By Christie Vanover | Published March 3, 2023 | Last Updated March 16, 2023
Step-by-step photos and video showing how to trim a brisket from brisket champion pitmaster Christie Vanover.
This tutorial is for a whole packer brisket. I also have a tutorial that shows how to separate the brisket point and flat.
- Equipment needed to trim brisket
- The two sides of a brisket
- Remove the Edges
- Mark the brisket for later
- Remove most hard fat
- Remove the membrane
- Trimming the fat
- Trimmed Brisket
- How much weight is lost after trimming
- What to do with brisket trimmings
- Brisket Trimming Video
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Brisket Recipes
Equipment needed to trim brisket
- Knife Sharpener: Before you start trimming your brisket, sharpen your knives. I use an F. Dick Rapid Steel Action knife sharpener. I learned about it from my buddy Richard Fergola, a world-champion pitmaster.
- Butcher’s Knife: For me, the best knife for trimming brisket is my Cutco Butcher’s Knife. The arched, pointed blade allows me the dexterity to work with the meat, and it’s hefty enough to handle the big chunks of fat.
- Boning or Fillet Knife: For my secondary knife, I use the Cutco Boning Knife. This knife allows me to do the more detailed trimming like removing the membrane from the flat.
- Large Cutting Board: Make sure you have a cutting board that is large enough to handle a brisket. One that is 16 x 20 inches usually works. Look for one that has a little grip, so it doesn’t slide on the counter.
- Pan or Bowl: Finally, you’ll need a sheet pan or a couple of bowls where you’ll place your trimmings.
The two sides of a brisket
There are two notable differences between the two sides of a whole brisket.
The part of the pectoral muscle that lies toward the inside of the cow has more meat exposed; while the side that faces the exterior of the cow is covered with a thick layer of fat.
Remove the Edges
Start by removing the beef brisket from the packaging. Discard any liquid and pat it dry with several paper towels.
Place the thick fat cap-side down on your cutting board. Using a butcher’s knife, remove the two long edges and the shorter top edge from the side of the brisket.
While technically these edges are edible, you’ll notice that they may appear harder, a little shriveled and have some discoloration.
The reason for this discoloration is that this edge of the brisket is exposed when the carcass is split into sides, and these sides have various antimicrobial treatments applied to them such as organic acids (lactic acid is the most common), hot water, and/or steam pasteurization to destroy potential pathogens.
The application of these acids and/or heat will denature the color pigments in the meat causing this graying or browning appearance to develop. Application of antimicrobial treatments to beef carcasses is not new and has been used by the meat industry since the early 1990s to reduce the risk of E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella on beef.Texas A & M Agriculture and Life Sciences
Usually, I look to see if there is any salvageable meat or fat that isn’t discolored. Set that aside on a sheet pan or in a bowl, separating the meat from the fat. Then, discard the rest.
Mark the brisket for later
Once you smoke your brisket, it may be challenging to see which direction the muscle fibers run. It’s important to know this, because when slicing a cooked brisket, you should slice it against the grain to ensure each bite is tender.
While the brisket is raw, look at the grain direction. Slice off a little notch at the tip. This will give you a guide for slicing after the brisket is smoked.
Stay on that end of the brisket and look at the other corner. This end will likely be pretty thin. It’s best to slice this off, too. Otherwise, it will cook too fast and become leathery.
Once you remove this corner and the grain direction corner, save these pieces of meat for your ground brisket.
Look at the picture above. Unfortunately, it’s fairly common to find brisket with gashes in them. This usually happens during the butchering process. The flat muscle was either slashed with a knife as it was being broken down, or it was pulled with a meat hook.
Either way, there’s not much you can do about it. It won’t effect the flavor, but it will effect the appearance. Keep an eye out for those if you’re cooking a competition brisket.
Remove most hard fat
On the inside and sides of the brisket, you’ll see white chunks of harder fat. This fat will not render down as you cook your brisket. Therefore, it’s best to remove it.
Plus, it will block the tasty meat from being exposed to Brisket Rub and smoke.
But don’t throw the deckle away. Instead, place it on your pan with the other fat trimmings.
