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Brisket Fat Side Up Or Down?

We're Here To Answer The Long Debated Question Once And For All.

Always smoke brisket with the fattiest side facing down.

We wanted to answer this pressing brisket question right away, in case you're about to toss one on your Traeger.

The debate over fat side up or fat side down has raged in the barbecue community for years, joining other healthy discussions like "How long should you let steak rest after cooking?" and "What's the best target internal temperature for smoked brisket?" (The answers are 5 minutes and 203 degrees Fahrenheit -- in case you were wondering.)

Like most good debates, the debate over brisket orientation leads us into the realms of both art and science. Chemistry is involved, but so is simple eye appeal. Let's dive in.

What Is the Brisket Fat Cap?

Brisket comes from the chest of the animal. The side facing out toward the skin, is covered with a layer of fat. This layer of fat is called the fat cap. A fat cap is usually around 1-inch thick, but the exact thickness of the layer will depend on the individual animal and how it was butchered.

Note that other sections of the brisket also contain somewhat large sections of fat, but when you are looking for the fat cap, look for the side that is completely covered. This side should face down when you are smoking.

Should You Remove the Brisket Fat Cap?

You should not totally remove the fat cap. Fat is flavor, and a small amount lends that burst of juiciness to your brisket slices -- but too much fat would give those slices more of a mushy, slimy mouthfeel.

While this is a personal preference, we recommend trimming the fat cap to 1/4 inch with 1/2 inch at the most.

Here's barbecue expert Matt Pittman showing you how to trim the brisket fat cap.

Should You Cook Brisket Fat Side Up or Down?

Cook brisket fat-side down.

Does Fat Braise Brisket?

One stated reason for smoking brisket with the fat-side up is to add moisture to the meat. When fat heats, it begins to melt which is a process also known as rendering. When a brisket is cooked fat-side up, the rendered fat trickles down over the meat.

However, this melted fat does not add any moisture to the meat, or naturally braise the meat. The meat contains water, and fat is a type of oil. As you learned in third grade science class, oil and water don't mix.

Why Should You Cook Brisket Fat Side Down?

The two main reasons to cook brisket fat side down: It will taste better, and it will look better.

Fat-Side Down Keeps Seasoning on the Brisket Where It Belongs

As mentioned above, the fat cap will render as the brisket cooks. If you smoke with the fat cap up, that rendered fat will drip down the meat. As it flows over the meat surface, it can wash away all the delicious seasoning you put on your brisket -- sending it down through the grill grates. You want that seasoning on your taste buds, not charring the bottom of your smoker.

Fat-Side Down Makes Your Brisket Look Better

The most important part of the appearance of smoked brisket is the bark. The bark is the slightly crispy, deep mahogany surface of the brisket that forms due to the Maillard reaction. This vital chemical reaction brings out the smells and tastes we associate with cooked meat.

The Maillard reaction happens when meat dries out and proteins on the surface begin to bind. This reaction is why boiled beef will look grey and unappetizing -- the surface never has a chance to dry out.

If the brisket is cooked with the fat cap up, it means the bark is forming on the surface smacked against the grill grates. The grates can cause the bark to form unevenly, or not form at all. Not only that, you won't be able to see the bark as it forms. You want that presentation side exposed to the dry air, so you can monitor the eye appeal of your brisket.

Smoked Brisket Recipes

Now that you know how to place your brisket, here are some ways to smoke it.

Smoked Midnight Brisket

Why midnight brisket? Because this extremely low and slow method takes a full 12 hours. Preparation is simple, thanks to a blend of Traeger's top seasonings.

Cook time: 12 hours

Serves: 6

Ingredients

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon Traeger Beef Rub

1 teaspoon Traeger Chicken Rub

1 teaspoon Traeger Blackened Saskatchewan Rub

1 (4 to 6 pounds) flat cut brisket

1 cup beef broth

Texas-Style Smoked Beef Brisket

This brisket from competition barbecue champion Doug Scheiding gets injected with a special formula for maximum flavor and tenderness.

Cook time: 18 hours

Serves: 6

Ingredients

1 (12 to 15 pounds) brisket

2/3 cup Butcher BBQ Prime Brisket Injection

2 cups water

2 tablespoons canola oil

1½ cups apple juice

1 cup Traeger Prime Rib Rub

1 cup Traeger Coffee Rub

4 tablespoons ground black pepper

Smoked Brisket With Traeger Coffee Rub

A not-so-secret ingredient — our savory and spicy coffee rub — blends perfectly with the strong flavor of brisket.

Cook time: 9 hours

Serves: 8

Ingredients

1 (15 pounds) beef brisket

1/4 cup Traeger Coffee Rub, divided

15 ounces beef broth

4 tablespoons salt, divided

Competition-Style BBQ Brisket

More Brisket Tips and Tricks

How to Smoke a Brisket

This article has all the information you need whether it's your first smoke or fiftieth. See step-by-step photo instructions for how to trim the brisket, times and temperatures, and a big list of helpful tips.

How and When to Wrap Brisket

The dreaded stall can stop your smoke in its tracks. Evaporation on the surface of the brisket can cause surface cooling, preventing the meat's internal temperature from going much higher than 165 degrees Fahrenheit. The solution: Wrap the brisket to trap heat. Read more about the how and why.

How to Slice Brisket

After double-digit hours of cooking -- plus a lengthy rest -- it's time to dig in. But you can still make your brisket even better by slicing it properly. See the correct equipment, the ideal technique, and how to identify the direction to cut.

Brisket Recipes & Guides

See our smoked brisket recipe and tips for anyone who plans on smoking a brisket, from expert grillmasters to beginners.