Can You Cut a Brisket in Half? (A Definitive Guide)

June 30, 2022

Yes, you can cut a brisket in half before smoking. Even if you weren't thinking of doing it, I recommend separating the meat in half before grilling. This simplifies the grilling process, ensures quick and efficient smoking, and helps you get the perfect smoke on the brisket

My experience as a rookie chef has shown how necessary it is to separate the brisket. In this article, I'll address the question, "can you cut a brisket in half" in the practical sense. Then I'll tell you how it should be done step-by-step. 

Why Cut a Whole Brisket in Half? 

First, this procedure helps trim the fat between the point and the flat. Why should you have the fat removed? This helps you get more bark, as more Malliard reactions will occur. I know this is something you don't hear about often. However, it's the science behind the chemical reaction that creates the burnt ends on smoked barbecue.

Also, if your smoker is not that big, cutting the brisket in half and grilling one after the other is a great idea to better control your meat in the smoker. I've seen many starters struggle with huge 15lb packer brisket. Their smoker is so big and they think they can save time doing it all at once.

person cutting a smoked brisket

I suggest you separate the brisket into a point and flat for more efficient smoking. Then place each part of the brisket in a separate part of your smoker. This helps you focus on the BBQ as they cook. And most importantly, this reduces the cooking time compared to a whole packer. So, it helps with time management. 

The best full packer size for grilling starts from 12 pounds. Please be aware of a < 10 pounds brisket packer if you want the muscles appropriately cooked. I did it with low-weight cuts and it didn't turn out as expected.

Briskets that weigh less than 12 or 10 pounds tend to cook inconsistently.  However, the ≥ 12-pound size may also be a problem for starters. So, for me, it's always a yes to the idea of cutting the brisket in half before the grilling process can begin.

How to Cut a Whole Packer Brisket in Half?

Next, I'll show you how to cut a whole packer brisket into two halves (flat and point) and what to do with the fat cap, among others. 

Step 1: Identify the brisket point and flat 

The preparations can begin if you've finally got a piece of brisket. You probably think at first sight: "how do I start with it?". At least that's how I felt with my first real brisket. I was faced with a long, 15 pounds lump of brisket streaked with fat and didn't quite know what to do. 

First, you have to know that brisket is made of two muscles, the flat and the point. A thick pocket of white fat separates these muscles. There is also another layer of fat on top of the brisket. 

The point is the part of the brisket that contains the most fat. Meanwhile, the brisket flat is the part that contains the least fat. So it's usually flatter than the point. 

However, due to this, it’s a more flavorful piece that's also great for slicing. 

Step 2: Cut the layer of fat with a sharp knife 

You will find a layer of fat that mostly covers the point of the beef. Some trim it entirely, while others leave a few millimeters on it. 

Cutting it out will allow your seasoning to penetrate the meat, but the fat can also give it more flavor. 

To trim it altogether, insert the blade of a knife under the fat and carve it back and forth until the fat separates from the beef. 

Just cut off the top of the fat on the thicker parts to remove some. You might leave some on if you plan to smoke the meat. 

a brisket and a knife

Step 3: Cut small bits of fat from the sides 

The flat often has a large fat section on one side and small bits on the underside. It would be best to cut off small bits of fat from here, as it can prevent the seasonings from getting to the meat. 

Step 4: Separate the brisket into half 

As mentioned, if you got a whole packer brisket, you will see a thick layer of fat between the flat and the point. Carefully separate both the point and flat with a knife. 

Although it's unnecessary to completely remove all the fat, ensure that you trim as much as possible to see the meat underneath. 

What Is So Special About Beef Brisket? 

What's the fuss about brisket? After all, it isn't a good cut of meat. It's full of muscle and is never soft. I know this is the first thing many people who have not tried it or done it right say.  

Now, let me change your flawed view of brisket. It is actually one of the great classics of American BBQ. Together with ribs and sausage, the brisket completes what is called "the holy trinity barbecue." 

This large, tenacious piece of beef becomes tender and super soft after a few hours of slow smoking. So, you just need to ensure you're doing it right.

The brisket, when correctly done, is one of the most tenderized types of meat. However, don't be fooled; it is one of the toughest beef cuts. However, when cooked/braised, grilled, or roasted slowly, you'll have soft and flavorful barbecue. 

What Cut is the Brisket? 

The brisket comes from the front of an adult cow at least 2 years of age. It is the anatomical part located above the front legs; the chest. 

It is a large cut weighing up to 15 or 20 pounds, and is composed of powerful and resistant muscles that support most of the animal's weight and are continuously stressed. The muscle fibers are thick and rich in connective tissue. 

The brisket is cut differently, so it can be difficult to find a good piece! I source good-quality brisket at the butcher’s. You’re not guaranteed the best quality with most online sales. Besides, you can discuss some meat-related questions one-on-one with the butcher.

Regardless, ensure that the one you’re choosing has a somewhat dark purple color. Secondly, choose a packer brisket with a fat cap on top. Remember, even if you have to trim the fats off, you still need some to add flavor to the meat.

 It’s also important that the meat has no flayed edge so you don’t end up wasting lean meat. It should be quite thick and properly squared.

Trimming the brisket 

What might seem a routine operation is an essential step for the roasting success of the brisket. It influences the entire cooking process – talking of the overall look and taste of the final cooked or grilled brisket.  

smoked meat

The fat seam 

If you have the right piece of meat on your hands, you need to eliminate a lot of excess fat. 

The almost total elimination of fat from the surface below the point allows the beef to be exposed to the effects of smoke and rub. With fat on the meat, this would not happen as it would act as a "shield" to the meat. This can prevent the formation of the burnt ends/bark, smoke ring, and the absorption of smoke. 

On the other hand, if you have a a lean raw material, free of fat between the fibers, I suggest you leave a few millimeters of surface fat above the flat, eliminating only the parts that are too thick and in excess. 

As the fat melts, this will guarantee an excellent flavor and succulence while keeping the meat moist.  

Irregular or too lean parts 

The other fundamental operation consists of squaring the brisket. This means carving the thin edges away and ensuring that the edges are thick and straight on all sides, making a “square,” per se.

If the ends of the flat are too thin or jagged, it will almost certainly carbonize during cooking. So it is better to eliminate them immediately rather than dispose of it after cooking. 

FAQs  

Can you cut a brisket into smaller pieces? 

Yes, you can cut brisket into smaller pieces such as when preparing steaks. However, note that, unlike steaks, the briskets must be cooked longer for the muscles to break down and tenderize. This also helps reduce the risk of the adverse effects in improperly smoked meat.  

What if my brisket is too big for my smoker? 

Then, you can cut the brisket in half. If your smoker has multiple racks, smoke each half (the flat and the point) in different racks. If the smoker has no extra rack, you can choose to smoke a half now and keep the other half for a later date or time in a refrigerator. Cutting the meat is done laterally along the fat, separating the flat from the point.  

Final Thoughts 

How the brisket is cut (along the point and flat) and trimmed before the grilling process can determine the quality and taste of the final cooked meat. If you want to cut a brisket in half before you cook it, know that it's not only possible but also recommended!

Again, be careful how you cut the brisket after smoking. It is essential to slice against the fiber with the knife perpendicular to the direction of the fibers.  

After the necessary resting time, proceed to slice against the fiber starting from the flat. The knife must be perpendicular and cross the meat's fibers. The slices shouldn't be too thin, and should be at least 6 - 8 millimeters. Then place them in a baking dish, pan, or a large container and sprinkle with the hot cooking juices you have previously kept aside. 

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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