A whole brisket is a huge piece of meat, and the cut includes a lot of fat. The question is, should you leave that fat where it is, or is it better to remove it?
Trimmed vs Untrimmed Brisket
Trimmed brisket has a uniform appearance and an appealing texture once it’s been cooked. When it hasn’t been trimmed at all, there may be large pieces of rubbery fat left behind. The key is to remove just enough fat to keep the brisket from drying out during the long cooking process.
Whole briskets—also known as whole packers—can weigh up to 20 pounds, though it’s more common to find them in the 12 to 14 pound range. The cut is taken from the lower chest region of the steer, which gets a lot of exercise during the animal’s life.
All this activity makes for a cut of meat that’s naturally tough. There’s also a lot of fat involved, although some of it can be trimmed away. That’s what we’re here to discuss.
The Point and The Flat
Two muscles, or subprimals, make up the brisket: the point, which is the forward-facing section, and the flat. The point contains more intramuscular fat, or marbling. The flat, meanwhile, is the leaner of the two portions, but it does have some external fat.
A layer of hard fat and cartilage connects the point to the flat. This is called the “nose” of the brisket. Some people also refer to the point itself as the nose, which is why “nose off” brisket generally refers to the flat alone.
There’s another sizable piece of fat and sinew that connects the flat to the ribcage. This segment is called the deckle. Again, this term is sometimes used to describe the point meat, so if you see a “deckle off” brisket, it’s probably the flat.
Which Fat Should Be Removed?
If you look closely, you’ll see that there are subtle differences between the fat cap that runs along the flat end and the fat that makes up the nose and the deckle.
Both the marbling in the point and the fat cap should be smooth and creamy white. The texture of this fat is soft and slightly pliable, and may leave a slight sheen behind on your fingers.
The fat from the deckle and the nose sections is comparatively harder, with a darker yellow color. It has a denser texture, which means it won’t render well, even if you smoke the brisket for hours at a low temperature.
If you opt for a trimmed brisket, it’s a good idea to remove as much of this dense fat as possible. Since it isn’t edible and won’t add anything to the finished product, it will only take up extra space in the smoker.
Should You Trim Brisket Or Not?
The marbling in the brisket should render out as the meat cooks, providing the meat with moisture as well as flavor. Some of the fat cap will render out as well, although a lot of the fat may be left behind.
If you don’t trim the brisket at all, you may have to pull large chunks of excess fat away from the cooked meat when you’re carving it. This can be a pain, especially when you’ve waited so long for the meat to cook.
We suggest trimming the fat cap until about 1/4 inch of creamy white fat remains on the brisket flat. This should give you enough fat to prevent the meat from drying out as it cooks.
Feel free to remove the deckle, too. It may be difficult to do this without dividing the point and the flat. However, it can still be done. There will just be a small pocket left behind where the deckle was trimmed away.
Removing the fat seam between the point and the flat is even trickier if you’re planning to smoke the whole packer. Try to trim away as much of this fat and sinew as you can without separating the two halves. Of course, you can divide them if you prefer.
Can You Buy A Trimmed Brisket?
It’s possible to have your butcher trim the brisket in advance. That way, you’ll get the texture you want without going to the trouble of trimming it yourself.
The trouble is, a pre-trimmed brisket might not have enough fat left behind. In our opinion, it’s better to buy an untrimmed brisket, so you can have more control over the finished product.
How To Trim Brisket
1. First of all, make sure the brisket is nice and cold. The fat will be easier to deal with if it’s well chilled. Store it in a refrigerator set below 40 degrees Fahrenheit until you’re ready to start trimming.
2. Sharpen a trimming knife. We suggest using a boning knife with a curved, narrow blade.
3. Get your work station ready. In addition to your brisket and trimming knife, you’ll need:
- A large cutting board (big enough to hold the entire brisket)
- A bowl for the fat trimmings
- A disposable aluminum pan
4. Remove the brisket from its packaging and pat the surface dry with paper towels.
5. Position the meat on the work surface so that the fat side is facing the cutting board. Inspect the brisket to discern the difference between the two sections. The point will be thick and slightly rounded, while the flat is thinner with squarish edges.
6. Turn the meat back over so that the fat cap is facing up.
7. Proceed to trim the fat cap. Hold the knife so that it’s nearly parallel to the brisket and make a series of shallow cuts in the fat, removing small strips of it with your non-knife-bearing hand. Try to cut so that 1/4 inch of fat is left on the meat.
8. Add the trimmings to the bowl as you work. If you want to save the fat trimmings for another use, you might want to set aside this softer fat before you proceed, since the dense fat from the nose and the deckle won’t render as well.
9. As you move toward the point end, the fat might get a bit thicker. You can trim this closer than 1/4 inch if you’re so inclined.
10. When you’re satisfied with your work on that side, flip the brisket so that the “meat” side faces up.
11. Carve away the deckle. There should be a membrane right next to it. Remove this with the tip of your knife, leaving behind a small pocket in the area between the point and the flat.
12. Divide the point and the flat, if desired.
13. Carve away any pockets of excess fat or cartilage on the “meat” side.
14. At this point, you can shape up the brisket by trimming off the thin corners, giving it a more uniform appearance.
15. Set the trimmed brisket in the disposable pan. Season and cook the meat according to your chosen recipe.
The Bottom Line
So, should you trim brisket or not? We think it’s a good idea, especially if the cut you buy has a sizable fat cap attached. Just be careful not to cut away too much, or you might end up with dry brisket.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!