Should You Cook Brisket Fat Side Up or Down?

Jason Webster
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What Is the Debate About?

Brisket is a cut of meat from the breast or lower chest area of beef or veal. The debate centers around whether or not to cook brisket fat side up or down.

There are two schools of thought regarding cooking brisket. One method calls for placing the fat side up, the other method calls for placing the fat side down.

Here are some reasons why you could choose fat side up or down:

Cooking brisket fat side down has been a traditional method for cooking brisket for thousands of years and is favored by many cooks.

Cooking brisket fat side up is the more recent method which keeps the meat juicy and moist and is favored by some cooks due to easier clean up.

So, which way is the best?

The correct answer is that it depends on the type of barbecue you cook most often and preference.

I cook mostly on a gas grill with one side of the grill covered in a smoker box. I have enough room to cook brisket either way and can keep the grill set at the same temperature for either method.

Cooking brisket fat side down is common because it insulates the meat, keeping it from drying out. It also makes it easier to keep the fire burning evenly. And when placed fat side down, the fat renders into the meat, adding to the flavor.

Why Cook Brisket Fat Side Up?

Traditionally, the fat side of the meat is always facing down. This is to ensure that flame heat is reflected upon the meat surface instead.

However, this is not the case in contemporary barbeque grilling. The reason why the “fat side down” method is not recommended is because of the formation of a layer of gray, sooty smoke that accumulates from burning fat, combined with the moisture steam escape.

The smoke causes the meat to become “smoky” and charred. These are the typical flavors of brisket that some people just love. But unfortunately, not everyone wants this kind of taste.

If you are a fan of this “smoky” taste, by all means, cook your brisket fat side down.

But for those who want a juicy and tender meat, cooking the fat side up is the way to go. For beginners in brisket grilling, it is recommended that the first 2-3 cooking sessions that you do, you specifically prepare the brisket for fat side down cooking. This will help reduce the risk of charring, which can ruin the flavor of the meat.

Why Many Say Fat Side Down is Better

When barbecuing, many people will tell you that you should put the brisket fat side up. Doing so, they say, will prevent the meat from becoming too moist.

But there are others who say that putting the fat side down will prevent the fat from entirely burning during the cooking process.

So, which is it?

The short answer is, it’s not a rule. You can and should flip the brisket over during the cooking process.

To break it down a bit more, the fat acts as an insulator, which means that it keeps the meat from getting over-cooked and drying out. The problem with having the fat side up is that the upper surface has more surface area compared to the lower part. With this, there is more potential for the exposed meat to lose moisture.

Alternatively, by placing the meat’s fat side down, the higher temperature of the surface is decreased, thus preventing the surface from overcooking while the areas that have lesser surface area gets cooked nicely.

Where’s your heat coming from?

When my wife makes brisket, she always turns it over during the cooking process. She claimed that it helps the brisket to cook evenly.

But why does she turn it over always?

Brisket, which is cut from the breast of the cow’s chest, is a fattier piece of meat.

Since the fat is on the front of the brisket, it will cook quicker than the lean meat.

The brisket fat cooks faster due to the heat source coming from above. By flipping the brisket over, the heat source also shifts from above to below, solving the uneven cooking problem.

In addition to cooking an evenly done brisket, it also allows the fat to render out, making your dried beef a little leaner. Reworking some of the fat off allows you to trim off the menacing “fat” on the brisket before serving.

By arranging the fat on the back of the brisket in a way that the heat source is coming from above, you are also able to retain the natural flavor of the brisket.

What The Pros Say About Fat Up or Down

Cooking meat fat-side down may seem like a good way to keep the fat from splattering on the grill.

But two of the most respected cooking authorities have a different opinion.

Many barbecuers think that grilling a brisket fat side down will help avoid flare-ups and keep the meat from drying out. They may also place the fat side up to get a moist texture.

The barbecue authorities Chef John Manion and Steven Raichlen have different opinions on the subject.

Chef John Manion, author of Barbecue The Way to Grill, believes the fat side should always be down when grilling.

He states:

The fat side of the brisket should always be down on the grill or in the oven so that the fat renders and bastes the brisket.

Ready when it quits sputtering.

Chef Steven Raichlen, author of The Barbecue! Bible also believes that the fat should always be down.

He writes:

The fat side should always be down, so that it may melt and baste the meat as it cooks.

Raichlen believes that fat dripping down onto the coals can be put to good use because:

The fat dripping down onto the coals will cause them to sizzle. This not only adds flavor, it also helps to speed up the cooking process.

How to Care for Your Cast Iron Grill Grates

Cast iron grates are the hardest wearing and most durable grates that you can get. They will last for years before showing any signs of wear.

They also provide the best grilling results, so are definitely worth keeping in good shape.

To do this, the first thing to do is keep your grates oiled. This helps prevent rust and makes them resistant to high heat.

You can simply rub a little olive oil on the bars – drop by drop – and leave them to dry for an hour or so before putting the grates in your BBQ.

You can also use cast iron grill cleaner. This will remove any residue from previous cooking and help to ensure your grates stay looking like new.

As your grates get older and start to lose some of their flexibility, you will also need to help them out. That means giving them an annual reapplication of iron grill treatment.

By doing this, you will get your cast iron grates in peak condition again. In a nutshell, it’s important that you regularly treat your cast iron grill grates to maintain flexibility and maintain their corrosion resistance. Use this tip accordingly with the age of your cast iron grates.