The importance of trimming brisket

Mise en place is a restaurant term that means “everything in it’s place”. It’s a kitchen adage to make sure that when a cook starts a recipe he or she doesn’t go looking for an ingredients half way through cooking that just so happens to be out of stock that day. It can also be a noun referring to the specific prepped vegetables, herbs, garnish, or anything else on a particular station; ingredients half prepped, waiting for an order fire to be assembled into a finished dish. In barbecue terms (specifically brisket), mise en place means trimming the brisket down to the right shape and fat content before it goes on the smoker.

Any really good brisket starts with a really good trim. It’s hard to make a really well cooked tip-to-tip brisket without a good trim. Briskets come from packing houses in cryo-vac bags and depending on the packer, can be 75% well trimmed or an ugly mess that you’ll have to spend 15+ minutes on to get it into a recognizable shape.

Trimming also can separate the good from the great. A micro-decision at the beginning of the entire process will have results more than a day later in the final sliced product. Starting with the right shape and fat thickness will get you pretty far toward making a good brisket. A beautiful, Instagram-worthy slice of brisket coming from the best of the best barbecue joints in Texas no doubt had a diligent eye and a careful hand trimming it before it even sniffed smoke.

Early mistakes in trimming will also be paid for down the line. If you didn’t take enough fat off, later the final slice, after hours of cooking and resting, could have so much fat on it that it’s near inedible. And the flip side, a perfect slice of brisket has the perfect amount of fat on it to make it melt in your mouth. That perfect amount of fat was not left on by accident.

Brad says it in our latest Patreon video, but when it comes to Texas barbecue, so may places are cooking the same briskets with the same wood and the same seasonings that it is the littlest things that can separate the good from the great, and a great trim is the first step toward a great brisket.

We have five basic steps in our trim.

  1. Take out the huge fat piece and clean up the back.
  2. Flaten out the mohawk.
  3. Filet the fat on the top of the brisket.
  4. Create the curve.
  5. Clean up the burnt end side.

Most bbq joints don’t take out all of the huge fat piece on the under side of the brisket, they’ll just level it off. This makes our best slice on the entire brisket (the first slice on the fatty after the burnt end) half fat and visually unappealing. By digging out that whole piece to the natural seam, it evens out the fatty and creates seasoning all the way around that best piece.

We don’t spend too much time on the under side of the brisket other that just removing any cosmetic fat or silverskin.

Flattening out the mohawk is an important step because it makes the top of the brisket aerodynamic. The offset smoker we use to cook our briskets utilized horizontal convective air and smoke to cook our brisket and we want it to look like the car commercials where the air flows over the top of the brisket evenly and smoothly.

Fileting the fat off the top of the brisket probably takes more practice than anything else but a sharp knife will help this task. You can also peek at the very tip of the lean end of the brisket to see how much fat is sitting on top of the muscle. You can also feel with your hand that the fat will get softer toward the muscle. Also, if you do end up shaving down to the meat and scalping the brisket, it’s not the end of the world. Shaping is much more important to the trim than one little scalp.

Finishing up the sides is the last part of trimming and we like them to be nice and even and parallel. We also consider the ease of making 1/4 and 1/3 lb slices on our brisket and a really wide lean makes it much harder to cut the exact weight we need.

Once the brisket is fully trimmed up, looking nice and pod-like, it’s ready for the smoker. But that will have to wait until our cook video where we’ll go over temperature, placement, wrapping and resting. Look for that video in two weeks on our Patreon.

Chef/Pitmaster from Austin, Texas

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