Cook Brisket Fat Side Up or Down?

Cook brisket in smoker

So, you have been aching to cook brisket, and you want to know exactly how you should cook it. “Should you be cooking it fat side up or down?” Well, it depends on which type of smoker you are using. Most smokers come with the heat emanating from the smoker’s bottom. So, if you’re using something like this, it will be best to set the brisket fat side down. 

Such a position will ensure that your meat is protected from over-exposure to direct heat. Moreover, the melted fat will more likely drip onto your briquettes and vaporize afterward. This vaporization of fat will again flavor your food. This answer, of course, is appropriate for those using a smoker that has heat emanating from the bottom. 

Now, there are smokers whose heat radiates from above. In such a case, it will be best to position the brisket fat side up. In this way, you can protect the meat from over-exposure to direct heat. Besides, the melted fat will drip down to the meat to further add flavor to it. The thing is that the fatty side should face direct heat.

Understanding the Brisket

A cursory look at the brisket will reveal that it has two distinct sides. One side is replete with fat, and the other side is primarily lean meat. Moreover, you will find two prominent muscles in a brisket. These muscles are point and flat. The pointed end features a thicker fat covering, while the flat end comes with thinner fat covering. 

Pitmasters sometimes would cut the brisket in the center before they cook it. But more often, they leave the brisket intact when they cook it. But the point of argument in this post is about which way you should position the fat.

Opinions and Facts About Cooking Brisket

There are varying opinions from various pitmasters and cooks regarding the way you should cook a brisket. Some believe it is best to cook it fat side up. They think that the fat—that melts—bastes the rest of the meat. Thus, the meat stays moist if you cook it fat side up. Others, however, maintain that the fat braises and penetrates the meat. 

Yet, all these ideas border on the level of opinion, for scientifically, fat can never penetrate the meat. When the fat melts, it becomes liquid. It will run off and drip into the smoker or pan, running off with some rub you have added into the meat. Nevertheless, this running off prevents the drying of the meat on the lower side. But it can never prevent the drying of the rest of the brisket. 

You can prove this fact by grilling a steak with butter. You will notice that the fat melts away and run off the meat’s side. 

Another opinion worth analyzing is that fat also helps break down meat while the meat cooks. Thus, it helps in making the meat juicy and tender. 

Such an idea borders on opinion likewise. The connective tissue of the brisket is called collagen. It will take a long and slow cooking process to melt the collagen. For this reason, many pitmasters cook briskets at 225°F. They will not cook it at a higher temperature. Moreover, they cook it for a long duration to allow the collagen to become tender and break down.

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Cooking Fat Side Up

Many like to cook brisket fat side up. They maintain that the fat will melt when the brisket cooks and this melted fat falls back onto the meat. In turn, this falling back of melted fat will make the meat more succulent and juicier. Such an assumption, however, is erroneous. 

Let say you cook a 14-pound brisket in your smoker, and you end up with 11-pound cooked meat after fifteen hours. If you look at the drip pan, you will see that it overflows with melted fat. So, if you position the brisket fat side up, the melted fat will drip over the rest of the meat, keeping it moist.

Nevertheless, it will be good to bear in mind that the meat is not absorbent. It isn’t a sponge neither. Of course, it may absorb a bit of moisture given the right density of fluid inside the meat. Yet, it will not reabsorb the dripping fat. So, if you put the brisket fat side up, you will end up with all the spice rub washed out by the dripping fat.

Cooking Fat Side Down

When you cook with the fat side down, the fat gets positioned on the bottom. Thus, when it melts, it will not wash out the spice rub. The bark likewise will get all the flavors you have spiced the meat. The dripping melted fat will also create more smoke when it hits the burning coal. Hence, you get a smokier flavor for your meat. 

The heat that rises from the smoldering coals will dry the brisket. So, if you use the fat as your buffer zone between the heat and the meat, you can end up with a tender brisket that is less dry. 

However, it will be good to note that there are two types of heat within the smoker. First, there is the heated air that moves around and inside the smoker. This heated air does much in cooking. Yet, there is also the radiant heat that moves in the straight line. This radiant heat warms up everything it hits. 

Radiant heat will eventually dry out meat easily. So, most smokers got a design wherein the radiant heat doesn’t directly hit the brisket. The airflow, of course, around the brisket allows for drawing off much moisture. Besides, smokers function in such a way that air gets to flow around your brisket.

