Learning how to smoke a succulent beef brisket is a milestone for any budding pitmaster. If you’re just starting out, you might be wondering if there are any advantages to smoking brisket without the fat cap intact. We’re here to share our expertise.
Smoking Brisket Without Fat Cap
We prefer to leave about 1/4 inch of the fat cap on brisket. If it’s been removed, you’ll need to take additional steps to ensure that the meat retains plenty of moisture. Smoking the meat in a foil tray, injecting the brisket beforehand, and utilizing a water pan are all acceptable methods.
Why It Matters
Brisket is a primal cut of beef. That means it’s one of the eight sections that are initially separated from the animal during butchering.
At this stage in the operation, the brisket will have a great deal of fat on it. The butcher may remove some—or even all—of the visible exterior fat before packaging the meat for sale. However, it’s better if most of the fat is left in place. Here’s why.
The brisket comes from the pectoral region of the steer. These muscles are responsible for supporting a lot of the animal’s weight, which results in a tough cut of meat.
The best way to tenderize a cut like brisket is to cook it for a long time over low heat. This being the case, a small amount of fat is necessary to prevent the meat from drying out.
There are ways to salvage overtrimmed briskets, as you’ll come to learn. For the most part, however, we prefer to buy untrimmed cuts. This gives us more control over the amount of fat that goes on the smoker along with the brisket.
About Brisket Fat
The first time you trim a whole packer brisket, you might notice slight differences between the various fat pockets that you encounter.
On the point end of the brisket, you’ll see numerous threads of fat that resemble webbing. This is intramuscular fat, also known as marbling. The marbling gives the finished brisket a hefty dose of beef flavor, in addition to keeping it moist.
There should also be a long stripe of creamy white fat running along the length of the brisket. This is known as the fat cap, and it also contributes moisture to the meat—especially on the flat end, which isn’t as well-marbled as the point.
It’s best to trim the fat cap so that about 1/4 inch of fat remains behind. That way, the meat will turn out nice and juicy, but there won’t be a ton of chewy fat left behind.
There should also be a seam of fat dividing the point from the flat, as well as a chunk of fatty sinew on the side of the brisket where the flat was connected to the ribcage. These pockets of fat will be denser and yellowish in color.
The portion between the point and the flat is called the “nose,” while the segment that connects the flat to the ribcage is known as the “deckle.” We would recommend removing as much of this fat as possible, as it won’t render out and will only take up space.
Smoking Brisket Without Fat Cap: Pro Tips
Let’s assume you’ve purchased a brisket that’s missing the fat cap, or you accidentally overtrimmed the brisket yourself. What can you do to ensure that the meat doesn’t turn out too dry?
Fortunately, you have several options. Some pitmasters rely on these techniques even with perfectly trimmed briskets, but we think it’s best to save them for situations like this.
The Injection Method
Beef brisket injection infuses the meat with flavor and prevents it from drying out. It’s more useful for the leaner flat end, but you can inject the whole packer to keep the flavor consistent throughout.
After trimming the brisket, set it in an aluminum pan. Prepare an injection using your chosen ingredients. To keep things simple, try using beef stock or broth with a few dashes of pepper. You’ll need about 1 ounce of injection for every pound of brisket.
Use an injector gun or needle to dispense small amounts of liquid into the brisket until the meat refuses to absorb any more. Season and cook the brisket according to your chosen recipe.
The Foil Pan Method
In most cases, we prefer to smoke brisket directly on the rack. Since your goal here is to retain as much moisture as possible, though, the foil pan technique might come in handy.
After setting the smoker to your desired temperature, place the prepared brisket in a disposable aluminum pan. When you’re ready to add the meat to the smoker, set the pan on the cooking grate. Continue to cook the brisket as you normally would.
Be aware that the meat might not be able to develop a good bark this way, especially on the side that was in contact with the pan. On the positive side, though, you’ll be able to drizzle the leftover brisket drippings over the sliced brisket when it’s done cooking.
The Water Pan Method
Using a water pan will help to humidify the environment inside the smoker. It also keeps the temperature from swinging too high or too low.
Some smokers are sold with built-in water pans. If yours doesn’t have one, you can create your own using a regular disposable aluminum pan.
You’ll need about 1 gallon of water for the first 2 to 3 hours of the smoke. Add the water pan right before putting the brisket in the smoker. The pan should be positioned just above the heat source, if that works with the layout of your unit.
After 2 or 3 hours, you may have to replenish the fluid supply. Add about 1 gallon at a time, and don’t worry if the water has boiled away completely.
Bear in mind that if you wrap the brisket, you can remove the water pan during this stage. The brisket won’t benefit much from the extra humidity while it’s in the wrapper.
The Onion Soup Method
This intriguing technique combines the standard beef brisket injection with the foil pan trick. It’s a good option if you’re smoking a brisket flat that’s had the fat cap completely trimmed away.
It helps if the brisket flat is on the thinner side. If the flat is particularly large, try cutting it in half and saving the thicker portion to make corned beef or pastrami.
Start by straining 2 cans of prepared French onion soup, so that the onions are separated from the broth. Use the broth to inject the brisket, then set the prepared meat in an aluminum pan. Pour any remaining liquid over the brisket.
Spread the reserved onions over the top of the meat. In addition to providing the brisket with extra flavor, this will ensure that the top of the flat doesn’t scorch.
Set the smoker to 250 degrees. When it’s hot enough, set the prepared brisket (still in its pan) on the cooking grate and close the lid.
Smoke the brisket flat for 1 to 1.5 hours per pound, basting every hour or so, until the internal temp registers 195-200 on an instant-read thermometer. The thermometer probe should slide right in and out of the meat with no resistance.
Let the meat rest for 30 to 60 minutes, then carve it into slices. Drizzle any leftover pan juices over the sliced meat, then serve.
Tip: If you use this method, you’re better off using a low-sodium or no-salt brisket rub recipe. The prepared onion soup will be quite salty on its own.
Smoking brisket without the fat cap can still yield delectable results. The thing to remember is that the fat contributes moisture, so you just have to devise a method that will prevent the meat from drying out.