Culinary Arts

How to Trim Texas-Style Brisket With Pitmaster Aaron Franklin

Written by MasterClass

May 24, 2019 • 4 min read

Since every animal is different, every brisket is going to have different needs when it comes to trimming. At the end of the day, you want each slice of brisket to have the perfect balance of meat, fat, bark, and smoke. Every trim you make to the cut of meat is always in service of that goal.

Read on for pitmaster Aaron Franklin’s tips and technique for trimming whole brisket.


Two Reasons to Trim Brisket

First and foremost, this means removing excess fat. While marbled fat is crucial to a good piece of beef, a brisket will usually have a thick cap of subcutaneous fat that is more than you want to eat. However, trimming too much of that fat can sometimes threaten the structural integrity of the brisket. It’s always better to leave a little extra fat if it means preventing the brisket from falling apart in the smoker. Always ask yourself what serves the greater good.

The second reason we trim is to enhance the shape of the brisket. You want to maximize airflow around the meat and remove any protruding parts that are liable to dry out during the cook. Like an airplane or a sports car, your brisket should have smooth, aerodynamic curves: no boxy lines, no 90-degree angles.

What’s the Best Temperature for Trimming Brisket?

Brisket should spend some time at room temperature before it goes on the smoker, but for trimming you want it good and cold. Fat becomes sticky and more difficult to work with as it warms, so keep the brisket refrigerated until you’re ready to trim.

What’s the Best Knife for Trimming Brisket?

Aaron Franklin prefers to use a stiff, curved, eight-inch boning knife that allows him to slice into the fat and piece of meat more easily than a knife with a straight blade.

Aaron Franklin’s Standard Texas Brisket Trims

While you’ll ultimately call upon your own judgment and experience in deciding what to trim from
the brisket, there are a few standard trims Aaron makes with each brisket.

  • Brisket Sides. If you look at the long edges of your brisket, you’ll notice that one side is rougher in texture and likely has some discoloration. This is the side that was split from the carcass and treated during processing. It’s already been cooked a tiny bit, which means it won’t take on any smoke or flavor during the cook. Remove about half an inch from this edge with two or three long, smooth strokes of a boning knife. Do the same on the other side as well, to better expose the flat and even out the shape. Next, depending on how thin the flat of your brisket is, you may want to trim off a couple inches from the end to reach the thickest part, a point where the meat is thick enough to survive a long cook without drying out.
  • Fat. Lay your brisket flat on a cutting board, fat side up and look for dimples on the surface of the fat near the center of the brisket — that’s where the fat cap likely ends. With your boning knife, cut into the fat at a curved angle and then move the blade along the length of the flat, peeling back the top layer of fat with your other hand as you go. You’re trying to expose the soft white fat beneath the waxy exterior. Gently shave the upper layers away with your knife until all that’s left is a layer of pillowy fat approximately a quarter-inch thick. Next, trim away some of the hardened fat from the side of the point. You’ll notice a thick, unrenderable pocket of seam fat directly beneath the point. Leave that for now—removing it before the cook could make the point collapse. You can trim it later when you’re slicing the cooked brisket. Turn the brisket over so the fat cap is facing down. You’ll see a big chunk of exposed seam fat right where the flat and the point connect. Make a few entry cuts into the fat, then peel and slice it off, in the way you did the fat cap. Finish by removing any other stray bits of fatty membrane.
  • Anything weird. A packer cut may or may not include the deckle, a thick layer of hard fat that connects the flat to the rib cage and will contribute nothing to the quality of your brisket. If it’s there, get rid of it. You should also remove bits of silverskin—shiny bits of connective tissue, like the membrane on the underside of a rack of ribs or the skin on beef brisket—and any strange, unidentifiable bits of muscle from other parts of the carcass that were left attached to the brisket.

After you’ve trimmed your brisket, smoke the brisket in a wood chips smoker and wrap in aluminum foil for a tender brisket with a consistent internal temperature. Follow Aaron Franklin’s best brisket recipe and learn how to slice and serve your bbq brisket here.

Learn more Texas barbeque techniques in Aaron Franklin’s MasterClass.