Flipping Your Brisket

You can flip the brisket so that you can start cooking it fat side down. Afterward, you can flip it over to a fat-side-up position for the remainder of the cooking time. This flipping over allows for uniform cooking and lets the spice rub imbue the brisket with flavor. 

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As you flip the meat over, you even out the brisket’s exposure to the heat source. Thus, you end up with an evenly cooked brisket. Moreover, the meat becomes juicier and more tender. Some chefs would ensure that they flip the brisket more often every two hours. 

However, if you are using an offset smoker where the heat source is from the side or bottom, you leave the brisket unprotected once you flip the meat. Thus, it will help to wrap the meat inside a foil to protect it from direct heat. You may also end up tearing the meat once you flip it every two hours. When the meat tears, it releases more moisture that would eventually dry out the brisket faster.

Why Do Many Favor the Fat Side Down More?

You will feel that those who advocate the fat side down seem to have a more cogent argument. With the fat side down, the fat stays at the bottom, and when it melts, it spares the seasoning from being washed away. Thus, the bark retains much of its flavor. 

Moreover, when the fat hits the burning coal, the coals produce more smoke that could provide the meat with a smokier flavor. Moreover, the fat acts as immediate insulation against direct heat, considering that most smokers come with designs wherein the heat emanates from the bottom.

Does the Design of the Smoker Factor in the Cooking of the Brisket?

As mentioned above, the design of the smoker will factor in the result of your cooking. If you have an offset smoker, the heat emanates from the bottom. As such, there will be hotspots and cold spots in the smoking chamber. Moreover, you got two temperature zones in your cooking chamber, one which is hotter and one which is a bit cooler. The hotter one lies directly near the firebox.

You also need to factor in the two types of heat: radiant and convection heat. If the design of your smoker allows the radiant heat to hit the brisket directly, you may end up with a slice of dried-out meat. In a smoker, the convection heat is the one that has the smoke that moves around the brisket. 

Radiant heat, on the other hand, travels directly in a straight path. It moves away from the coal in a straight line. As such, it can scorch or dry out anything that it hits. If you’re an experienced smoker, you will set the meat so that it is not directly in the path of radiant heat. 

Using a reverse flow smoker, you will find the heat is evenly distributed throughout the cooking chamber. Thus, you don’t need to frequently check the temperature of the brisket, as long as coals are burning in the firebox.

The Most Important Factor to Consider

Most smokers and other traditional barbeque grills come with a design wherein the heat emanates from below. Nevertheless, you will find cookers that feature a firebox on one side. These horizontal offset grills and cookers generate heat from the top. Thus, before you buy a smoker or grill, you need to figure out where it generates heat, for the origin of the heat is a significant factor in cooking. Moreover, it will help to be cognizant of some simple tips to bear in mind when cooking brisket:

  • Remember always to keep the brisket’s fat side on direct heat. Thus, before cooking, you need to figure out where the heat comes from and configure the fat side of the brisket toward the heat source. 
  • If you got a horizontal offset smoker, wherein heat comes from above; then, you should cook the brisket fat side up. 
  • The fat side provides insulation against direct heat. Thus, you can ensure that the meat you are cooking will not dry out quickly. It will be best to wrap the lean side of the brisket in foil to ensure that it retains moisture.
  • The design of the smoker or griller determines how you will set up your brisket inside the smoker or griller. Thus, you must figure out and understand the functioning of the cooker before you even engage in smoking or grilling.
Also Read:  Smoking Brisket in Electric Smoker 


When it comes to the best method to cook briskets, you will need to consider some factors before engaging in cooking. First, you need to figure out the design of the smoker or griller. Try to understand how it functions and from where the heat emanates. From these facts, you will learn how to set up the brisket inside the smoker or griller. 

You don’t want the leaner part of the brisket to be drying out fast. Thus, you want to create a buffer zone between the direct heat and the lean portion of the brisket. This buffer zone is the fat side of the brisket. It will be best to position the fat side toward where the direct heat emanates. 

Yet, it all depends on the design of the smoker or cooker. Some smokers feature a configuration wherein the heat emanates from the bottom. Some, however, come with a design wherein the heat emanates from the top. Depending on where the heat emanates, it will be best to position the fat side toward where the heat originates.

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