Brisket Fat Side Up or Down – How to Change The Flavor By a Simple Turn

In this article, you'll find a simple explanation of whether cooking brisket fat side up or down changes the process and taste
Jeremy Bivens
Jeremy Bivens
Research Writer
Jeremy Bivens is a passionate writer and grilling enthusiast. He's been working as a freelance journalist for over 15 years now and has a particular interest in food writing read more
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Bruce Williams
Bruce Williams
Expert Consultant
Claims that grilling is the art that he has been learning all his life long and is not planning to stop. Has been grilling for as long as he can remember. Author of numerous read more
Last updated: September 02, 2023
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In previous years, the brisket was overlooked by many because it was a cheap cut that took quite a long time to cook. Nowadays, things have changed, brisket has soared in demand thanks to the rise in the use of home barbecues and smokers. To make the perfect brisket, you may wonder, should you cook brisket fat side up or down?

To help you decide the best brisket side, analyze the information below before concluding. You will also find information on how to choose the best brisket depending on a few factors. Without taking too much time, let us dive right in!

What’s a brisket cut?

Brisket Fat Side Up or Down - How to Change The Flavor By a Simple TurnA brisket cut is among the primal cuts of beef sourced from the front part of the cow. This cut of beef is located between the shank and the chuck, and it presents a huge mass of connective tissue. Because of the high number of connective tissues, brisket is best cooked slowly so that the tissue converts into tasty gelatin.

From every cow, you get two sizeable briskets that have bones but depending on your supplier, you can get boneless brisket. Brisket can be smoked, braised, or grilled according to the individual’s preference. The brisket will provide different flavor profiles and textures according to the cooking method.

How to choose the best one?

Choosing the best brisket is simple as long as you don’t overcomplicate the process. These few tips below should help you select the best brisket without breaking the bank.

  • Grade and fat levels

Brisket Fat Side Up or Down - How to Change The Flavor By a Simple TurnIn the US, you find prime, select, and choice cuts available from your local butchery. The grading system uses the level of fat marbled through the meat to determine its rating. The more fat marbled through the brisket, the higher the grade, and the more tender/ juicier the meat is once cooked.

Prime brisket cuts are costlier and harder to source than the lower grade cuts and, in some cases, you have to make a special order to access them. Choice cuts are less expensive but still offer adequate fat to make the meat juicy and tender.

Select grade cuts are pocket friendly but contain less fat which leaves the meat dry, whether smoked or barbecued. Many prefer to use select grade cuts for braising because the moisture content in the meat is contained.

  • Size

Brisket Fat Side Up or Down - How to Change The Flavor By a Simple TurnBrisket comes in various sizes; you can get any size between 2 and 14 pounds. If you are making brisket for many people, the larger the brisket the better. You also have to consider the thickness of the brisket because you don’t want it to be too thick.

Thick briskets may cook unevenly, and thin briskets may dry out under high heat. A medium-sized brisket is a safe option that allows both even cooking and retention of juices. If you notice that the meat is drying out, it is better to wrap it in foil to retain all the moisture and keep the meat tender.

  • Type of cut

Brisket Fat Side Up or Down - How to Change The Flavor By a Simple TurnWhen it comes to the type of brisket cut, you find flat cuts and point cuts. The flat cut consists of more muscle than fat and is costlier than the point cut. It is also larger and more even in shape for those considering table presentation. Flat cuts are suitable for oven-based recipes or slowly braised recipes.

The point cut is sliced with more of the fat and it is considered more flavorful.  Point cut brisket is ideal for smoking, especially when using special smoking wood because it is easy to absorb the flavors compared to the flat cuts. If you want brisket for sandwiches or tacos, point cuts are the best.

  • Appearance

Brisket Fat Side Up or Down - How to Change The Flavor By a Simple TurnYou need to know fresh brisket from brisket that has been sitting on the shelves for a while. If you have a local butcher, finding fresh brisket is easy as you can tell by the color of the meat and the fat. The meat should be bright red and firm to the touch with a fresh smell. Stale meat will not bounce back after being pressed and the color together with the smell will be off.

  • Source

Brisket Fat Side Up or Down - How to Change The Flavor By a Simple TurnAre you looking for brisket from grass-fed or grain-fed cows? This is important because people like to understand where their meat comes from. Some people prefer grass-fed cows because the meat is more nutritious and the farming method is friendlier to the environment, but it costs more. Grain-fed cows offer meat that is more tender as it has more marbling to work with.

Why choosing sides is important

Which is your preferred way of cooking brisket? Do you smoke a brisket fat side up or down? There are different flavor and textural results depending on the side you select that we will cover below.

Cooking brisket fat side up

Brisket Fat Side Up or Down - How to Change The Flavor By a Simple TurnIf you happen to have a grill/smoker with a heat source at the top, cooking brisket fat side up is commendable as it offers protection from the heat. Smoking brisket fat side up was popular for many decades, until recently when scientific evidence shattered some of the myths behind it.

Among the myths debunked was that the melted fat seeps into the meat, making the meat moist. The fact is that water and oil do not mix; therefore, the fat cannot prevent the meat from drying out.

The good

Cooking brisket fat side up allows more rendering of fat and it protects the meat from the oncoming heat at the top. It also permits the development of a thicker bark that is delicious and retains the meat juices.

The bad

As the fat melts and start dripping, the spice rub in place will be washed away. This is how you find some sections of brisket heavy with flavor while other sections lack. Additionally, the fat layer might create a mess while slicing; therefore, it is important to use a sharp knife.

Cooking brisket fat side down

Brisket Fat Side Up or Down - How to Change The Flavor By a Simple TurnPeople like smoking their brisket fat side down because it offers meat protection from burning, especially while using grills/smokers with a heat source beneath. It is also an effective way of preventing the brisket from sticking on the grilling grate.

The good

Regardless of the grill you use, smoking or cooking your brisket fat side down will protect the meat from direct heat. It also helps create better bark and makes the meat more presentable and less messy while slicing.

The bad

There is a high chance that the top of the brisket will dry out. This is because there is no protective fat layer to shield the meat from the heat. High heat is especially a known culprit of drying meat.

Brisket recipe to try

Now that you know what’s the deal with choosing the perfect brisket side, let’s put this knowledge to practical use and try a simple beginner recipe with this thorough video:

Final thoughts

With the information presented above, we hope you have decided whether to smoke brisket fat side up or down. However, if you don’t subscribe to either method, you can try and flip the brisket every hour or two to enjoy the best of both brisket cooking methods. You can also use foil paper in both fat side up or down methods to avoid dry meat.

If you are in the market for reliable grill or smokers, many reviews suggest the Broil King Regal S590 Pro is an ideal choice as it offers a large 5-burner capacity and additional convenient features like LED lights. Another popular model would be the Weber 731001 Smokey Mountain Cooker which is a small kettle grill available at affordable prices.

With a reliable smoker or grill, you can produce a delicious brisket regardless of whether the brisket fat side up or down. Try it today and tell us in the comment section, which method worked best.

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