You may not be aware that there is one under-appreciated decision in the meat smoking process that can have a significant impact on the final taste and texture of your BBQ. The question of whether to cook brisket with the fat side up or down has long been a point of contention among meat smokers. In this essay, we will examine all sides of the debate and provide our final opinion.

The quick answer

Cook your brisket with the fat side down if you’re in a hurry and just want a quick and straightforward response to your question. Because the fire in most smokers emanates from the bottom, grilling brisket with the fat side down will insulate the meat from direct heat.

Furthermore, the fat will have a better chance of rendering and dripping onto your coals, vaporizing, and rising back up into your meat to flavor it. Most people can use the above answer, but if you have a horizontal offset style smoker or another type of grill that heats from above, it’s ideal to cook the brisket with the fat side up. The correct answer to this question is that the fat side of the brisket should face the heat source.

Brisket fat cap

Brisket is made from the animal’s chest. A layer of fat covers the side facing out toward the skin. The fat cap is the name given to this covering of fat. A fat cap is typically 1 inch thick, however, the thickness varies depending on the individual animal and how it was killed.

It’s worth noting that other parts of the brisket include substantial amounts of fat, but while looking for the fat cap, seek the side that is totally covered. When you’re smoking, this side should be facing down.

Should the brisket fat cap be taken out?

Raw Beef Brisket on Butcher Paper top view.

The fat cap should not be completely removed. Fat is taste, and a modest bit gives your brisket slices that burst of juiciness but too much fat gives those slices a mushy, slimy texture. While this is a matter of personal opinion, we recommend reducing the fat cap to 1/4 inch at the most, with a maximum of 1/2 inch.

The fat side

When you look at a brisket, you’ll see that one side has a thick layer of fat on it, while the other is quite lean. The “fat cap” refers to the fat that covers one side of the brisket. So a brisket’s “fat side” is the side of the brisket that is hidden by the fat cap.

Why do some people believe a brisket should be smoked fat side up?

The fat on top of the brisket begins to melt or render as it heats up, and the beef absorbs this fat, keeping it moist and basted by the melted fat. As the fat from the fat cap cooks, it helps to break down and tenderize the meat, leaving you with a tender and juicy brisket.

Pros and cons of cooking fat side up

If you cook your brisket fat side up, keep in mind that the fat acts as a heat screen to protect the beef. Fat side up is the way to go if your heat source is largely from the top, as it is with many horizontal offset smokers.

Because the bottom isn’t protected, it can dry out, so keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t get too dry. It usually produces a great barbeque bark. If it begins to dry out, wrap it in paper or foil to finish the cooking process.

Pros

  • Protects the meat from the heat coming from above
  • On the unprotected bottom, the bark thickens
  • Produces more fat 

Cons

  • As it melts, it washes away rub
  • As the fat drips down, slicing through it can result in greasy pieces of meat

What issues do we face with the theory?

The primary flaw in the foregoing theory is that meat does not absorb the melted fat. It isn’t going to act like a sponge. The melted fat will not mix with the water in the red meat since it contains water. Oil and water are incompatible. As a result, all of the rendered fat will drop down the sides of the meat and into the grease pan.

The second half of the argument is similarly incorrectthe fat is designed to tenderize the meat. It’s not the fat that tenderizes the meat. It’s the breaking down of the collagen that does it. Collagen, also known as the connective structures in meat that hold muscle fibers together, is broken down by a lengthy, low, and slow cooking process.

This lengthy, low, and slow cooking method is what allows the collagen to break down in the right amount of time and conditions, allowing the brisket to become tender. So let’s get one thing straight right now: the fat cap’s melting fat will not moisten, braise, baste, or tenderize your brisket. The entire hypothesis presented above is a pure fabrication.

The melting fat from the fat cap will not only not bast, tenderize, or adequately moisten your meat, but it will also wash away some of the brisket rub you painstakingly seasoned your brisket with as it pours down the side of the brisket. That means your spice will end up in the melted fat in the oil pan or on the fire, rather than on the brisket.

Furthermore, grilling the brisket with the fat side up has the drawback of not producing the most visually or aesthetically appealing brisket. This is because the presentation side of the brisket will be down, in touch with the grill grate, preventing the formation of that gorgeous uniform bark.

If you’re wondering what “bark” on a brisket is, it’s that extremely delectable brown crust on the beef that should form as a result of chemical reactions between the spice rub you used to season the meat, the protein in the meat, and the smoke and heat from the smoker. 

