Does the deckle need to be removed before you smoke the brisket? And what exactly is the deckle, anyway? The term can be confusing, especially for newbies. Let’s take a closer look at this section of the brisket and how it might affect your results.
Brisket Deckle: Deckle Fat Removed?
The brisket deckle consists of cartilage and tough, waxy fat that doesn’t render well during cooking. It connects the brisket to the ribcage, and it can be found at the spot where the flat meets the point. If the brisket is labeled “deckle off,” it means this portion has been trimmed away, but sometimes the same label is used on the flat alone.
A Word About Brisket Subprimals
The brisket is a primal cut taken from the underside of the steer, around the ribcage. Since the cut typically weighs between 10 and 16 pounds, it may be divided into two smaller cuts known as subprimals.
The flat is the section you’re most likely to find in the supermarket. It’s also called the “first cut,” and it’s the leaner, thinner portion of the brisket. This is the cut that’s typically used to make corned beef.
The point may be labeled as the “second cut,” although it’s harder to buy this cut without the flat still attached. The meat is fattier than the flat, with an irregular grain. The point is better for shredding than for slicing, but it’s also full of flavor.
What is The Brisket Deckle?
The deckle is the term for the tough membrane of fat that separates the brisket flat from the ribcage.
Unlike the fat cap that runs along the flat, the deckle is tough and waxy. Because it’s so thick, a lot of the deckle fat will be left behind when the brisket is finished cooking. This is why many butchers and pitmasters opt to remove it first.
The word “deckle” is sometimes used to refer to the brisket point in general. While this is a common term, it’s not technically correct. The point does have more intramuscular fat than the flat, but the deckle is a layer of fat and cartilage, not the point itself.
This discrepancy is why you should pay close attention when purchasing a brisket with the “deckle off” label. If the butcher is using the terms “point” and “deckle” interchangeably, the label might indicate that the package contains only the flat (see section below).
Should The Brisket Deckle Be Removed?
Sometimes, when the deckle is removed, it means the brisket has been divided into its two subprimal cuts: the point and the flat. That’s because the deckle is located at the spot where these two sections are joined.
Removing the deckle without separating the two can be a tricky process. Most of the time, it’s easier just to split the whole packer along this natural line, and smoke the point and flat separately.
However, it is possible to trim away the deckle without cutting the entire brisket in half. Since you’ll want to trim the fat cap down to about 1/4 inch anyway, you can try to remove the deckle at the same time.
For a step-by-step tutorial on how to remove the deckle during trimming, see the separate section below.
How Can You Tell If The Deckle Has Already Been Removed?
Let’s say you’ve decided to remove the deckle from your whole packer brisket. You turn the meat over to search for the seam of fat, but you don’t see anything. What happened?
In this case, the deckle was probably removed during processing. The butcher may have decided that the brisket would sell more quickly without it, or the meat may have been easier to package that way. In any case, it’s nothing to worry about.
Take a look at the point end of the brisket. Do you see any deep cuts that were there before you started to trim the fat from the meat? If so, you’re probably looking at the place where the deckle was.
The brisket may also be labeled as “deckle off.” In this case, you’ll already know that this segment has been trimmed away.
The trouble is, this might also mean that the entire point has been removed as well. The more familiar you are with brisket, the easier it will be to tell if this is the case.
If you’re buying a whole packer and would prefer to avoid removing the deckle yourself, ask your butcher to do the trimming for you.
What Does “Nose Off” Brisket Mean?
The “nose” is the fat layer that separates the brisket flat from the point. You might also hear some old-timers refer to the point end itself as the nose, as this is the forward-facing portion of the brisket.
As such, a “nose off” brisket is a trimmed flat cut. The point, as well as most of the excess fat, has been removed before packaging. You might also see these labeled as “first cut” or “cap removed.”
Avoid purchasing a brisket with any of these labels if you want the experience of smoking a whole packer. The meat will be lean and easy to carve, but you’ll be missing out on a lot of flavor, too.
How To Trim A Brisket
1. To make the process go more smoothly, be sure to trim the fat when the brisket is cold.
2. Use a narrow boning knife with a curved blade, and sharpen the knife before you begin.
3. Set up a work station. You’ll need a cutting board that’s big enough to accommodate the whole brisket, your boning knife, a bowl for the trimmings, and a pan to hold the brisket when you’re done.
4. If the brisket was wrapped in cryovac packaging, cut it open over the sink to avoid spilling the juices all over the floor. Pat the entire surface of the meat dry with paper towels.
5. Lay the brisket on the work surface with the fat side facing down. The thinner, square-shaped end is the flat, while the thick rounded end is the point.
6. Once you’ve identified the point and the flat, flip the brisket over so that the fat cap is facing you.
7. Trim the fat cap down so only about 1/4 inch remains, carving away 1 small strip at a time. Make shallow cuts, holding the blade almost parallel to the meat, and remove the fat with the hand that isn’t holding the knife.
8. As you work, toss the trimmings into the bowl. The fat toward the point end will be thicker and tougher, so you should cut that a little bit closer to the meat, as it won’t render out during cooking.
9. Turn the brisket over so that the “meat” side is facing you. Carefully slice away the deckle. You’ll leave behind a small indentation where the point meets the flat cut.
10. If you want to divide the point and the flat, now is the time to do so. Otherwise, fold the meat back over the indentation you’ve made and continue trimming.
11. The deckle should have had a small membrane alongside it. Use the tip of your knife to remove this as well.
12. Cut away any other excess fat that you notice on this side. If you’ve opted to leave the brisket intact, take care not to accidentally separate the flat and point as you work.
13. If desired, trim away the thinnest portions of the flat to give it a nice square shape.
14. Save the trimmings for another use, if you’d like. Otherwise, they can be discarded.
The Bottom Line
When you come across the “deckle off” label, examine the cut to determine whether you’re getting a whole packer or just the flat. The processors may be using the term “deckle” to refer to the point itself.
It should be easy enough to tell by the weight and general appearance of the brisket. If you have any doubts, ask the butcher for clarification.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!