Barbecue Beef Brisket

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Barbecue Beef BrisketBarbecue Beef Brisket

This barbecue beef brisket recipe will show you how to make the king of barbecue meats: Beef Brisket.

Now that's exciting!

I've had beef brisket before, but few have quite the flavor that you'll get when you make this recipe. The seasonings, the wood and the techniques that I'm about to show you will help you turn out a world class beef brisket.

What You Need to Know Before You Barbecue Beef Brisket

Beef brisket is a funny piece of meat. It's the pectoral muscle of the cow, or more appropriately, the steer. (The best beef comes from the male of the bovine species; the steer. We'll use the term cow because that's the term that most people associate with beef.) 

The brisket is the chest muscle. It runs across the animals chest and up under the neck. Since the cow stands on four legs, this muscle gets quite a workout, holding the animal up and helping it get around. It's actually the second toughest cut of meat on a cow. The toughest cut is the shank. (The muscles on the top of an animal are more tender than the ones lower down. That's what "eating high on the hog" means: when you eat high on the hog, or steer, you're eating the more tender cuts. The muscles at the bottom of an animal do more heavy lifting and are thereby tougher).

A full brisket, often called a packer brisket or full packer brisket, is actually two muscles; the flat and the point. The flat is the thinner, leaner portion of the brisket. The point is the thicker, fattier portion at the other end of the brisket. The fact that it's one of the toughest cuts of beef, the grain of the meat runs in different directions, and that one muscle is thin and lean and the other one is thick and fatty, make cooking this cut of meat a bit of a challenge.

But have no fear. Just pay attention to your brisket, take your time, and you can have a barbecue beef brisket that melts in your mouth.

How to Choose a Beef Brisket to Barbecue

When choosing a beef brisket to barbecue, there are some factors to consider;

  • How Big is The Brisket? - Generally, bigger is better. A bigger brisket has less chance of drying out. It also takes longer to barbecue a beef brisket that's bigger, so you get better bark formation.
  • Even Thickness - When choosing a brisket, pick one that has a thick flat. A brisket will never have the same thickness from flat to point, but if the flat is really thin, it will be overcooked by the time the point is done.
  • The Grade of Meat - Briskets are a tough cut of meat. You need some fat in there to help break everything down and keep the meat moist. Higher grade meats have more fat in them.
  • Marbling. After you've found the highest grade beef brisket you can get your hands on, make sure you pick one that has the most marbling. It may be hard to tell because of the fat cap. Turn the brisket over and look at the flat to determine how much marbling the meat has. Also look at the sides by the point, you should be able to see any marbling there.
  • Age. Speaking of turning the brisket over. Full packer briskets come cryovaced. This is what you want. You get several benefits buying it this way:
  1. You can see the marbling through the package.
  2. You can feel the cut. A brisket with more soft fat and marbling will give more and be more flexible and floppy.
  3. Cryovaced meats can keep longer. If you can, buy the brisket ahead of time and age it for 2-3 weeks after the pack date, or up to the expiration date, in your fridge. This helps to tenderize the meat.

Trimming a Brisket

There are several lines of thought on trimming a beef brisket:

  1. Some people pull the brisket out of the cryovac, apply a rub and throw it on the smoker.
  2. Others trim all the fat, along with large chunks of meat before rubbing and cooking. Usually this is done for barbecue competitions.
  3. Still others leave a small layer of fat, about 1/8"-1/4" thick.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each method. Trimming your brisket always helps you turn out a better product. Before you barbecue beef brisket, you should trim it. Here's why...

  • There are huge chunks of hard fat that will not render. A little fat on a steak that's grilled is tasty, this fat is not. Nobody wants a huge glob of fat in their meat.
  • Removing the fat located on the sides of the brisket, between the point and the flat, will reduce the thickness of the point. This will help the brisket cook evenly.
  • A thick fat cap will not render or develop a good bark. It also blocks the rub from flavoring the meat.

Your Main Objective

When trimming a beef brisket for your barbecue, your main objectives are:

  •  Leave a 1/4" layer of fat
  • Remove the large chunks of fat at the point.
  • Remove the silver skin.
  • Square up the brisket to make it aerodynamic and promote even cooking.

The Art of Butchery

Butchery is definitely based on the science of anatomy, but there is a bit of art involved in learning the skill. No two briskets, or any other cut of meat are exactly the same.

It's gonna take some experience and "feel" before you become proficient at trimming meat. I will explain it to you, but you do have to pay attention to the cut of meat and follow the natural lines and contours of the meat.

Meat feels different than fat when you're cutting it. Bone feels altogether different than meat or fat. (Fortunately, there's no bones in a beef brisket.) This is where the feel part comes in. You will use your hands to feel where the fat ends and the meat begins.

Don't worry, with a little practice, you'll have it down. Even if you mess up and trim too much, or not enough, it's okay. You'll still have a very good barbecue beef brisket, and you'll learn how to do it better next time.

Tools of The Trade

You will need a few things to trim your brisket. First, you'll need a very sharp, thin knife. I use a stiff boning knife, pictured below. It's very cool and works great!

Boning KnifeMy Boning Knife

For more on boning knives and other barbecue tools you need, check out my barbecue tools page.

You'll also need an extra large cutting board. (Tip: Place a damp kitchen towel under you cutting board to keep it from moving around. This makes your life much easier and is safer than having your cutting board moving all over the counter). If you don't have an extra large cutting board, you can use your kitchen countertop, just make sure it's clean. (Make sure you clean and sanitize your board and/or counter afterwards).

And finally, you're gonna need a relaxed attitude and some patience. Trimming a brisket is not hard, you just need to take your time and learn as you go.

