Yes, you can cut a brisket in half before smoking it. Cutting a brisket in half can simplify and shorten your cook. A full-packer brisket can be divided into two cuts - the flat and the point. These two muscles are what make up a full brisket.
Brisket is one of my favorite cuts of beef on a steer. Smoke it right (I’ll show you how), and you’ll be rewarded with divinely tender, juicy meat.
In this article, I'll address the question, "Can you cut a brisket in half?" Then, I'll tell you how it should be done step-by-step. I’ll also cover how to trim a brisket, and how to slice it. Let’s go!
If you’re short on time, cutting a full brisket in half will shorten your cooking time. Reserve half to smoke later - stick the cut you won’t be cooking in the fridge or freezer. I suggest you separate the brisket into a point and flat if you’re looking for quicker smoking. (More on how to cut a brisket in half in a bit).
Also, if your smoker is not that big, cutting the brisket in half and smoking one half is a great idea. You’ll be able to smoke each section at different times. Smaller smokers can’t handle a huge 15 lb packer brisket. Cutting the brisket in half will allow it to fit on smaller cookers.
The easiest way to cut a brisket in half is to have your butcher do it for you. Or, buy just the point or the flat from the grocery store (I prefer the fattier point). But, if you’re determined to do it yourself, I like your plucky DIY attitude. Let me go over how to cut a whole packer brisket into two halves (flat and point).
Grab a whole-packer brisket from the store. (Keep reading for how to pick a good brisket.)
You’re probably thinking, "What have I gotten myself into?". At least that's how I felt with my first real brisket. I was faced with a massive, 15-pound hunk of beef streaked with fat and didn't quite know what to do. Fear not! I’ll walk you through the halving process step by step.
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. Many pit bosses, myself included, think the point is the superior cut between the two muscles. Meanwhile, the brisket flat is the part that contains less fat.
If you’re buying half a brisket, grab a point. It’s superior to flat.
You will find a layer of fat that mostly covers the point of the beef. Some trim it entirely, while others leave around a ¼” of fat cap. I like to leave a bit of fat cap on and remove it after smoking, but you do you.
Cutting it out will allow your seasoning to penetrate the meat. But leaving the fat cap on can protect the meat from heat. It acts as a barrier between the fire and the muscle.
To trim it all together, insert the blade of a knife under the fat and slice the white fat away from the beef. A good sharp knife is your best friend when trimming meat.
Trim away any large chunks of fat. They won’t render and you don’t want to serve them to your guests. Best to get rid of them now in my opinion.
As mentioned, if you have 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. Follow the band of fat, cutting at an angle. The point is the thicker portion of the brisket - the flat is narrower.
Here’s a video if you’re stuck or can’t tell the difference between the flat and the point.
Brisket is my go-to order at a smokehouse and one of my favorite things to BBQ in my backyard. It’s richly beefy and supremely tender when smoked correctly.
You might be wondering, what's the fuss about brisket? It’s often known as a tough, sinewy hunk of cattle.
Now, let me change your flawed view of brisket. It is one of the great classics of American BBQ. Together with ribs and pulled pork, the brisket completes what is called "the holy trinity barbecue."
This large, tenacious piece of beef becomes divinely tender and incredibly delicious after several hours of slow smoking. So, you just need to ensure you're doing it right.
Brisket, when smoked well, is one of the most tasty and rich meats you can eat.
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. Think of it as the steer’s pectoral muscle.
It is a large cut weighing up to 15 or 20 pounds and is composed of powerful muscles that support most of the animal's weight and are continuously stressed. The muscle fibers are thick and rich in connective tissue. The muscles are tough because they’re used often. This is typical with animals. Muscles that are used infrequently are more tender.
The USDA has three grades for beef. In order of quality, they are Prime, Choice, and Select. Don’t buy a Select brisket and try smoking it. You’ll be disappointed. It lacks enough intramuscular fat to make amazing brisket. Smoking brisket is a labor of love - you’re looking at a full day of cooking. Don’t waste your day just to crank out inferior beef.
My go-to is Choice, which is a good compromise between quality and cost. Grab a Prime grade brisket for special occasions - it’s pricy.
There is also a type of beef known as Wagyu. True Wagyu comes from Japan and is extremely expensive and almost impossible to get your hands on. American Wagyu is a blend of Japanese and American cattle. It’s richly marbled and elegantly beefy. It’s expensive, but if you can find some, it’s worth a splurge if you’ve got the dough. It’ll be a showstopper for sure.
Here’s what to look for when shopping for brisket. You want a brisket with a dark red and purple color. The more marbling in the muscle, the better. Thin white strands of fat indicate marbling. It’s usually packed in cryovac packaging - make sure there aren’t any punctures in the cryo. Fresh is always best. Read the packed-on date or have your butcher grab a fresh brisket.
I trim up my briskets before they hit the smoker. Here’s what to do:
You need to eliminate some excess fat. I already mentioned the fat cap - I take mine down to around ¼”. You can remove more if you like.
Once the fat cap is set, I move on to the rest of the brisket. Remove any solid chunks of fat. They won’t render. The thin strands of intramuscular fat are good - those will render. Leave them alone
Yes, you can cut a whole-packer brisket into two parts, the point and the flat. These can be further cut into smaller sections, though that would be pretty irregular in the BBQ community. A 6-pound flat or point should fit on even the smallest smoker that I’m aware of.
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 one 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.
Once you’ve smoked the brisket, you’ll need to slice it. First, let it rest. I wrap my brisket in foil, then stick it in an insulated cooler. Let it sit for around 4 hours before slicing. The rest lets the meat cool down and helps the meat retain its juiciness when sliced.
The flat is usually sliced about pencil thin, maybe 3/16”. Cut against the grain. This will make the brisket taste more tender because the muscle fibers are shortened. The point is usually cut a bit thicker than the flat, around ¼”. It’s more tender than the flat (thanks to the extra fat), so wider slices will still taste tender.
How the brisket is cut (along the point and flat) and trimmed before it hits the smoker allows you to smoke a smaller piece of meat. This is handy if you only want 6 or 7 pounds of brisket, or if your smoker is small. It also shortens cooking times.
If you want to cut a brisket in half before you cook it, know that it's very possible! In fact, you can ask your butcher to do it for you. Again, I think the point is superior to the flat, but try both and see which your favorite is! Happy grilling.