A smoked packer brisket is a truly beautiful thing to behold. The crisp, black bark carries the aroma of the wood it was smoked on, and just beneath are tender layers of perfectly pink beef. Brisket can be an intimidating cut of meat to smoke, and it's just as intimidating to slice. Even the best brisket isn't going to be right if it isn't sliced correctly.
We've sliced our share of briskets over the years and have learned some good tricks for getting it right every time. Of course, it all starts with a good-quality cut of meat that is properly smoked. For tips on choosing, trimming, and smoking beef brisket, check out our YouTube channel.
How is Brisket Supposed to be Cut?
Like many other cuts of beef, brisket is best sliced against the grain. The problem is that a whole packer brisket is actually two muscles called the point and the flat. These parts have grain running in different directions, so you can't just start whacking away at a brisket and hope to find the grain.
It's a good idea to get your supplies together before getting started. A full brisket can weigh 14 pounds or more after smoking, so make sure you've got plenty of counter space cleared. You're going to want to be able to maneuver the brisket around as you slice it.
Step 1: Let it Rest
One of the most important parts of slicing brisket is letting the meat rest after taking it off the the smoker. Your brisket should hit between an internal temperature of 195 to 205 degrees when it's done. A lot of people aim for 203 as the ideal temperature.
Ways to Rest a Brisket
There are a few ways to rest a brisket, the first being that you can simply place it on your butcher block or large cutting board and let it rest. This method allows the brisket to retain a crispy, crunchy bark, but also leaves the meat exposed to pests, prying fingers, and contamination.
Using Aluminum Foil
The second method uses aluminum foil. Many people will wrap their brisket in foil when it hits the stall temperature to help finish the cook. You can remove the brisket from the smoker in the foil, loosely wrap it in old towels, and then place it in a cooler. This is the safest way to rest a brisket and often the most practical. The downside is that the crispiness of the bark will suffer and might even become soggy.
The Bearded Butchers Crutch
The compromise solution is to use pink butcher paper to rest the brisket. Sometimes, we will use the Texas Crutch method to get our brisket past the stall, then once it hits an internal temperature of 185-degrees, we unwrap it to finish.
This step enhances the crunchiness of the bark a little and gives the brisket a last layer of flavor. When we pull the brisket from the smoker, it gets wrapped in pink butcher paper, then a towel, and into the cooler.
How Long Can Brisket Rest?
You should always let a full packer brisket rest for at least an hour before slicing. We frequently let brisket rest for two or three hours before slicing it using our butcher paper and cooler method to keep it warm.
Step 2: Brisket Slicing Knife
More than anything else, a sharp slicing knife is essential for getting the results you want when slicing brisket. Brisket is a tender, fatty cut that shreds easily when you are slicing. Starting with a properly sharp knife is essential and it's a good idea to have a truing iron on hand to keep the edge of your knife sharp as you slice.
Many of the big-name pit masters like Aaron Franklin recommend using a specialty knife for slicing brisket. These knives are 12-14 inches long and have a serrated edge that helps the blade cut through tender meat without clinging.
A brisket knife can run from around $40 up to several hundred. One of our favorite affordable brisket knife options is the Victorinox 12-inch brisket knife, but the design has been discontinued, so the supply of these knives is limited. This knife uses a Granton edge design to make cutting tender meat easy.
Victorinox Boning Knife
Even though the blade of our favorite boning knife is only 6-inches, the semi-flexible stainless steel blade works well for cutting brisket. Just make sure that the knife is as sharp as possible so that you aren't sawing through the meat to make a slice.
Why We Like this Knife
We use this Victorinox knife for all sorts of tasks. It is the best skinning and de-boning knife we've found, it works well for large cuts, and it is perfect for detail work like trimming fat and separating silver skin membranes.
We like this knife so much that we had our own branded version made. It features the beautiful rosewood handles that provide a firm grip even when hands are slippery and our logo is on the blade.
