meat a good sniff. Does it smell sour or sweet, or like rotten eggs? Does it have a slimy or overly dry texture? Are there visible green or moldy patches.
If the brisket displays any of these signs, then there’s a good chance that the meat itself has outlived its freshness. If not, then the black spots on the fat may are probably normal.
Sometimes, when a steer is butchered, some hemorrhage spots will occur in the fat (or elsewhere). In essence, these spots are the result of bruising, which is no reason to discard the brisket.
Not every animal will bleed out all the way during butchering. If it doesn’t, then the blood that’s left behind may coagulate in the packaging, creating dark spots on the flesh or fat. If you hunt wild game, you’re likely familiar with this phenomenon.
Black and brown spots can appear if the fat has been exposed to certain yeasts. While these organisms thrive when the meat hasn’t been properly stored, it’s less of an issue with beef that’s stored in cryovac packaging.
Rarely, yeast growth will cause black spots to form on brisket fat when the meat has been stored in the freezer for a while. If you notice this discoloration on your brisket after thawing the meat, make sure to trim away the affected areas (see section below).
These spots might also have an external cause. During packaging, meat can sometimes come in contact with grease, especially if there’s a lot of machinery involved.
Fresh meat may also pick up smudges from the inspection ink, which is usually dark blue or purple. The good news is that all of the products used should be food safe, so they won’t contaminate the meat.
How Do I Get The Black Spots Off?
In any case, if you’re bothered by the black spots, go ahead and trim them off. You’ll probably be cutting off some of the excess fat anyway (see Should I Trim Brisket?, below), so you might as well remove the discolored bits while you’re at it.
Once you trim away the black spots, check the brisket fat that was underneath. Is it the same creamy white color as the rest of the fat? If so, that should reassure you that there’s nothing wrong with the brisket as a whole.
Should I Trim Brisket?
You don’t have to trim a brisket before you smoke it. A little extra fat may even contribute to the quality of the finished product, as we mentioned earlier.
That said, we usually remove at least some of the fat beforehand. The deckle and the nose won’t render out completely during the smoke, meaning you’ll have to cut large chunks away once the meat is cooked. Even the fat cap can leave sizable chewy deposits behind.
Our recommendation would be to trim the fat cap until about 1/4 inch remains. This should provide the flat with the moisture and richness it needs without making it too fatty.
Should I Save The Trimmings?
We wouldn’t recommend saving the discolored fat trimmings, especially if you removed them because you were worried about ruining the integrity of the brisket.
If the black spots were the result of blood that didn’t drain out, the fat won’t make clean tallow. Even if they were caused by ink or grease stains, you’re better off throwing those trimmings away.
The Bottom Line
A whole brisket represents a sizable investment. Naturally, you want to make sure that the meat is of the highest quality before you put it on the smoker. Seeing discolored patches on the surface of the brisket is enough to give anyone pause.
Fortunately, in this case, you don’t have to hesitate for long. Just carve away the affected areas, crank up the heat, and prepare the brisket as you normally would.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!