A Guide on How to Trim a Brisket Properly

Brisket is a large, tough beef cut that comes from the breast of a cow. As a result, it is most often prepared using a slow cooking method like barbecuing, braising, or smoking. Unlike some other meat cuts, you need to cut away some parts of the brisket to maximize your flavor and cook it properly.

A good brisket does not come cheap, and it can be really big. Considering the cost and the labor invested required to cook it to perfection, trimming is a process you don’t want to do wrong.

The process of trimming, prepping, and smoking is long and detailed. In this article, we will break the process into easy steps, so you can perfectly trim your brisket before you cook it.

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First Things First, What is a Brisket?​​​​​​​​

According to the USDA Institutional Meat Purchasing Standard (IMPS), “Brisket includes the anterior end of the sternum bones’’.

There are two briskets on each side of beef. A butcher will usually subdivide the cut, before putting it up for sale. To get both sides, you will need to put in a special request for a “packer cut” or a “whole packer.”

A packer cut can weigh as much as 20 pounds, especially if it comes with a layer of fat and muscle, called a decker.

how to trim a brisket for smoking

Anatomy of a Brisket

The cuts that can be made from a brisket primal are the “flat,” the “point” and the “fat cap.”

1. The Brisket Flat

The flat is the largest part of brisket and often comes in a rectangular shape. The brisket flat may come with decent marbling, but it is generally considered to be a lean meat cut.

2. The Brisket Point

The brisket point is smaller than the flat. It lurks on top or underneath (depending on the cut sitting) of the brisket flat. The point is always fatty, right throughout the cut, and protrudes at one end.

The brisket point is a mass of muscle and fat that links the brisket flat to the rib cage. This is sometimes known as the “second cut brisket.” The point is very fatty, as such, many people prefer the flat. However, the brisket point is tasty and delicious! It’s worth a try! The brisket point is also known as ‘the deckle.’

3. The Fat Cap

The fat cap is a thick layer of fat on an entire side of a meat cut. It runs the whole length of a brisket flat and often wraps around one side. It also sits between and separates the muscle in the two cuts, the flat and the points.

If you purchase a separate flat instead of a whole packer, it usually comes with the fat cap included, although some butchers cut the flat off before it hits the counter, especially for briskets sold at grocery stores.

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What You Need To Get Started

how to trim a brisket for burnt ends
  • A brisket, having both the flat and the point
  • A large butcher paper or cutting board to lay over a flat surface
  • A trash bowl or can to collect trimmings
  • Sharp knives.

A Little Consideration for the Sharp Knives

A long knife, about 6 to 8 inches, will work perfectly for removing pieces of fat that run the length of the meat surface. When you need to excavate fat in crevices, use a paring knife.

Aaron Franklin uses a thin boning knife which aids great maneuverability. Whatever your choice of knives, make sure it’s sharp. A dull knife will increase the risk of injury, as you will be cutting through tough meat.

How to Trim a Brisket

Now that you have bought your brisket from the butcher or store, and ready to prep it for the smoker, the following step by step instructions will help you understand the process.

  • Step 1: Place the brisket on a large butcher paper or cutting board, fat cap side up, and get your knives ready.
  • Step 2: At the point end, score across the fat cap, and carve out a chunk of fat on the surface, where it links the flat. This is to expose the meat in a way that allows your rub to penetrate.
  • Step 3: Keep on carving the fat off the point until the meat is at the surface. Carve out all fats including the fat cap end where it curls over and covers the point tip. During this process, try not to cut deep into the meat, keep your carvings as close as possible to the dividing lines between the fat and meat, to prevent meat wastage.
  • Step 4: Start in on the fat cap from the flat end of the brisket. The goal is to leave about a quarter of an inch covering of fat across the entire flat. Your brisket may be close to that thickness before the butcher put it up for sale. If not, look for protruded areas of the cap, and shave them down carefully. This goal is to have a uniform covering of fat so your meat can cook evenly.
  • Step 5: At the opposite end of the point, trim off a thin piece. This is because exposed edges may have changed color, and may not cook well. Do not take the risk, slip this part off, and expose the natural colored meat underneath.
  • Step 6: Flip your brisket around and look for the long side that is almost covered by the fat cap. Using your knife, run down the length, and remove this hardened layer of fat. Be careful during this trimming, and try to keep the meat in rectangular or square shape. If not, any bit that sticks out will burn during smoking.
  • Step 7: Turn the brisket around such that the fat cap is now on the bottom. Locate the thick wedge of fat near the point, and carve it out. This fat usually runs deep. Carving it will leave you with a large valley between the point and the flat.
  • Step 8: Carefully take a look at the brisket to be sure it is even and that there are no large intrusions of fat remain between the point and the flat. If you plan on smoking the point separately, simply remove it by following the valley between the point and the flat, although many chefs suggest leaving it on. 

A two-part video description of these steps can be found below:

Conclusion

Now that you are done trimming, you should have a rectangular or square, and the point should be having uniform thickness with the flat since you have carved out the tough fat membranes. Remember to flip the brisket over as described in step 8, and remove any fat chunks you might have missed. Cut through the layers of meat to remove all the fats.

Finally, cut off any bits of meat hanging outside the rectangular or square shape, because they could burn during smoking. And that’s that. Congratulations! You have just trimmed a brisket.

If you want to share your experiences about trimming a brisket, please use the comment box below.

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