Remove the membrane
The final trim for the meat of the brisket is to remove a majority of the surface membrane, which is just a thin layer that lies over the flat muscle.
It’s not something you have to do, but removing it helps with bark formation.
The easiest way to remove it is to take your sharp boning knife. Place your hand under the brisket and lift it so it arches.
Then, run the tip of your knife under the membrane and slice away from you until it’s removed. You’ll have to do this step multiple times to get it all.
If you see streaks of white intramuscular fat, which is common in high-quality graded briskets, leave that fat. You just want to take off the top layer.
I admit, my membrane removal wasn’t super pretty in the above picture. If this was a competition brisket, I would have been way more precise.
Trimming the fat
Flip your brisket over so the fat side of the brisket is on top. This is the fatty side.
Before you start trimming, look around all sides. The goal is to have a final fat layer that is about 1/4-inch thick. If your fat layer is any thicker, it can block the smoke from penetrating the meat.
In the first picture, you see that the fat layer is about 1/2 to 3/4 inches thick. So we’re going to trim that down. In the second picture, there is just a little bit of fat. No need to trim there.
There is one more layer of fat you need to be mindful of. There is a layer of fat between the brisket point muscle and the flat muscle. If you look closely, you can see the flat muscle on the bottom, a layer of fat and then the point meat on top.
You don’t want to trim this layer of fat down to a 1/4-inch, otherwise, you’ll end up removing the point, and in my opinion, that’s the best meat on the brisket.
When trimming away the fat, it’s sometimes hard to tell if you’re going to cut too deep and expose the meat. If I expose point meat, I don’t worry about it. That muscle has so much intramuscular fat, it will do just fine.
I do however try to keep the flat end protected by a layer of fat.
PITMASTER PRO TIP: If you accidentally cut too deep into the fat over the flat and end up exposing the meat, you can just take a thin layer of fat and slap it right over the meat to re-cover it.
Remember, keep those fat trimmings.
Now that your brisket is trimmed, you should have a few piles of excess trimmings.
First, is your beautifully trimmed brisket that is ready to smoke.
Next, will be your piles of fat trimmings and meat trimmings.
Lastly, you should have a pile of pieces that you’ll just end up discarding. These include the edge pieces and membrane.
How much weight is lost after trimming
The amount of trimmings you have compared to your final trimmed brisket will vary.
The above brisket weighed 11 pounds. After it was trimmed, it weighed almost 6 pounds. But those 5 pounds aren’t all wasted.
In the end, I also had 1 1/2 pounds of meat trimmings, around 2 1/2 pounds of fat trimmings and less than a pound of trimmed waste. The rest of the weight that’s unaccounted for is liquid that was in the vacuum-sealed packaging. I toss that out.
So when it’s all said and done, less than 10% of the brisket is wasted, so long as you use the rest of the trimmings. If you toss the trimmings, you loose around 45% of the brisket.
What to do with brisket trimmings
You paid for those brisket trimmings, and prices of meat are nothing to laugh at. There are two things I do with my trimmings to make sure I get good use out of them.
I render down the brisket fat to make beef tallow. Tallow can be used for frying, searing and even baking.
With the leftover meat, I make ground brisket. It’s phenomenal in burgers, tacos and spaghetti. You can also use it to make Homemade Smoked Beef Sausage.
GCG Pro Pitmaster Tips
- Start with a cold brisket, this will make trimming easier
- Be sure to work with sharp knives
- Place a notch in one corner to mark the direction you’ll cut brisket slices after it’s cooked
- Leave about 1/4-inch of fat on the outside of the brisket
- Save and use your trimmings for tallow and ground beef
Brisket Trimming Video
Frequently Asked Questions
You want to use a large knife and a smaller, more precise knife. I use a butcher’s knife and a good boning knife, but you can also use a filet knife. No matter what you use, make sure you use a sharp knife. A dull knife will make the trimming process harder.
You’ll want to remove virtually all of the harder fat, leaving the fat seams between the point end and the flat meat. For the softer fat that covers one entire side of the whole packer brisket, trim that down to about 1/4 of an inch thickness.
You can buy different grades and breeds of briskets from your grocery store or butcher shop. choice briskets, prime briskets and wagyu briskets can all be trimmed using this method.
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