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Brisket - Fat Cap Up or Down

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wood River BBQ Team

  • Karma: 2
Cooking a brisket to 100% perfection on a smoker can be tricky. If you're not careful, part or all of it can dry out. You can take all the necessary steps to prepare the meat and mop frequently but a lot depends on HOW YOU PLACE the slab of meat on your smoker. The most important aspect is to know how your smoker convects it's radiant heat. Radiant heat travels in a straight line. Anything it hits will be heated and that starts the drying process.   

You have a couple of choices -- FAT CAP DOWN or FAT CAP UP and additionally, into the cook, you can FLIP or TURN.

Which way produces the best results? The answer is if the one you're using gives you the results you want then why change. I wasn't satisfied with my brisket and had to experiment. 

FAT SIDE UP:  This was my first method of choice. I felt the fat from the cap would keep the meat moist. It didn't -- all that happened was the fat washed away my rub. I used to use mustard as a binder and that made matters worse because mustard is water based and will not dissolve the rub, which are oil soluable, as well as veggie oil which is a better choice because it has a higher "smoke point" than olive oil.

FAT CAP DOWN: The fat cap acts as a shield. It shields the meat from the intense heat. Personally, for me, it produces a more tender result with less drying because the flow of air (convection) around the meat from top to bottom is more consistent.

FLIPPING: I obtained some good results with this method because one side had a chance to rest but the end result was more drying than I wanted. When you flip the meat you're forcing pooled moisture to fall out. Instead of flipping, I obtained better moist meat results by heavy mopping. 

TURNING: If you allow the meat to remain in one position, one side is going to dry out due to uneven heat flow even if you mop it to death. Turning is like flipping except that the pooled moisture doesn't fall out.

So, what's the best way for ME cook a brisket? Here's what works best for me. I cook on a Lang. On a Lang the heat radiates from the bottom and from one side -- when the heat makes the turn around the reverse flow plate it makes a bee line for the chimney. To deal with this, I place the meat on a grate over a water pan and cook with the fat cap down. Every hour or so I baste & turn the meat. I maintain a cook temperature about 260*. I let the meat rest in a beer cooler for about 30 minutes prior to carving.  

   
#1 - May 08, 2017, 11:13:13 am

Mike (AZBarbeque)

  • Karma: 39
Great info. What kind of smoker are you using for each of these methods??

Have you found that different smokers give you different results??
#2 - May 09, 2017, 04:49:42 pm
Michael J. Reimann
Realtor - Clients First Realty (Real Job) - www.TheReimannWay.com
Owner/President - AZBarbeque - #1 BBQ Club in Arizona
Owner/Pitmaster - AZBarbeque Catering - www.AZBarbequeCatering.com

If God wanted us to be Vegetarians, why did he make animals out of meat??

wood River BBQ Team

  • Karma: 2
Mike: Incidently, about 6 years I became interested in bbq after attending your event at Freedom RV and then watching the Pitmasters TV show.

I'm cooking on a Lang 36 Original Patio Model. If I had it to do it over again I'd have purchased a Peoria Custom Cooker.

As far as a fat cap up or down, and it applies to any cut of meat with fat, let me explain how I got there. I started with Char Grill smoker from Walmart, not knowing how difficult it would be to get good results with a cheapo smoker. The heat/smoke on that unit comes from the fire box straight to the chimney. I was cooking fat cap up but didn't know why and it worked. Then I made mods to the rig - added tunning  plates, closed all the leaks, added fire bricks and even changed the placement of the chimney. Fat cap up stopped working because I changed the horizontal direction of the heat flow. Now the heat was coming vertically. I contacted Malcolm Reed of www.howtobbqright.com and he explained the concept to me. I started getting good results with the cheapo Char Grill but decided to buy a better smoker.

I'm no smoking expert but I do understand how most rigs work (it's not rocket science) and believe any unit that produces vertical heat such as a WSM, UDS, Pit Barell Cooker (which I own) should cook fat cap down. Cheapo unmodified smokers should cook fat cap up.

Even with all that, a pitmaster should make his own choice (fat cap up or down) and do what works for him/her. I'm sure some folks on this forum will disagree with me and that's OK. 
#3 - May 10, 2017, 07:23:34 am

Mike (AZBarbeque)

  • Karma: 39
That's one of the great things about BBQ, there isn't just one right way to do it.

The part that brings me the most satisfaction is when I try new things & recipes.  I love seeing how different things cook on different smokers.

When I had my Diamondplate, I mostly cooked Fat Cap down on meats as the heat came mostly from the bottom of the smoker.

Now with the FEC 100 I have, I cook the top 3 racks with the Fat Cap up and the bottom rack with the Fat Cap down.  I do this so that as the fat renders, it drips over all the meats throughout the smoker, but the ones on the bottom rack absorb the main heat & if anything gets too hot, it's the fat cap that takes it.

I've also totally adjusted my cooking temps on the FEC.  I used to cook at 225 - 250 religiously for all meats.  Now, for instance, I've started using the FEC's programs and I'm really digging the new profiles.  Pork now cooks at 180 for the first 6 hours, then kicks up to 225 for the rest of the cook.  This has to be some of the most tender & juicy pork I've ever cooked.  Brisket is not at 180 for 4 hours, then up to 250 for the rest of the cook.  It too has retained more of the moisture and is more tender.

But even with all of this, I'm always experimenting with new profiles, rubs, sauces, meats, sides, etc.  That's the fun of BBQing and what got me into it in the first place.

Great topic & post.  Keep them coming.
#4 - May 10, 2017, 11:09:09 am
Michael J. Reimann
Realtor - Clients First Realty (Real Job) - www.TheReimannWay.com
Owner/President - AZBarbeque - #1 BBQ Club in Arizona
Owner/Pitmaster - AZBarbeque Catering - www.AZBarbequeCatering.com

If God wanted us to be Vegetarians, why did he make animals out of meat??

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