Step 3: Find the Grain
The key to slice brisket correctly is identifying the grain. Before smoking the brisket, the grain is pretty easy to see, but once it gets a good bark, the grain can be more difficult to identify. We'll show you some tips to get the brisket lined up for slicing correctly.
All that the grain means is the direction that the tough muscle fibers are running through the cut of meat. The muscle fibers look like cords tightly wrapped together.
When you are trimming the excess fat from your brisket, take note of the grain direction in relation to the shape of the cut of beef. That'll help you slice the brisket correctly after it has smoked.
How Do You Know the Grain of a Brisket?
If you look at the whole packer brisket, you'll be able to see the two, distinct sections of muscle meat. One side will be thinner and flatter that typically tapers to a gradual point. This is the flat of the brisket.
On the other side, the point makes a more blunt point than the flat and you can see the grain running in a different direction. You'll also find the fat cap on this side. When you trim excess fat, don't remove all of the fat cap. Instead, leave about 1/4-inch because it adds flavor.
Before you start slicing, you should place the brisket so that the flat is on your dominant side. For us, that's the right. We will use this as a reference when we start describing how to quickly and correctly slice brisket.
Step 4: Slice
Start by slicing off the end of the flat until you have enough thickness to make a good size slice. Set these ends aside for now. A well-rested brisket will lose only a small amount of juice when you slice it. This also gives you a chance to see how great smoke ring came out.
Slicing the Brisket in Half
Some folks like to cut the brisket in half before slicing. This does make maneuvering the meat easier, but sometimes we skip this step. Cutting against the grain is essential and you are likely to end up with some difficult areas to cut if you cut the brisket in half first.
The Proper Cutting Motion
Begin making clean slices about the thickness of a #2 pencil with smooth strokes, moving from right to left slicing the brisket against the grain. As you begin to get to the middle of the brisket, start to watch for the grain to switch as you get toward the brisket point section.
Switching to the Point Cut
Once you see the grain change, set the sliced flat to the side. Rotate the point 90-degrees to line up the grain correctly and repeat the slicing process until the point is completely sliced. You'll have a handful of smaller parts that don't make good slices; save these for later.
As you make the slices, your goal is to make one, continuous slicing motion. If the knife you are using is dragging or squishing the meat, it isn't sharp enough.
Step 5: Don't Forget the Burnt Ends
All those little end pieces you sliced off before making your brisket slices are what you use to make the delicacy Burnt Ends. The process is lots of fun and results in the most delicious, smoky snack there is. Check out our step by step guide where we show you our favorite way to make burnt ends.
Fatty Brisket vs Lean Brisket
There is no such thing as "lean" brisket – it's a fatty cut of meat. You'll often hear about lean brisket, though. This is a brisket flat that has been separated from the point section. You'll often find brisket flat cut in the grocery store.
The point is fattier than the flat end and that's why it is called the fatty brisket. This is what you'll get going to most barbecue joints. The fat and connective tissue in this part of the brisket gives this cut the rich flavor when it breaks down during the smoking process.
Key Takeaway for Cutting Brisket
Properly smoking a brisket is a triumph, no matter how many times you do it. The journey from trimming excess fat through the smoking process until the meat feels tender and has just the right jiggle is an epic feat of endurance, patience, and attention to details. Learning to properly slice brisket is the final skill you'll master.
The more often that you cut brisket the more familiar you'll get with seeing how to cut against the grain to get perfect tender cuts of pink brisket with a beautiful smoke ring. There are few things out there that we like more than a juicy brisket sandwich on tender brioche rolls.
The key thing to remember about slicing brisket is that a properly rested brisket is easier to slice than one fresh out of the smoker. Give it the time and then have a large butcher's block or a big cutting board with plenty of space to work ready. A sharp knife is essential to getting good cuts, so make sure you are prepared and you'll be slicing brisket with confidence like a true pit master in no time.
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