How to Trim a Brisket

May 27, 2015

Trimming is essential to getting the perfect smoke on your beef brisket. This step by step guide will teach you all you need to know on how to trim a brisket.

brisket slice

Trimming a Brisket

Wilkommen to Hey Grill, Hey for part 2 of #BRISKETWEEK! Hopefully you read Brisket 101 and have learned a little bit about what a brisket is, what types of brisket are available to you, and the best resources to get your hands on one! Now that you know enough to get you started and (let’s presume) you have a fabulous 12-14 lb packer brisket of your very own it is time to talk about how to trim a brisket!!

Trimming is an essential part of any brisket because it affects the entire cooking process. Too much fat on top? You won’t get a good bark or enough smoke penetration in your meat. Pieces of the flat that are too thin or too thick? There will be uneven cooking and you’ll end up with dry spots and burned edges. Dangling pieces of meat or fat leftover from the butchering process? Crisp and charred chunks that you’re just going to have to throw out anyways. Have I made my point yet??

If you can’t tell, I think trimming is a crucial step in the brisket game, so do it well! How you trim your meat affects how it cooks and ultimately how well it is sliced and served (more on that later this week.) Don’t stress yourself out about it though! If you trim a little too much or not enough, guess what? Your brisket will turn out just fine. Just take notes and try again. I didn’t trim the perfect brisket my first time and you probably won’t either. But if you do… well just shut up about it because you’re a show off and you’re making everybody else feel bad. Kidding. Kind of.

untrimmed brisket

So now that I have made you sufficiently nervous/excited/self confident let’s get down to business! Your brisket will come wrapped in big plastic packaging. You’re going to need a huge cutting board (OK fine, I need a huge cutting board as my biggest cutting board could barely contain this bad boy). Remove the plastic packaging and take a look at your brisket. You’ll see a large layer of fat (called the fat cap) across the top of your brisket. Flip it over (easier said than done, HA!) You’ll see mostly exposed meat with some silver skin and another large knob of fat. The long, thin, rectangular side of the brisket is your flat. The knobby, muscly, angular end of the brisket is your point. Grab your favorite knife. It should be about 7-8 inches long and super sharp! It’s time to trim!

Brisket Sides trimmed

STEP 1- Start by trimming a long thin section off of each side to square off your brisket. When it comes to trimming, don’t get crazy and start hacking stuff off. Be a minimalist first, you can always take more away but you can’t put meat back on. Once your sides are smooth and uniform, move to the ends. Your point will look really knobby and absolutely NOT uniform. This is OK. Trim off any excess or loose pieces of meat or fat that could burn during the cooking process.

brisket sides and fat trimmed

STEP 2– Look at the point. You’ll see a large, almost moon shaped, piece of pure fat. Using your free hand, work your fingertips into the inside edge of that fat piece. Lift it up while you slide your knife in between the brisket and the fat. Work your knife back and forth (in a sawing motion) while simultaneously lifting the fat piece with your hand. Once you’ve removed the majority of this large piece of fat, use your knife to level it off with the rest of the brisket. You don’t need to cut this whole chunk of fat out of the brisket and leave a crater. Most of this will cook down and melt away, but you want the uniformity across the bottom of the brisket for better cooking. See picture above!

STEP 3- Now use your knife to remove any of that that thick shiny looking skin and also any remaining large fatty pieces. Head to the flat and trim the corners so they are a little more rounded. This will prevent those corners from drying out, crisping up and burning. You did it!! The under side of your brisket is well trimmed and beautiful like the picture below!

Brisket bottom trimmed
Step 4- Pick that beauty up and flip her over so the fat cap is again on top. I like to kind of hunch over or squat (leg day!) and get on eye level with my brisket for this next part. Using your super duper sharp knife, trim the fat cap down to approximately 1/4-1/2 inch thick. This is not exact science, but by looking at your brisket from the side, you can start to see where the fat is thicker and needs a little trimming and where it is thin enough to let it be. I also pay attention to my beautifully squared sides because sometimes flipping it can redistribute weight and now they are not so square anymore.

Brisket top trimmed
Step 5- Give your brisket an extra once over with your eyes and feel it with your hands. It should look fairly uniform at the flat, and well trimmed without any weird pieces that could easily burn sticking out at the point. You got it?! Way to go!!! Share any questions you’ve got in the comment section or tag me in your brisket trimming success on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter!

how to trim a brisket

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31 thoughts on “How to Trim a Brisket

  1. Susie, congrats on your GBWR & thanks for the pointers. Very helpful trimming that bad boy down. I’ve only tried a few briskets and have perfected a great marinade for the oven (overnight) after I smoke/grill. Outstandingly delicious (if I do say so myself…but I have witnesses who said the same)….but the briskets I’ve made had too much fat; with your help I’ve turned the corner.

