Should You Cook Brisket Fat Side Up or Down?

Along with the debates about which type of grill is the best choice for barbecuing, there has been another ongoing heated discussion among pitmasters – whether to cook the brisket fat side up or down.

If you are a newbie in the world of grilling, smoking, and barbecuing, you too may be wondering which side is the right side to choose when preparing delicious brisket.

Read on to find out what the pros and cons of both types of cooking the brisket are, and to decide which recipe you will follow next time when you are cooking brisket.

Brisket fat side up or down – what is this deliberation all about?

Brisket-Fat
Photo credit: alices.kitchen

As you probably know, the juicy beef brisket cut has two sides which are easy to tell apart. One side is covered with fat, and the other is just bare meat.

Firstly, it is important to understand that the brisket cut consists of two different muscles – the flat and the point. The flat end has a thinner fat cover, and the point is covered with a thicker layer of fat.

While some pitmasters prefer to separate these two muscles by cutting the brisket in two pieces before cooking it, others prefer to leave the cut whole.

The question, though, arises – which is the right way to place the brisket on the grill or smoker – with the fat side up or down?

What happens when you cook the brisket with the fat side up?

Some pitmasters are strong advocates for cooking the brisket with the fat side facing upwards. They claim that this helps melt the fat straight into the meat underneath it during the cooking and thus makes the meat juicier and moister.

But while this sounds tempting, it is not completely true, simply because meat can’t absorb fat. Instead of penetrating the meat, the fat on top of the brisket will melt from the heat and will run straight off of the brisket into the drip pan.

Another downside of cooking the brisket with the fat side up is that the meat will not develop that beautiful bark at the end of the low and slow cooking session because fat cannot develop such a uniform and attractive bark like bare meat can.

Then again, there can be some advantages of cooking the brisket with the fat side up. One is that if you are using a smoker, like an offset smoker where the heat is emitted from above, then the right way to prepare the beef brisket is with the fatty side facing upwards towards the heat source.

This is why it is essential to understand where the heat is coming from in your smoker.

What are the advantages of cooking the brisket with the fat side down?

Many pitmasters are confident that the only proper way to cook brisket is with the fat side down.

The reasoning behind this claim is that when the fat is faced towards the heat source, it will melt but without washing the rub and seasoning away. This will allow the brisket to develop that beautiful bark on top, which everyone loves.

Apart from the benefits for the appearance of the meat, this cooking method also improves the flavor of the brisket. This is due to the smoke which is emitted when the melted fat drops on the hot coals. This smoke will infuse the meat with a delicious flavor.

Plus, the fat will act as insulation from the direct heat underneath and thus protect it from drying out from intense direct heat.

Since most smokers and cookers are constructed to have the heat coming from underneath the meat, this method of cooking the meat with the fat side down is used by the majority of pitmasters.

Read our guide on how to reheat brisket and keep it juicy

Where is the heat source in your cooker?

As mentioned earlier, the placement of the brisket should be in accordance with the location of the heat source of your cooker.

The majority of cookers, such as the bestselling Weber 18-inch Smokey Mountain Cooker, are designed with the heat source coming from the bottom. If your cooker has a heat source located at the bottom of the unit, underneath the cooking area, then the right way to go is to place your brisket with the fat side down.

But there are some exceptions, such as the horizontal offset smokers in which the heat comes from above the cooking area.

If you are using one of these smokers, then you should place the brisket with the fat side up so that it acts as an insulator for the meat.

So, you should examine your cooker if you are not sure where the heat is coming from to determine the proper placement of the brisket and other meat.

But even if you place the brisket with the fat facing the heat source, you should still check on the other side to see whether it is not drying out from the heat. In order to protect the brisket from drying out, you can wrap it in butcher’s paper or foil somewhere in the middle of the cooking process.

What do the professionals say about the brisket fat side up or down?

Some professional pitmasters like Malcom Reed say that they cook the brisket with the fat side up when the brisket is for their own consumption. In the video, Reed claims that he will cook the brisket with the fat side down for competition, but when prepping the meat, he will trim off most of the fat anyway and will inject the meat to keep it moist and juicy instead and to maintain the good look of the meat.

At home, he wraps the brisket in foil when cooking it with the fat side up for about 4 hours to make sure that it doesn’t dry out. But as you can see from the video, he is using a horizontal offset cooker for this fat side up brisket recipe.

Another professional, Aaron Franklin, prefers to cook the brisket with the fat side up. But he, too, uses a smoker, which has a heat source coming from the top.

Other pitmasters recommend cooking the brisket with the fat side down to ensure that the fat shield the meat from the direct heat and from drying out, for rendering more fat and for a deeper and thicker bark, and to make sure that the presentation side of the brisket does not get stuck to the cooking grate.

Plus, they claim that the fat dripping directly on the hot coals will help produce a better smoky flavor and will not rinse off the rub and other seasonings from the meat.

Final words

As you can see, there is no single straightforward answer to the question of whether the brisket should be cooked with the fat side up or down.

One thing is certain – fat cannot penetrate the meat, so cooking the meat with the fat side up will not make the brisket juicier or moister. In fact, the melting fat may rinse off the rub, marinade, and seasoning from the brisket as it melts instead.

Another fact to keep in mind is that the fat will help protect the meat from the direct heat and thus reduce the risk of the brisket drying out.

When placed with the fat down, the melting fat will hit the hot coals and produce fantastic smoke.

Then again, whether you should place the brisket with the fat side up or down depends on your cooker and where its heat source is located. If the heat comes from the bottom, then it is best to place the meat with the fat facing down, but if you have a smoker with a heat source located on the top, then you should cook the beef cut with the fat facing upwards.

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