Cooking Brisket: Fat-Side-Up or Down? Our Experts Weigh In

Cooking Brisket: Fat-Side-Up or Down? Our Experts Weigh In

By: Brisk It Culinary Team

Should you cook a brisket fat-side-up or down? It's a question that's vexed amateur smokers and barbecue enthusiasts since the dawn of fire, and it can make a big difference in the quality of your meat. To set things straight, we're here to put an end to the confusion, so you can get back to the grill with confidence. 

For brisket cooked to flavorful perfection, fat-side-down is the way to go. This is the only way to achieve a brisket that is perfectly moist with a perfect bark on both sides. For those who are new to the grill, let’s take a closer look at why cooking brisket on a pellet grill fat-side-down is your best bet for that delectable first bite. 

Even Cooking & Burn Protection

Because smoking is a delicate process, little things can make a big difference in how your meat cooks (and tastes). Placing your meat with the fat-side-up can, unfortunately, cause uneven cooking, leading to lower quality barbecue. More importantly, the prolonged contact of the meat-side against the cooking grates will eventually lead to the surface becoming burned, even when cooking low & slow. On the other hand, laying the fatty side toward the flame ensures heat is absorbed and transferred evenly throughout the entirety of the smoking process., while providing a protective shield against the hot surfaces of the cooking grates.

This is because fat acts as an insulator, capturing heat directly from your grill’s source and diffusing it gradually and evenly into the rest of the cut. This means every bite of brisket will be just as delicious as the last with no dried-out or bland bits.

Best Flavor

All pit-masters know that how you cook your meat is a defining factor in determining the taste. So if you're new to the art of grilling, it’s important to note that evenly cooked meat offers seamless flavor throughout. This is especially applicable to a full-size brisket, which contains a fattier “point” half and a leaner “flat” half. Placing brisket fat-side-down will help you achieve the best possible taste. So, how does this work? 

When you grill brisket fat-side-up, the heat would cause the fat to “cook off.” As a result, the liquified fat melts and runs down your brisket, essentially washing away the delicious seasoning you worked so hard to craft. However, with the fatty side laying down, liquid fat drips directly onto your hot drip pan, providing an additional burst of flavor when it evaporates. Cooking fat-side-down won't result in a dry brisket, as long as the other parts of the cooking process are done correctly. 

Who doesn't love some savory, crispy bark on a brisket? Grilling with the fat-side-down is the best way to achieve that perfectly crisp skin. So, if you're looking for the best flavor (and who isn't with barbecue?), fat-side-down will do the trick. 

Should You Flip A Brisket When Smoking?

Many grill enthusiasts also wonder if you should flip a brisket when smoking. Contrary to some sources, you do not need to flip your brisket at any point during cooking. Flipping can disrupt the smoking process, as you are repeatedly lowering the temperature every time you open the grill, extending your brisket cook time. Furthermore, when your brisket’s connective tissues have broken down to become gelatinous, the last thing you want to do is risk tearing apart your tender brisket by flipping it. Simply set your brisket fat-side-down and let your Brisk It Smart Grill do the work.

What Is The Brisket Fat Cap?

Anyone who's ever handled an uncooked brisket has seen that there are two easily recognizable sides to each cut. The “point” is covered in roughly an inch of thick fat, while the “flat” is considerably leaner and meatier. This results from the brisket's location on the cow – right in the breast area. What was once the exterior of the cow is the fat-covered “point” side of your cut.

That's great news, right? After all, fat is flavor! Unfortunately, unlike the fat inside your cut of meat, this exterior fat is biologically different. It won't significantly melt as you cook, unlike the intramuscular fat that gives your brisket extra flavor. Because of this, the fat cap is often looked at as an undesirable part of your brisket, with many people cutting off and discarding it entirely. 

Should You Remove The Fat Cap?

While many people trim the fat cap, brisket needs this fatty layer to achieve that perfect taste. The fat cap benefits as an insulator and protector for your meat during the cooking process. Without any sort of fat insulation, there is nothing keeping the juices from just running out of your meat and onto the drip pan, taking with them all kinds of incredible flavor. Plus, if you're dead set on serving the leanest brisket possible, the remaining fat cap can always be trimmed off following cooking.

While some barbecue enthusiasts will leave the fat cap undisturbed, most will trim off the excess, leaving at least 1/4 to 1/2 inch for cooking. This process maximizes the ability of the smoke and flavorings to penetrate the meat while maintaining the many benefits a fat cap provides. Use a sharp knife to trim off some of the fat or ask if your butcher will provide this service for you.

Does Fat Braise Brisket?

Let's start with a brief look at what it means to braise meat. The term typically refers to cooking meat in liquid, over low heat, and for an extended period of time, generally in a covered or closed environment to retain moisture. In this sense, it's clear that fat does not "braise" brisket in the traditional sense. Smoked brisket is also cooked over a hot grill grate in a ventilated environment.

However, some would argue that there's still a benefit to cooking your brisket fat-side-up, as the melting fat could theoretically baste your brisket with juices. However, this simply doesn't work in practice, as the melted fat cap just rolls off your brisket onto the drip pan. 

Is There Any Reason To Cook Your Brisket Fat Side Up?

In just about every situation, you should not cook your brisket fat-side-up. The result is not evenly cooked or good-tasting. There is, however, one exception to this: Some rare smokers are constructed to include a heat source from above. In these cases, you should cook your brisket fat-side-up so the fat cap is facing the heat source. But for the vast majority of brisket cooks, a heat source below the meat will require fat-side-down for best results.

If You Ask Us, Fat-Side-Down Is The Way To Go

There you have it – fat-side-down is your go-to for a perfectly cooked brisket. You’re now one step closer to becoming a grill master at your next backyard barbecue. So, the next time you're cooking a delicious cut of brisket on your wood pellet grill, remember these tips: no flipping, basting, braising, and always cook fat-side-down. 

Want to take your grilling to the next level? For meat cooked to perfection every time, test out your skills on the Brisk It Smart Grill. Designed for grill masters and beginners, alike, our advanced technology makes grilling easy. We also have easy to follow recipes for wood pellet grills, that even beginners can follow to achieve the perfect smokey flavor every time. To learn more about how our grills work, visit our site. 

Here's to many moist, crispy-barked, flavor-packed briskets!