However, if the brisket is cooked with the fat side up, a uniform bark will not form, resulting in a brisket that does not look as appealing as it could. Furthermore, the presentation side of the meat may become stuck to the barbecue grate, potentially ruining the appearance of your brisket.

Is it possible to cook with the fat side down?

man in black crew neck t-shirt with red paint on face

There are several advantages to cooking your brisket with the fat side down. Not only does it avoid all of the issues that come with cooking with the fat side up, such as the brisket’s spice rub washing away, the difficulty to build a uniform bark, and the brisket’s unsightly and less appetizing appearance.

What happens when brisket is cooked fat side down?

A majority of expert brisket smokers prefer cooking a brisket fat side down, and they have an excellent reason for doing so. 

  • The layer of surplus fat on the brisket insulates the meat from the direct heat of the coals, which is one of the biggest advantages of cooking a brisket fat side down. The meat’s tenderness and juiciness are preserved, while the top layer, which is the lean side, becomes a uniform bark.
  • Furthermore, some of the fat from the brisket clearly melts and falls onto the hot coals, producing delicious-smelling smoke. This is absorbed by the flesh, giving the brisket a delectable smokey flavor.
  • Cooking the brisket fat side down also ensures that whatever flavor you use stays on the brisket and isn’t washed away by the melting fat.

Pros and cons of cooking fat side down

I discovered that more individuals like to smoke their brisket fat side down throughout my investigation. The most important reason is to keep the meat from burning when using UDS, vertical, bullet, or Kamado style smokers, when the heat source is below. These are the most common varieties of smokers used by both competitive and home smokers.

Another reason to smoke the brisket fat side down is because fat absorbs smoke differently than meat. Some pitmasters spritz the meat with a water or juice spray bottle every now and then. They believe it aids with moisture retention, but mostly in allowing the smoke to adhere and produce a nicer bark.

As a result, the fat cap should be lowered to make spritzing the flesh side on top simpler. Others believe that with the meat side up, they obtain a superior bark formation whether they spritz or not. Finally, fat does not adhere to the grate as much as meat does, which is another reason to cook fat side down. If the meat sticks to the plate, it will detract from your display.

Pros

  • Improved bark formation
  • It shields the meat from the heat at the bottom.
  • The meat side will not stick to the grill grates.

Cons

  • If the meat is cooked at a high temperature, it has the potential to dry out.

Why is it better to cook fat side down?

Most of the time, grilling brisket fat side down improves the flavor and appearance.

It’s best to eat the fat side down

Because the fat is on the bottom, it will not wash away the seasoning as it melts, thus the bark will keep all of the flavors you added. Furthermore, the smoke formed when the fat collides with the hot coals will enhance the flavor of the meat.

The heat in most cookers originates from beneath the meat. Insulation is provided by fat. As your meat cooks, the fat that does not melt protects it from the strong heat of the fire. As a result, your meat will not become dry.

It’s aesthetically pleasing

A hand sliced Brisket on a wood cutting board.

When smoking a brisket, the ultimate goal is to achieve a thick licorice bark. A good-looking brisket has a uniform licorice bark. The Maillard reaction requires the flesh to dry out in order for the proteins on the surface to bond.

With the fat side up, your rub will be constantly washed away, preventing the formation of bark.

Cooking your brisket with the fat side down allows the bark to form uniformly, giving your brisket that distinct metorite aspect.

Keep the brisket safe from the flames

The most common purpose for smoking a brisket fat side down is to protect the brisket’s flesh from the heat. Even if you’re cooking it hot and fast, smoking a brisket takes a long time. If the meat side is exposed to the fire, it is more likely to dry out or get bitter as a result of the exposure to dirty smoke.

When the fat side is exposed to the fire, it can withstand the heat while the meat side cooks slowly. Because most smokers get their heat from beneath the meat, it’s best to put the fat side down. A heat diffuser between the meat and the flames is common in smokers, although it makes no difference. 

The heat diffusers become hot and emit a lot of infrared radiation. You’ll want to keep the fat side of the brisket down in the following types of smokers:

With offset smokers, where the heat pours over the top of the meat, the “fat side down” rule is disregarded.  But what about smokers that run on electricity or propane? For these smokers, the fat side down rule still applies. Even though the heat is “gentler” than a traditional fire-based cooker, you want the fat side down when smoking a brisket in a Masterbuilt electric smoker. 

