Pro Tips: How to Trim a Brisket with Pitmaster Heath Riles
You can’t just go out and get a brisket, rub it up, and put it on the grill (or, you shouldn’t).
You should trim it first to achieve the best results. It’s an investment in time and money, so you should absolutely trim your brisket before applying the rub and throwing it in your smoker.
Even though it’s a large, formidable cut of meat, properly trimming a brisket isn’t as daunting as you might think. The goal is to remove the fat, revealing the beautiful meat below, and then shaping the brisket to promote air flow in your smoker and achieve a tasty bark on the outside.
Take your time, and remember to always angle your knife up — you can always take more off, but you can’t put it back on!
Above: Brisket, pre-trim
1. Use a Good Knife
Make sure you have a quality, sharp knife! In this demonstration, I’m using a 6” Victorinox Boning Knife.
2. Trim the Top
Trim the top of the brisket as close to the silver skin as possible, following it all the way down.
About the Flat Muscle
This is the largest and rectangular portion of the brisket. Even though there may be some marbling, this is a lean cut.
Pro Tip: Try raising the brisket up with one hand, allowing it to bend and get a better angle on the fat, without taking off too much meat with it.
3. Notch the end of one corner so you know how to slice the brisket after it’s been cooked (against the grain).
About the Point Muscle
The point is much smaller than the flat, and it sits on top (or beneath, depending on how the cut is positioned) of the flat, with one end protruding. Not only on top, but throughout the cut, the point is often a little fatty.
Pro Tip: Keep Your Trimmings
Remember to keep all of your brisket trimmings, especially the meaty parts! You can grind it up and make delicious brisket burgers, sausages, and more.
4. Round the Edges
Continue rounding the edges of the brisket. You want clean, smooth edges to encourage smoke flow over your brisket (something akin to the aerodynamics of a classic “Vette) and a consistent bark.
Above: Showing oxidation on the side of the brisket that you want to trim off.
5. Trim Oxidation
Trim any oxidation off the edge of the brisket and trimming a nice, smooth edge.
6. Trim the Bottom
Flip the brisket over, and trim the bottom!
Pro Tip: Although there will be less fat on the underside of the brisket, you should still remove any hard fat and trim up any loose bits (they will just burn, you want clean edges all around).
Above: Trimming the bottom: Grabbing the fat and working your knife under it.
Above: Again, lifting the brisket with one hand to get a better angle to trim the fat.
Why Trim Brisket?
The main goal is to remove the majority of the fat cap, which is too thick to fully render under the low-and-slow smoking temperatures required for brisket tenderization.
Remember: If you don’t trim the fat cap, you’ll end up with large mouthfuls of fat that you’ll have to slice off regardless after the cook.