Brisket : to split or not to split!
In a never ending quest for the truest form of barbecuing, I often find myself revisiting and experimenting with a brisket because this cut is perceived as the measuring stick for a lot of people.
If you ask around “Do you split your brisket before smoking it?”, 9 people out of 10 will answer “No, why? We have always cooked it whole, why change now?”
The question itself is worth a good minute of reflection.
A brisket is composed of 2 separate muscles. Each muscle has its own features, and they both are fairly different from each other.
Splitting a brisket is done by using a boning knife and cutting away the fat layer between both the flat and the point. You have to go slow in order to follow alongside the fat cap and not nick the flat unnecessarily. This fat is the biggest sacrifice you will make in the process.
This may upset the purest and most old school pit masters but there are legitimate reasons why you should split your brisket, and here’s why.
One of the most basic concepts when you’re cooking a piece of meat is that in order to cook evenly, it must have a similar size and shape from one end to the other. A brisket is everything but that.
Briskets will vary a lot in sizes but there are constants to its shape. The flat, much leaner, will always be significantly thinner than the point, the fatty end.
By splitting the brisket it allows you to have better control over the two separate muscles, with shapes and thickness that are much more even respectively.
As a brisket must is cooked low and slow for many hours, cutting the brisket in half will not only cut down the required cooking time, but will also allow you to monitor its internal temperature much easier than you would with a whole packer.
Pro Tip: To piggy-back on size, a whole brisket takes a lot of space and may not fit in a smaller/average barbecue. It’s often best to split it and make sure you have optimum air flow inside your BBQ than forcing it to fit in by all means. Doing so will simply put you at risk of burning edges and cooking unevenly, which would pretty much result in a wasted brisket.
End-Goal in Mind
The flat and the point will not yield the same bite at all. This you know from the get-go. Subsequently, if you already know you are starting the smoker with the end-goal of cooking burnt ends, why bother with the flat to begin with?
Burnt Ends are like meat candies. They’re soft, pillowy, fat and very tasty. They are made from the point. Making burnt ends from the flat, being much leaner, will not generate good results as they will turn out to be dry and potentially unpleasant in the mouth.
By removing the flat early on, you’re making sure that your focus will be on smoking a perfect point, and it will save you from wasting a good piece of beef. Flats can be cooked at a later time for amazing brisket burgers.
A whole brisket is usually cooked in 10 to 12 hours, without the prepping time. This means that a good rule of thumb to have would be to go in thinking it’s going to take you a full day to cook a brisket sent from the BBQ gods.
What if it didn’t have to be that long and tedious?
You can smoke a brisket in under 6 hours by splitting the 2 muscles and, if need be, with the help of the Texas crutch method.
Some days, you don’t care about cooking the best BBQ meal ever. Some days, you just want a brisket, quick and easy.
Smoking for Competition
If you have an interest in the BBQ competition scene, splitting your brisket will be something to consider.
Let me point out that smoking at home, for your family and fun, is completely different from smoking for a BBQ competition. We are talking about 2 completely opposite mindsets here.
Competition BBQ is a world of its own, where you need to yield a single bite of pure meat madness. By design, it needs to be flavorful, sweet and savoury and just the right amount of smoke. Problem is, it’s a blind tasting test and you’re never going to go first or last. Because of that, you have to go at it a little harder than you normally would at home to make sure that judges taste the deliciousness even if your bite goes last and their palates are washed out from the previous bites.
The perfect bite is defined by multiple variables. Visual appearance is one of them. By splitting your brisket, it gives you a better control of the presentation of your bite, a deeper smoke ring and more bark surface to work with for specific portions of a muscle. It also allows the smoke to better penetrate the muscles as there’s more surface area exposed as it cooks.
Pro-tip: Knowing that your 2 pieces of meat won’t cook at the same speed, some veterans pit masters will let their flat rest in a pan with some broth to add back moisture as they wait for the point to reach its internal temperature.
Now, with that being said, like most things in life, you have to keep in mind that to get something, you have to give something up.
This means that splitting a brisket does come at the expense of an important thing. There is a drawback.
When you’re cooking a brisket whole, this fat slowly renders out, seeping into the flat, improving the odds of having a juicy piece of meat even though it shouldn’t be by design.
By splitting the brisket, you must accept that the flat may be a bit drier than it would be had you left it whole.
Some people will split, save the excess fat that’s been removed and add it on top of the flat throughout the cook. Others will smoke the point on top of the flat with the use of a grill expander grate, making sure that the point drippings will melt on the flat underneath.
Needless to say, splitting a brisket is still to this day somewhat of a controversial approach but it’s definitely something I encourage you to do as it’s a different method. It may also help you keep in mind that it’s never too late to step outside the box and try a new method that may seem “outlandish”, even to the best of old timers.