There’s no right way to cook brisket irrespective of whether you cook it fat side up or down. However, there are numerous benefits to cooking it both ways.
For many years, people have stated that you should cook a brisket fat side up as this enables the fat cap to baste the brisket without it drying.
Despite this common assumption, there are many prize-winning brisket-lovers who cook their brisket with the fat side down or who flip it regularly when cooking.
Pros & Cons: Fat Side Up
Pros: Cooking your brisket fat side up will ensure that you are able to use any melted beef fat effectively by pouring it over the brisket, ensuring that it is moist and succulent.
Cons: Meat should not be sponge-like. Whilst your brisket will absorb moisture from the fat, this action may remove your seasoning and cause the meat to become too moist.
Whilst you may believe that cooking fat side up adds additional flavor to your brisket, it may well do the opposite.
Pros & Cons: Fat Side Down
Pros: By cooking your brisket fat side down, you allow for the meat to naturally dry as the heat rises. This is because the fat will act as a natural shield between the fire and the meat resulting in tenderized meat that requires less air-drying.
Also, as the fat is contained on the bottom of the meat, it doesn’t wash away any additional seasoning, and thus it retains all the flavors.
Additionally, you will be adding a wonderful smoky flavor to the fat side of the meat as the smoke the fat produces hits the coals. Fat’s natural insulation powers will ensure that your meat is cooked to perfection as long as you allow for suitable convection.
Some also state that cooking your brisket fat side down aids its appearance. In order for this to occur, the meat needs to be heated thoroughly so all the surface proteins can bind effectively.
Cooking your meat fat side down will ensure that the seasoning doesn’t wash away and that any bark is allowed to form on the beat.
This bark will form freely if you cook your brisket fat side down and this will enable you to create that beautiful, licorice appearance on the surface of your brisket.
Cons: The radiant heat contained within your cooker will dry your brisket quickly. Therefore, you should avoid allowing radiant heat to travel around your brisket.
The flow of radiant air around your brisket will remove a lot of moisture from the meat. But you should aim to counter this by ensuring that the air around your meat is well ventilated which inherently allows for better airflow or convection.
How To Flip Your Brisket
Choosing to flip your brisket is a great alternative to simply cooking it fat side up or down. If you flip your brisket every two hours, you’ll be sure to receive the best of both methods.
Additionally, the side that has been away from the heat will be able to absorb moisture, and you can be sure that it will not dry out.
The meat will also become basted by the fat cap without overwhelming the flavor.
However, you should bear in mind that each time you flip your brisket, you will be leaking moisture. You will also be applying pressure onto the brisket which forces it to lose moisture.
This is why you should baste your meat when turning in order to compensate for any moisture that has been lost. Flipping and basting your meat will ensure that your brisket will be cooked to perfection.
Where Does The Heat Come From?
As mentioned, the convection of radiant heat plays a key part in the way that your meat cooks.
Therefore, when determining what side to cook it on, you should ensure that you have an understanding of the heat produced by your cooker.
The vast majority of the time, the heat will derive from the bottom of a smoker and thus, fat side down would be preferable.
However, if you are using a cooker that sends in the heat from above, you will need to utilize the insulation qualities of the fat in order to shield your brisket from the top and thus, you would need to cook it fat side up.
You need to know where the heat comes from in your cooker prior to placing your brisket.
To conclude, if you are an avid brisket lover, you will have noted that the section of the brisket that is closer to the heat is dryer.
Naturally, not every smoker will work similarly. However, if you have placed the heat source directly beneath your meat, then cooking your brisket fat side down will inherently prevent the meat from becoming too dry.
Cooking your meat fat side up does add moisture and if you prefer a moist brisket, you should cook it this way whilst bearing in mind that you can lose the flavor of additional seasoning during the process.
Arguably, the best method of cooking brisket is to flip it after every two hours in order to even the balance of heat exposure.
The airflow inside any smoker is usually uneven and thus, allowing your brisket to stay in a singular position for the entire cooking process will cause it to dry out.
You should flip your meat and baste it every few hours to prevent this, ideally rotating it in order to avoid applying too much pressure to the meat.
If you need to shield your meat from the intensity of the smoker, then you should probably leave your meat to cook fat side down for the majority of the time.