What is a brisket?
Brisket is a large, lean cut of beef that comes from the chest area of the cow. It is typically divided into two parts - the point and the flat.
The point is thicker and more fatty than the flat, while the flat is leaner. There is also a layer of fat between the two muscles called the "deckle fat".
Typically you would trim the fat before you smoke it, or bbq it, or slow cook your brisket.
Why do you have to trim a brisket?
Smoke penetration and seasoned flavors is increased, resulting in a tastier and more aromatic brisket. If you leave too much fat on, or don't trim it at all, the flavors wont' get through.
Also, the brisket has a fatter, thicker side (where the fat point is) and a thinner side (where there's less fat) - it is hard to cook it evenly when one part of the meat is thicker than the other!
Equipment / Tools needed to trim a brisket
- A good, sharp knife. Preferably, a good boning or fillet knife. However, you can get away with a sharp chef's knife. That's what I used. It will just take longer. A boning or fillet knife has a pointy tip that helps get under the fat easily.
- A large wooden cutting board. Briskets are very big - you'll need a good surface to work with to trim your brisket properly. Our extra-large wooden cutting board, which measures 18 inches x 24 inches, is perfect for the job (and that's what's pictured in all these photos here).
How to trim a brisket (the right way)
Let's look at this step by step instructions on how to trim the brisket the right way!
Step 1: Rinse and pat dry
1. Rinse and dry the brisket before cutting. PRO TIP: put it in the freezer for 20 minutes prior to cutting, or if your brisket is from the freezer, take it out right before it completely thaws. This makes it easier to work with.
Step 2: Get tools ready
Use a boning or fillet knife to start cutting. Any knife will work, but a good boning knife is ideal. If you don't have one, no worries just use a chef knife - make sure you sharpen it so it makes your job easier! Check out our article on sharpening your knife with a whetstone or knife sharpener.
Use a extra large cutting board
Step 3: Trim the underside - Remove membrane, or "silver skin"
It's important to trim a brisket correctly in order to get the most out of the meat. Some brisket trimming masters don't even trim the underside of the brisket (the meat side where there's a little fat here and there, and some membranous skin), but I think it's important to get that membrane out so the meat can absorb the flavors better.
The same reason you take off the membrane when you slow cook ribs. Once you trim out all the membrane from the meat side, all out you're left with a piece of brisket that looks like this:
Step 4: Take off the surface brisket fat on the fat side
Keep in mind that we're trimming, we're not removing. Trim the fat cap down to 1/4-1/2 inch thick. This is important!
Optional - Before you start trimming down the fat on the fat side of the brisket, you might want to square the brisket - take off around 1/4 inch on all 4 sides. This will help you see the curvature of the meat better when you trim.
You want to cut along the curvature of the meat. Look at the brisket from the side to determine where the fat is thicker and thinner, and pay attention to the curvature of the meat.
Pro Tip 1: Trim in thin pieces
Trim in thin pieces if you aren't sure how deep to go - you can always remove more if you need to! Remember that we're trying to leave around 1/4 - 1/2 inch fat on the brisket! Start with skinny pieces and keep going.
PRO TIP 2: If you see meat, you've gone too deep
If you see "meat", you've gone too deep. Stop that section immediately and move on. Start again at a more shallow angle of the knife at a different section.
No worries - just leave it and move on, this time at a slightly shallower angle with the knife! You can always look at the cross section to see the curvature of the fat and how thick it is.
Step 5: Remove the flap
Take the whole flap off (you'll see meat when you're done, that's okay!). This thin flap will not cook at the same temperature as the rest of your meat - it makes sense to remove it.
You can season it and smoke it for a short period of time as a treat for yourself, or just ground it up for burgers.
Once you take it off, you're left with this:
Should you leave any fat on?
There is no right or wrong answers here, however I like to trim the brisket down and leave 1/4 inch of fat on it. If you leave too much fat, when you cook it (especially if you smoke it) the flavors and smoke can't get through that thick fat to get to the meat.
I find that 1/4 inch is the sweet spot - it renders enough, and leaves enough on for some tasty brisket!
On the flip side, if you trim away all the fat, it can lead to it becoming dry or burnt during cooking.
How To Use Brisket Trimmings
Don't throw away the fat trimming!!! You can use it and render it to use as cooking fats. This is known as beef tallow. On my 8 pound brisket, I ended up with 1 and a 1/4 pound of pure fat, which I'm definitely keeping to make beef tallow later.
If you square the brisket you'll also have some meat along with the fat - save them and ground them up for burgers. Remember that large piece of flap that you removed? Grind them up with that and the fat for a tasty burger!
What are the different types of brisket?
Brisket refers to the meaty, fatty side of a cow's rib cage. There are three main types of brisket: flat, point, and drop. The flat brisket is the most common type and is usually found in butcher shops.
What is the difference between wagyu and non-wagyu briskets?
Wagyu briskets are a type of beef that is very expensive and has a beautiful marbling. Prime briskets are the happy hybrid between all other types of brisket and have a robust beefy flavor.
What is the best knife for trimming brisket?
A boning knife is the best knife for trimming brisket. However, I used a chef knife that's been recently sharpened and it works out quite well - it just takes a little longer.
What are some common mistakes people make when trimming brisket?
- Not removing enough fat - try to shoot for 1/4 inch - 1/2 inch.
- Removing too much fat - this will dry out your brisket when you're cooking.
What's the Best Temperature for Trimming Brisket?
The best temperature for trimming brisket is when it's very cold. If your brisket is already thawed, put it in the freezer for 20 minutes right before trimming. If your brisket is frozen - thaw it in the fridge and start trimming when it's 80% thawed but not all the way.
Try this BBQ Rub on your Brisket:
This brisket BBQ rub recipe makes enough for a 8-10 lb brisket, if you have a larger piece, double the recipe and save any extra in an airtight container.
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 1 tablespoons smoked paprika
- 2 1/2 teaspons black pepper
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 3/4 teaspoon mustard powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Use immediately or store in airtight container for up to 4 months.
Buy a gourmet pre-mix blend instead
Alternatively, if you don't have all these spices readily available, try one of our favorite BOUGIE BBQ collection
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The cutting board used in these photos is a 18 inch x 24 inch x 1 inch extra-large cutting board. It has a juice groove on one side (think turkeys and carving steaks!), and the other side is smooth.
View the entire cutting boards collection.