A whole beef brisket can weigh as much as 20 pounds. While the meat freezes well after it’s cooked, it can be overwhelming to contemplate so many leftovers. If the brisket you’ve purchased is too large for your liking, can you cut it in half and save one portion for later? Let’s take a look.
Can You Cut a Brisket in Half?
You can cut a packer brisket in half if the smoker is too small to fit the whole thing, or if you’re working on a tight schedule. It’s easiest if you divide the meat into the two subprimal cuts known as the point and the flat.
Brisket is a primal cut of beef taken from the steer’s lower chest area. As such, it tends to be quite large, depending on the overall weight of the animal. As we mentioned, a whole brisket—known in the industry as a whole packer—might weigh up to 20 pounds, but a weight of 15 to 18 pounds is typical.
Some pitmasters might be delighted at the prospect of all that smoked beef, but others could find it daunting. Moreover, because brisket cooks at a rate of about 1-1/2 to 2 hours per pound at the correct smoking temperature, larger cuts represent a significant time commitment.
The Subprimal Cuts
The easiest way to split a whole packer brisket is to divide it into its two subprimal sections: the flat and the point.
The flat is a long, lean, rectangular piece of meat that’s commonly used to make corned beef. You’ll usually find a layer of fat running along the top of it, which helps to keep the brisket moist during the long smoke. Once the meat is cooked to perfection, the fat cap is easy to remove.
You can recognize the point end of a brisket by its rounded, vaguely triangular appearance. The point contains more connective tissue and fat than the flat cut. It also has an irregular grain, which makes it difficult to slice. This meat can be used to make burnt ends, a barbecue staple that hails from Kansas City.
If you’re going to divide a whole packer brisket, we would recommend splitting it along this natural line. The process is simple, and it gives you the option of saving one half for a later date.
How To Separate the Point and Flat
In order to split the brisket in half, you’ll need to identify the two subprimal cuts. To do this, lay the packer brisket on a clean work surface with the fat side facing down. In this position, the flat will be resting on top of the point.
You should be able to see a line of fat running through the brisket where the point and flat are joined. That seam is known in butcher’s parlance as “the nose,” and it gives you a guideline to follow when making the cut.
Using a sharp boning knife, cut down into the nose. Carefully slice along the fat seam where it runs beneath the flat section of the brisket. As you make the cut, you’ll need to lift the flat with your opposite hand to separate the pieces.
Once you’ve reached the spot where the point end tapers off, slice through the meat until the two halves are completely divided. You can trim them if you’d like, but remember to leave a decent amount of fat intact, or the brisket will dry out as it cooks.
When To Consider Making the Cut
There are several reasons why you might want to cut a brisket in half.
For one thing, a whole packer brisket might yield more meat than you need, especially if you’re serving a smaller crowd. Just remember that the brisket will lose roughly 1/3 of its weight when it’s cooked. This means that a 6-pound point or flat will only yield about 4 pounds of meat.
You might also want to cut the whole packer in half if it’s too large for your smoker. Some units don’t have the capacity to handle bigger cuts. In some cases, the meat will fit on the cooking grate if it’s been cut in half, so you might still be able to cook both pieces at once. As a bonus, this allows for better airflow inside the smoker.
On a related note, the point and the flat might have different overall cooking times. Because the flat is leaner, it often reaches the desired internal temperature before the point. Similarly, it doesn’t matter as much if the point is cooked beyond 210 degrees Fahrenheit, as this gives the extra connective tissue the time it needs to break down.
Splitting the brisket in half may also allow you to achieve better control over the temperature. The larger the cut, the more difficult it is to attain an accurate readout. This is especially true of whole packer briskets, which can vary in thickness from one end to the other.
Finally, you should consider what you intend to do with the brisket once it’s cooked. Are you planning to carve the meat into thin slices? If so, it’s fine to cook off the flat and save the point for another time. On the other hand, if you want to chop or shred the brisket for sandwiches or tacos, the point is your best bet.
Can You Cut a Brisket in Half Without Separating the Point From the Flat?
If you’re having a hard time locating the nose, you can still divide the brisket into two pieces. However, you might not be as pleased with the results.
As we mentioned, the flat cooks more quickly than the point. This means that some of the brisket could overcook while the rest of it is still struggling to reach the proper temperature. You might face similar issues when smoking a whole packer brisket, but it’s more of a concern if the cut is smaller.
Should you decide to cut the meat in half without regard for the subprimal cuts, we would recommend removing the meat from the smoker when the flat section reaches the desired temperature. At this point, you can separate the two and return the point to the smoker until it’s done.
Can You Cut a Brisket in Half After Cooking?
Yes. In fact, the job will be easier if you wait until the meat is cooked. Most seasoned pros will divide the brisket in this manner as soon as it’s finished resting.
After you’ve separated the two halves, return the point to the smoker if it requires additional cooking time. Next, turn your attention to the brisket flat. Carve the meat into thin slices, being careful to slice against the grain. Set the meat aside.
Once the point end is finished cooking, slice it in half to locate the grain. If it’s fairly regular, you can attempt to slice the meat against the grain in the same manner as the point end. Otherwise, chop the meat roughly or pull it into shreds with your fingertips.
To make burnt ends, cut the point into cubes and toss the meat with barbecue sauce. Return the cubes to the smoker for another hour, then serve with additional barbecue sauce on the side.
Even if your smoker is large enough to fit the whole packer brisket, we would recommend dividing the meat in half before you start to cook. This will allow both of the subprimal cuts to reach their full potential.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!