Remember: Safety is of the utmost importance. Stay calm and take your time. If you get flustered and agitated, you may end up cutting yourself!  

How to Trim a Beef Brisket


Note: These are the steps that I take. You can do them in any order that you like. Remember: your goal is to leave a 1/4"-1/8" layer of fat on your brisket. However you get that done is up to you. After you've trimmed a few briskets, you may feel more comfortable doing it in a different way than I do. That's fine. Do it the way that makes you the most comfortable and helps you achieve the result you're looking for.


Place the brisket on your cutting board with the bottom (the fat cap side) face up.

1) Trim away the fat on the sides of the brisket. Taking a look at the sides of the brisket, when you trim the fat, will give you some idea of how thick the fat cap is.

Trimming the side of a beef brisketTrimming the Side of a Beef Brisket

2) Feel the fat cap to gauge how thick the fat is. Trim the fat cap to about 1/4" thickness. This is pretty straight forward; use your hands to feel the fat cap. This helps you tell you how much fat there is. Trim with your knife to about 1/4" thickness.

Trimming the fat cap on a beef brisketTrimming the Fat Cap on a Beef Brisket
Trimming the fat cap on a beef brisketTrimming the Fat Cap on a Beef Brisket

3) Remove the large chunks of fat on the sides of the beef brisket where the point and the flat meet. There are large chunks of fat on the sides of the brisket near the point. Sometimes there is a large chunk of fat at the end of the point as well. This is hard fat. It does not taste good and will not render well. This hard fat should be removed.

You can see this large chunk of fat in the picture below. It's a couple of inches thick and runs into the brisket a few inches into a v shape. It may be just a few inches in, or it may run completely under the point. Feel with your hand to gauge how big it is and how it runs into the brisket.

Beef brisket in Cryovac packagingBeef Brisket in Cryovac Packaging

Use your knife to remove this fat. Just start at the top and trim away. Then cut away from the bottom side to remove this fat. It's shaped like a v, so this is how you'll want to cut it out. See the photos below.

Removing fat from the point of a beef brisketRemoving Fat From the Point of a Beef Brisket
Removing fat from the point of a beef brisketRemoving Fat From the Point of a Beef Brisket
Fat that has been removed from the point of a beef brisketFat That Has Been Removed From the Point of a Beef Brisket

Do the same to the other side. If the fat runs under the point from one side to the other, remove it.

4) Remove the silver skin. Turn the brisket over so the top (the meat side) is facing you. (See the picture below) The silver skin is the tough, silver colored membrane on top of the meat. See those streaks of fat? The silver skin sometimes runs under those streaks of fat as well. If there is silver skin under the fat remove it. If not, just trim that fat to 1/4". The brisket in the photo actually has very little silver skin.

Top side of a beef brisketTop Side of a Beef Brisket

Remove the silver skin by putting you boning knife under it, angle your knife slightly upwards in the direction that your cutting. Hold the silver skin tight with your non cutting hand and cut up against the silver skin to remove it while saving as much meat as possible.

Removing the silver skin from a beef brisketRemoving the Silver Skin From a Beef Brisket

5) Trim the flat. Even out the Brisket. If the end of the flat is less than an inch or so thick, cut the thin portion off so it's at least about an inch thick. The flat on this brisket is pretty thick, so we're not going to trim it. If the brisket is wider on one end then tapers down, trim it so it's a rectangular shape.

Some people cut an end off of the flat across the grain. This is done so they know how to slice the brisket when it's done. Because of the bark formation, it's difficult to tell how the grain runs after the brisket is cooked. A simple solution to this? Take a picture of the brisket before you cook it. Simply refer back to picture before slicing.

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Barbecue Beef Brisket Recipe

Note: Barbecue beef brisket comes from Texas. They cook it there in big offset pits using oak wood. This is the wood that you should use. If you can't get oak wood, a 50/50 combination of apple and hickory works very well as a close second.

Cooking time for a Barbecue Beef Brisket is about 1 ½ hours per pound @ 250°F. That means a 10-12 pound brisket will take 15-18 hours to cook.

The time estimates for this barbecue beef brisket recipe and all the recipes at Barbecue-Know-How.com are estimates. Never use time to gauge when something is done cooking.

Experienced pit masters can tell when a brisket is done by the “feel” of the meat. It feel loose and floppy, with an almost jelly like consistency.

Most people can't tell when something's done by feel, that's okay, that's what thermometers are for. After awhile, you'll know what a properly cooked brisket feels like. For this recipe, you want your barbecue beef brisket to finish at an internal temperature of 203°F.

  1. The night before you barbecue, trim your brisket. See the guide above.
  2. Apply the rub evenly on all sides of the meat. It takes about 1/2 cup to season a 10-12 pound beef brisket. Save 2 tablespoons of the rub for the beer mop.
  3. Place the brisket, uncovered, in your refrigerator. Refrigerate overnight.
  4. Remove your beef brisket from the refrigerator and set at room temperature for 1 hour. Meanwhile, heat your barbecue to 250°F.
  5. Barbecue your beef brisket at 250°F for about 13-16 hours. If using a mop, apply every 1½ - 2 hours. Make sure the brisket is dry before applying more mop.
  6. About an hour or two before your brisket is done cooking, wrap in butcher paper or parchment paper and return it to your cooker. Cook an additional 1-2 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 203°F.
  7. Remove the barbecue beef brisket from you cooker and let rest, in the paper, for 30-45 minutes.
  8. Remove the paper. Slice against the grain. (Use the picture you took as a reference) Serve with Texas Barbecue Sauce or any Barbecue Sauce you like and some of the meat juices.
  9. Enjoy the best barbecue beef brisket you've ever had.
Sliced Barbecue Beef BrisketSliced Barbecue Beef Brisket

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