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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Barbecue Secret Number 6 - Beef Brisket Fat Cap Up or Down?

Beef Brisket Barbecued Old Virginia Style

Untrimmed beef brisket, nowadays usually referred to as a full packer brisket, is made of at least two muscles. The flatter more lean portion (the section to the right in the photo) is called the flat. The thicker more marbled portion is referred to as the point or the deckle (the "pointy" portion on the left in the photo). One side of the brisket is covered in a layer of fat called the fat cap (on the bottom of the brisket in the photo to the left).

There is an ongoing debate among barbecue cooks about whether brisket should be cooked fat cap up or fat cap down. Those who say fat cap up claim that as the fat renders it bastes the meat helping to make it more moist and tender. Many of those who say brisket should be cooked fat cap down claim that there is no way that fat rendered from the fat cap can penetrate the meat so they cook fat cap down because, according to them, it makes for better bark on the finished brisket.

Well, here is the real answer to the debate. Barbecue Secret number 6 - When barbecuing brisket, make sure the fat cap is facing the heat source.

I have several barbecue cookers. One of my favorites is my Ugly Drum Smoker or UDS. It is what's known as a vertical smoker. It's called that because the heat source sits in the bottom of the drum with a heat diffuser sitting between the fire and the meat sitting on a grate above. Heat flows vertically through the smoker.

I also have a Jambo pit. A Jambo is a horizontal smoker. It's called that because the fire (heat source) is in a firebox that's connected to the side of the cooking chamber. Heat flows from the fire box horizontally through the cooking chamber and out the chimney. For all practical purposes, in a horizontal smoker like the Jambo, the heat from the fire flows over the meat rather from under it as is the case in a vertical smoker.

What I have learned through trial and error cooking on both types of smokers is that in order to produce the best barbecued brisket, make sure the fat cap is facing the heat source. That means fat cap on the bottom in a vertical smoker and fat cap on top in a horizontal smoker.

The fat really doesn't melt and baste the meat when cooking fat cap up. That makes for a good story when you are selling barbecue, but it isn't a way to make a better brisket. The truth is, the fat cap acts as a shield from direct heat which is the real culprit that dries out the brisket. So, make sure the fat cap on your brisket is facing the fire.

Best of both worlds - Some even flip brisket during the cook. For example, if cooking on a horizontal smoker, they will start the brisket off fat cap up. Then, about half way through the cook, they will flip the brisket over to let the bark become a little more developed. This strategy can also produce some really good brisket. The idea is to use the fat cap as a shield against excessive heat. Don't get caught up in the "fat cap up, fat cap down" debate. Use the fat cap to your advantage!

For more Barbecue Secrets Click Here.


  1. great site, recommended it on FB, A must read for new cooks! Will save them lots of time and mistakes that all new cooks make

  2. I love your blog .This is a cool site and I wanted to post a little note to tell you, good job! Best wishes!!!
    Beef brisket recipes

  3. How much of the fat cap - if any- do you trim on a packer straight out of the cryovac?

  4. Nice blog and the details about it really interesting.
    I liked your blog.

    Easy smoked Brisket Recipe

  5. This looks absolutely amazing! I wish I could some Dallas bbq like that. Unfortunately, the barbeque near me is either subpar or always has a long wait. Not that I mind waiting, but perhaps I should work toward learning how to cook my own bbq like you have!