When you’re shopping for beef brisket, should you opt for a pre-trimmed cut, or buy a whole packer that still has all the fat intact? While the answer should come down to how much time you have, we would suggest trimming the fat yourself. Here’s why.
Pre Trimmed Brisket
Pre-trimmed brisket can be a convenient choice, but there’s always a chance that the butcher removed too much of the fat from the meat. A properly cooked brisket needs a small amount of fat in order to give it the correct texture. If you buy a pre-trimmed cut, try to make sure the fat cap is still at least 1/4 inch thick.
A Word About Brisket
Brisket is a naturally tough and fatty cut that’s taken from the lower pectoral area of the cow. A whole brisket, known as a whole packer, usually weighs between 10 and 16 pounds, though the weight will diminish slightly if the fat is trimmed away.
A whole brisket is a primal cut, which means that it’s one of the eight portions that are initially removed from the steer during butchering. It can be further divided into two smaller sections, or subprimals. These are called the point and the flat.
The point is the forward-facing section of the brisket, and it contains a great deal of the intramuscular fat known as marbling. When it’s divided from the flat, it has a lopsided triangular shape.
A brisket flat has a more uniform rectangular appearance and is relatively lean, although there is an external fat cap that runs along one edge. This fat cap makes up the bulk of the fat that may be removed from the brisket during trimming.
If you inspect a whole packer brisket, you’ll see that there’s a layer of cartilage and fat connecting the point to the flat. This layer is called the “nose.”
It’s common to use the term “nose” to refer to the point itself, so you might see a brisket flat labeled as “nose off” brisket from time to time. However, technically speaking, “nose” is the term for the fat seam, not the actual meat.
Another chunk of fat and sinew, called the “deckle,” is located in the spot where the flat attaches to the animal’s ribcage. “Deckle” is another common, though technically incorrect, name for the point meat.
That said, the marbling from the point will impart a marvelous flavor and texture to the finished brisket. Our advice would be to give yourself enough time to smoke the whole packer without separating the two.
A Closer Look at Brisket Fat
The fat cap on the brisket flat has a different texture and appearance than the deckle or the nose. It’s important to understand this distinction, as it will help you determine which fat should be removed before the smoke.
The fat cap should be a creamy white color, with a smooth pliable texture. The marbling will have similar qualities. Both of these types of fat should render slowly as the meat cooks, providing the brisket with the moisture it needs.
By contrast, the nose and deckle are yellowish in color, with a harder texture than the fat cap. This fat won’t render out during cooking, so it’s in your best interests to remove as much of it as possible before adding the brisket to the smoker.
Should I Buy a Pre Trimmed Brisket?
Briskets that are labeled as “pre-trimmed” have had a great deal of fat removed by the butcher. This means you won’t have to deal with this step on your own. But is the trade-off worth it?
In our opinion, it’s far better to buy an untrimmed brisket and carve away some of the fat yourself. There’s no way of knowing how much fat the butcher removed, and sometimes they’ll get overzealous and trim the meat too closely. This will lead to dry brisket.
How Much Fat Should I Remove?
First of all, you should leave about 1/4 inch of the fat cap on the brisket flat. That should provide it with the moisture it needs, but you won’t have to pull away huge chunks of fat once the meat is finished cooking.
If you can remove the deckle without separating the point from the flat, it’s a good idea to cut this off as well. The dense fat will only take up more room in the smoker and prolong the cooking time.
Similarly, removing the nose without dividing the two subprimals is a tricky prospect. Try to trim away as much of the fat and sinew as possible. Should you opt to separate the point from the flat on purpose, you should be able to remove the nose easily.
How To Smoke a Pre Trimmed Brisket
Let’s say you’ve decided to buy a pre-trimmed brisket anyway. Are there any steps you should take to ensure that the barbecue will be a success?
Your first step is to inspect the brisket. Did the butcher leave at least 1/4 inch of the fat cap intact? If so, then you can go ahead and prepare the brisket according to your chosen recipe.
It’s harder to salvage an over-trimmed brisket. There’s no way to get the fat back again, so there’s a chance that the meat might turn out dry.
However, you do have a few options. First of all, make sure not to cook the brisket past 203 degrees Fahrenheit. Overcooked brisket can be tough and chewy even when there’s plenty of fat involved, but in this case, that risk is much greater.
You might also consider wrapping the brisket to help it retain moisture. Once the meat cooks to 150 degrees, remove it from the smoker and swaddle it in a double layer of aluminum foil or butcher paper, then return it to the heat to finish cooking.
If you have any brisket trimmings stored in the freezer, you can try “larding” the meat by attaching large chunks of fat to the exterior with kitchen twine. It won’t be the same as smoking the brisket with the fat cap intact, but it will provide some moisture.
Because we like to be in control of the barbecue from start to finish, we prefer buying untrimmed brisket whenever possible.
If you do opt for a pre-trimmed cut, try to inspect it before you make the purchase final. That way, you can decide for yourself if there’s enough fat left on the meat.