We've selected our brisket (as seen in the first article of series); so now, the time has come to prepare the king of bbq, for its bath of flavor.
Like everything in life, the best things are those done with the proper preparation. There's 6-P's to ensuring every plan is successful; Prior, Proper, Planning, Prevents, Poor Performance. With that, we must address the key points (punt intended) of trimming a brisket.
There are three key areas I like to stick to for brisket trimming, these can be work at first, but with time and practice it become natural. These three key things will elevate your brisket game before you even start the smoker!
I call it the "3-S's Of Brisket Trimming". Saturation, Silver Skin and Shape. Let's dive into each of these individually and how they work together to make your brisket experience great .
As we spoke about in selection, there's a few different types of fat involved with briskets. Fat on the outside, and fat within. Many things can come into to play with the quality of this fat, whether it is hard or soft, the amount inside and out, all the way to how long the beef was corn/grain fed prior to the slaughter process. But what we mainly want to focus on here, is the external fat (you've chosen one without a ton of external fat, hard fat and good inner-muscular fat already..right?).
Start by squeezing your meat (hehe), and find the hard fat. immediately remove those portions. All external hard fat, will need to be removed. This, typically, is found in the areas where the point and the flat meet, often referred to as, the decal.
Once your hard fat is removed, you will notice the side with the point as the primary cut, will have a thick layer of fat. To start, take your sharp knife, and remove a little fat at a time until you get a uniform 1/4" thickness. You can change this up to thinner as you learn your smoker, preference and meat, but to start a 1/4" is the target amount. To best gauge this, I like to take my knife and make a cut the length of the brisket on the thin side (there's always a thinner side and a thicker side) to reveal the fat cap thickness.
After you've achieved this, you will start to see your brisket taking shape, but let's not focus on the overall shape, yet. Flip the brisket over to the flat side up, and start removing all the fat on this side. This will allow the flavor and smoke to penetrate the meat. This step will have you set up to focus on the the next area - silver skin.
Silver skin, its hard to see, but easy to notice when it wasn't removed. Silver skin is thin membrane found on most large cuts of protein, presented as a white/silver sheen on the meat. This connective tissue is what I refer to as a "flavor damn" as it prevents the rub and smoke from penetration of the meat, and frankly doesn't allow the bark to build and is not pleasurable to chew.
While having a sharp knife for this entire process is not only the safest but the most efficient approach, this section will require it most. Many use a sharp boning knife to almost fillet it off; however, I prefer to use a 12" non-serrated slicer to take this step. By doing so, I am able to remove this silver skin and keep from gauging the protein making the last step, "shape", easier to approach.
Removing all of the silver skin from the flat will be the most tedious portion of the process, but is very important for the outcome of your cook. Take your time, try not to remove a lot of meat with the membrane, but some will inevitably come with it.
Now that you've achieved the two most strenuous steps of the process, the final step is to shape the meat. The shape of the brisket plays into the convection, bark process and moisture of your intended final product.
To start shaping, find any areas that may be loose, or "flaps" and remove them. I like to rub the meat in all directions to find any stragglers that need to be trimmed. From here, find the more thin side of the flat and trim it until the flat is almost the same thick all the way across the end.
At this point we focus on the aerodynamics of the brisket. As air convects through your smoker, it plays a role in the cooking process of even cooking, bark building and final outcome of your brisket. In order to facilitate good air movement, you have to ensure there are no drastic changes in the size and shape of your brisket. On the point, you will find what many refer to as the "mohawk", I like to trim this down fairly flat (but keep that meat and fat for good burgers!). Comb over the brisket to ensure it is smooth and uniform.
Now, we look at edges. Hard edges are not good for airflow, or moisture. Hard edges dry out because they "drag" the airflow and cause them to cook faster, and therefore over cook. These sharp edges also cause the brisket to flake while slicing, so removing them now is going to do you a favor! I like to use trimming shears to remove sharp edges around the brisket.
You've got it!
The trim up for a great start to your best brisket. Individually these things are important, but done together they make for an amazing final product. You are ready for your rub!
Stay tuned for a video walk through of this process, and an article for choosing and applying your rub.
Until then, get outside and cook something!