What’s the source of your heat?

We’ve already mentioned it, but the source of the heat for your cooker is the deciding element when deciding whether to cook your brisket fat side up or fat side down. Because most of the heat emanates from the bottom, it’s best to cook fat side down.

However, there are certain exceptions. Horizontal offset smokers, for example, draw heat from above. In that situation, you’ll want to use the fat cap’s insulative capabilities to protect the meat from the top. As a result, the fat side up is the way to go.

So take a look at your cooker, figure out where the heat is coming from, and you’ll be well on your way to figuring out how to sit your brisket. It’s still a good idea to make sure the meat’s uncovered side isn’t drying out. If this is the case, you can wrap the brisket in foil or butchers paper midway through the cooking process.

Pros and cons of flipping a brisket

Doing both is a compromise to the up or down argument. Some chefs prefer to cook the meat with the fat side down for the first half of the cooking time before flipping it. They believe it produces a consistent bark and allows the spices to penetrate the meat. If you know your smoker has hotspots or an uneven temperature gradient from top to bottom or side to side, flipping and rotating your brisket is sometimes a smart idea.

If one section of your smoker is hotter than another, the meat in that section will cook faster, dry out faster, and be overdone before the meat in the cooler section is finished. This is especially true with offset smokers, where the side facing the fire is frequently hotter. 

During a long cook, flipping and rotating is a great technique to equal out the exposure to the greater heat and create a more even cooking. In a horizontal smoker, it also allows one end of the meat to rest and absorb moisture while it is away from the fire.

Pros

  • Produces a more consistent bark
  • In a cooker with an uneven temperature gradient, this aids in even cooking.
  • Meat side is less likely to dry out

Cons

  • If you cook the meat with the fat side up first, it may adhere to the grill grate.
  • Flipping the brisket might cause the fat to rip and the meat to leak extra moisture.

Using a vertical smoker, one inventive cook places his brisket fat side down on the bottom rack above the water pan, in a variation on the flip notion. The trimmings are then placed on the rack above it, allowing the fat to melt and drip over it while it cooks. As a result, he has fat on both sides of his body, which helps him retain more moisture.

Is it important what kind of smoker you’re using?

Fresh Brisket BBQ beef sliced for serving against a dark background. Generous accommodation for copy space. American style

The answer to the fat side up or down question, in our opinion, lies with your grill. Understanding how heat passes to your brisket can help you decide where to put it in the smoker.

Radiant and convection heat are the two types of heat produced by your smoker. Consider standing in the midst of the summer on a desert roadway. The image shimmers and moves as you look down the road, like a pond’s reflection. The air is being heated by convection heat from the road surface. Convection heat in your smoker gently circulates the smoke around the brisket.

Radiant heat, unlike convection heat, travels in a straight line from the sun to the road and your forehead. It moves straight from the coals to anything is in front of it in the smoker, such as your brisket, the fire box wall, or a basin of water.

Many pitmasters position their briskets with the fat and point facing the heat source.  You’ll put the brisket fat side down in any vertical smoker that gets heat from the bottom, such as a Kamado, Weber Smokey Mountain, ProQ, or UDS.

Heat and smoke are diverted under the meat via a baffle in offset smokers before rising and circulating on top of the meat. The majority of the heat will radiate downhill from above and from one side.

In the case of horizontal smokers like offset wood burners and pellet smokers, the fat side up strategy may be the best option. Take note though that nothing is set in stone when it comes to smoking. Everyone has their own style of cooking based on their own personal experiences. I’ve tried to learn how different pitmasters prepare their briskets.

Final thoughts

After a few briskets have been cooked, you will observe that the area of the brisket closest to the heat becomes dryer. Of course, not every smoker is the same. Turning the fat down will help protect the meat from the heat if the heat is directly beneath the brisket. Melting fat, on the other hand, adds moisture to the meat, so if you have an offset smoker, keep the fat up, but rotate the brisket so that one side isn’t always closest to the fire.

The exposure of the meat to heat is evened out by flipping the brisket. Because the airflow within any smoker is uneven, leaving the brisket in one spot for an extended period of time may cause portion of it to dry out. At least once during the cooking process, flip and rotate your brisket. If you want the fat to protect the meat from the fire, cook it fat side down for the most part. 

We hope our little article helped you. Happy smoking!