  2. Can the trimmed fat be used as suet (I know that’s supposed to be from the kidney area)? Or can the fat be rendered for any useful purpose?

    1. Hey Helen! Any type of beef fat can be rendered into tallow. That would be a great use for leftover brisket fat. There will likely be more impurities in the fat from a brisket than from suet, so I’m going to include a link with some great info about straining the fat. Make sure your brisket is chilled before trimming and the fat is chilled before attempting to make the tallow, cold fat is much easier to handle. Let me know if you make some and how it turns out! http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2012/02/how-to-render-beef-tallow.html

  3. Better not tell people to look for Peach Butcher Paper at restaurant supply stores. I live in Houston and not a single store carries it that I can find. The shoppers in those stores know all about it. LOL Headed to Amazon. Brisket put on hold a few days.

    1. That’s good to know! I had no problem finding it here in Utah. I’ll have to tell people to call their stores before driving out there! If you want your brisket this weekend, call your grocery store butcher and see if they have any unwaxed butcher paper. I bet they’d tear you off a couple big sheets, no problem!

      1. Out of curiosity, which stores have you found in Utah that carry the paper? I’m located in Draper and would love to grab some.

  4. If one doesn’t have brown butcher’s paper, is it okay to use foil? I know you said you’ll never use foil again since you get a better brisket with paper. I’m just concerned about ruining the meat.

  5. We bought a great looking brisket on sale. It weighs about 13 pounds (before trimming.) It’s just two of us for meals most of the time. Can the brisket be cut in half before cooking it? If so, do you have any suggestions for how to cut it in half?
    PS
    I learned so much from your “How to Trim a Brisket!” You wrote it in a simple easy-to-follow manner which helped me to learn and remember without looking up other sources on the same topic.
    Thanks!

    1. When I know we would have too many leftovers, I separate the flat and point. I then smoke the point and I grind the glat into ground beef for amazing burgers.

  6. Okay you probably have some great tips, but I’ll never know, your damn webpage is so F’n overloaded with ads that I finally said, “Screw it! I’m sure that there are others out there with just as good of advice without all of the BS.” Hell, it took me over five minutes just post this comment because I had to wait for your insane number of ads that are constantly loading… pathetic.

      1. I understand the ads can be annoying, however, they allow me to afford to keep the site up and running (it costs me thousands of dollars each year) so the information is available to you for free. If you want to view my site ad free, you can sign up for The Grill Squad. It’s $50/year. There are load of other perks to being a member, but no ads on the site is one of them. Enrollment opens for 5 days a month and you can get on the notification list here: heygrillhey.com/grill-squad

  7. Do you have received for electrical smoker Wich has smoker box. I never learned to grill well cuz my Momma & Daddy had me & my other 2 sisters & outside grilling was considered a ” man ” thing. Sounds way old school & yes I became a feminist …lol.. but I never learned wood or charcoal. So I bought a digital smoker & I’ve had it 2 years & cannotaster it. Do you have some recipes with instructions for smoking brisket,ribs,chicken, turkey, fish etc that would help me as an idiot 101…lol ?

    1. Hey there Sheryl!! I’m excited you are ready to try some smoking yourself. I do have recipes for all of those. I would suggest you start with pork, it is easy to do. All of my recipes can be done in an electric smoker, you will just follow the same time and temperature instructions. Once you are ready to try something new, search around my site, I have a lot of recipes I would love for you to try! https://heygrillhey.com/simple-smoked-pulled-pork/

  8. I have a mere 4 1/2 lb brisket and plan to feed 8 family members. Any suggestions on cooking strategies or whether I have enough meat for my intent? Thanks for the site… very good stuff here.

    1. This is the trimming instructions (in web pages, like magazines, the TITLE of the page is a good clue to what the content is about. That sentence at the top – “How to Trim a Brisket” – is the title of this page). Temp and time are with the overall recipe.

  9. I always leave the fat on for moisture purposes then trim after cooking also I have started cooking fat side down seems to help with the meaty part staying less chared just thoughts on my part of grilling brisket also decried using coals is better than a pellet grill not sure why maybe the small flame that goes with it thanks

  10. I have far too big a brisket for the small get together we’re having (16 lbs for 6 people) How would you suggest turning it into 2 briskets (1 to freeze for later time)?

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