How to Trim a Brisket

Trimming a brisket may not be the most fun thing to do in BBQ, but you’ll be glad you did.

To trim a brisket

Ah, brisket trimming. The joyful moments that come cutting off fat and silver skin. While it may not be the most exciting part of prepping a brisket, it is very important. You trim a brisket for multiple reasons: to enhance the smoke penetrating the meat, creating some tasty bark, and removing some thick portions of fat that don’t render.

There is one side of the brisket that has a bunch of fat on it, this is called the fat cap. The other side will have a lot less fat on it, but likely a bunch of silver skin. This tutorial will show you how to trim a brisket to maximize the experience.

Brisket anatomy

Before we go into the process of how to trim a brisket, I feel it is important for you to know the whole brisket, or packer cut, comes with two types of meat: the point and the flat. The point is the bigger chunk of meat that is covered under all of that thick fat. It is the softer, juicier portion of the cut and where burnt ends come from. The flat is the leaner portion that is long and thinner than the point. Here’s a visual to help:

Brisket diagram courtesy of

Now that we have that out of the way, let us proceed!

The fat side of the brisket

With some other cuts of meat, you want a layer of fat so it will render into the meat and provide more flavor. With the fat cap on the brisket, a lot of that is hard fat that does not render. If left on, it will make the meat absorb less smoke flavor, not to mention the prime real estate for eating that bark that develops over the cook. Most folks won’t want to eat a mouth full of fat, so no need to keep so much of it on.

The fat cap does not render while cooking, so trim it down to about 1/4 inch.

You have probably heard much advice on trimming a brisket, some involving cooking fat side up over fat side down. This is a topic up for much debate, but we will side step that one right now (but for the record, I like to cook mine fat side down). Some say trim the fat cap down to 1/2 inch. Others may trim it off completely. I prefer to trim it down to roughly 1/4 inch. That means there are some spots of the brisket that don’t get trimmed, and that’s okay. Just know that you will do more trimming near the point than anywhere else.

The other side

The other side of the brisket will be much leaner and contain the flat with meat surface mostly exposed, with the exception of some small spots of fat and a lot of silver skin. I find I spend about half of my trimming time on the silver skin. The best way to trim this is by taking the tip of your boning knife and poking just barely under the silver skin and above the meat. I like to go across the grain while doing this and then moving the blade down the grain in a sawing-like motion.

How the brisket looks before you trim off the silver skin.

If you cut a little layer of meat under that silver skin, it’s nothing to freak out about. It still happens to the self-proclaimed experts. It’s a small price to pay to get that meat surface exposed for more smoke flavor and better tasting meat.

How the brisket should look after you trim the silver skin.

Between the point and flat…

Speaking of the point, there’s a thick layer of fat that separates it from the flat. You may be tempted to carve deep into that. If you go too deep you may end up getting to a spot where you should just separate the two. Going too far in and putting your mix of rub in that cavity you created may cause your meat surface in that spot to get all goopy and gross. Fight off that urge to cut deep into it and only go a little bit in, about an inch or so.

What about the sides of the brisket?

Don’t forget to trim the sides!

I think everyone who has trimmed a brisket before can agree that you will want to trim down the fat on the sides. The excess fat does you no good and robs you of some awesome meat bark for your end result. Square off the sides as best as you can.

Then there’s the little flaps of meat

You will discover when you trim a brisket that it will excess flaps of meat hanging off, usually some little, skinny flaps on the flat and small chunks on the point. These are usually the result of how they are cut by the butcher before packaging. As much as you want to capitalize on all the meat that the brisket provides, these thin, smaller flaps of meat will burn to a crisp during cook and serve you no value. Do yourself a favor and trim these off.

There you have it! You’ve successfully trimmed a brisket! If it didn’t go the way you had hoped, don’t worry. The main goal here is the flavor of the brisket, not how pretty it looks pre-cook. Keep consistent with the trimming and I promise you’ll get better!

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