If you come from a family of meat-lovers, I’m sure most of your memories comprise of barbecues. I bet we all have memories of family members hanging around the grill, laughing and sharing stories. One of the most frequent and heated debates I remember is whether the meat should be cooked fat side up or down.
Now the brisket is truly one of the most mouth-watering cuts of meat you can grill or smoke. It is also the trickiest. If done wrong, you lose a piece of very fine meat. Worse, you might never develop a taste for it, which is just unfortunate. For ages, people have argued whether you should grill a brisket fat side up or down. We finally put rest to the debate.
- Why does the Debate Matter Anyway?
- Should You Cook Brisket Fat Side up?
- Why do Professionals Prefer Brisket Fat Side down?
- At the Crossroads: the Pros and Cons of Flipping
- The Factors to Consider When Choosing a Technique
- What do the Professionals Say about: Brisket Fat Side Up or Down?
Why does the Debate Matter Anyway?
I know what you’re thinking. If you aren’t much experienced in grilling meat, you probably think that it doesn’t matter as much. And if you are one of those people who gets assigned the grill at barbecues, you think you already have the best answer.
It is important to understand the necessity of knowing both sides (pun intended) of the story. For years, people have been smoking and grilling the brisket based on their own preconceived notions. On the other hand, people in professional competitions have been winning by doing the opposite. A cut of meat this fine deserves to be given thought to.
Should You Cook Brisket Fat Side up?
People have been cooking briskets the fat side up for years. The logic does have some weight. The theory is that the fat ‘cap’ of the brisket should be on the other side of the heat, allowing it to melt and seep down into the meat.
The biggest pro of cooking a brisket the fat side up is the idea that the meat will be more tender. That is the idea, however. The theory suggests that the fat will melt and seep into the meat, keeping it from getting too dry.
The problem with this theory, however, is that this is not exactly what happens. Meat does not have properties to ‘absorb’ fat like a sponge. Fat, in itself, is not capable of melting into the meat through and through. Most of it drips off the sides of the meat, taking the rub and spices added along with it.
It would take a lot of time and the absolute perfect amount of temperature and pressure to get meat to absorb fat completely. And this is not feasible for a lot of people.
Why do Professionals Prefer Brisket Fat Side down?
Therein lies the rub. If the meat does not sponge the fat, then why have it rub off your spices? This is why most professional chefs have turned the side.
The hardest part in cooking a good piece of meat is getting it at the exact right texture. Too much heat can dry it out, making it chewy and inedible. The layer of fat between the primary heat source and the meat keeps it from direct contact.
This means that the meat has a much better chance of getting evenly heated due to ambient, smoky heat, allowing for the seasoning to better merge with the meat. In professional cooking, presentation matters as well. And this way, the meat looks more presentable.
The straight acting radiant heat in the cooker might contribute to the drying out of some of the meat. Also if not given the proper amount of time, the meat might be undercooked or just unevenly heated.
At the Crossroads: the Pros and Cons of Flipping
In light of this debate, we have people who picked both sides. Seeing as both techniques have their considerable advantages, why not use both?
Flipping your brisket at regular intervals may prove to be more advantageous, giving you the best of either technique. Neither side will get more heat than the other. When flipped away, it will get the chance to expand and absorb as much fat as it can. And vice versa.
You lose a lot of heat every time you open the smoker to turn over the brisket. In order to let it get back to optimal temperature, you need to turn the side every two hours until the meat is fully prepared. This means a lot of time is to be put in, because of loss of heat.
This is no cavalier business. If flipped over not as often, the meat can come out not moist enough to be truly enjoyed.
The Factors to Consider When Choosing a Technique
A lot of factors need to be considered in order to get that perfect bit of cooked meat. Cooking briskets is truly no short of an art form. The three most crucial factors are as follows:
The Heat Source
The direction of the heat source has a big part to play in the result of the meat. Traditionally, the heat comes from the fat side down, which is why the debate began in the first place. However, some people use horizontal heat smokers, or offset smokers. What’s important is the total direct heat, and must always be factored in.
Most of the times, a meat cut comes out poorly even with a seasoned chef. This is because of the bad quality of the cooker. A cooker should have good conductive properties and thermal capacity in order to produce good quality meat.
This is really the hardest thing to factor because there is truly no accounting for taste. Always know your audience, and understand what kind of meat they would prefer.
What do the Professionals Say about: Brisket Fat Side Up or Down?
A general consensus in the professional world of brisket-burning is that the direction of the heat matters the most when deciding whether fat side should be up or down. A majority of them allow for the fat cap to face the source of the heat. In traditional cookers, fat-cap down got the general nod.
The two major professional users of fat side up are Arron Franklin and Ryan Heger. Although, you should know that in their cases they use offset smokers. The fat layer still faces the heat.
All in all, you can make the choice after a lot of thought, considering all the factors aforementioned. A good smoker can truly be a staunch ally for brisket enthusiasts. And offset smoker offers a great deal of control over your meat. If you’re in the market, our pick for a great product to have is here. Here’s the down-low of it all:
- Get a good cooker
- Understand the meat type and quality
- Use seasoning as a meat-moistening tool
- Know your audience!
Then, make a smart decision to go fat side up or down. There’s no hard and fast rule that you can use as a standard. You just have to consider all the factors, and hopefully get that perfect bit of cooked brisket.