How Does Aaron Franklin Trim Brisket?

If you want to learn how to master the smoked brisket, then Aaron Franklin is the pitmaster you should follow. Trimming the brisket prior to cooking is an important step in the smoking process. If you trim too much fat, the brisket won’t have enough insulation and dry out. If you don’t trim enough, the smoke won’t be able to penetrate and a bark won’t form. I wanted to find out how Franklin trims brisket, so I did some research.

Aaron Franklin leaves 1/4 of an inch of fat on his brisket. Sometimes he may leave a 1/2 inch of fat if one side of the brisket is likely to face more heat from the smoker. When trimming, it’s important to remove any fat that won’t render. The aim is to get the fat to merge with the meat and rub to form the bark. The brisket bark is a combination of dehydrated meat, rub, smoke, and rendered fat.

The Brisket Fat Cap

The fat cap is the layer of fat across the top of the brisket. If you leave too much fat, the smoke won’t penetrate the meat. If you trim too much off the fat cap, the brisket will be at risk of drying out. So you’ve got to get the trimming right. Leaving 1/4 inch of fat is a good rule of thumb.

Brisket Fat Works As Insulation

A layer of fat protects the brisket from the heat. Smoking a brisket is a long cook, so the layer of fat will work as an insulation. If you trim too much off your brisket, part of the meat will burn and it will draw more moisture out.

Place The Fat Towards The Hottest Part Of Your Smoker

Every smoker is different. And the heat source will come from a different direction depending on your smoker. To shield the brisket from the fire, it’s best to face the brisket with the fat towards the heat source. Aaron Franklin uses an offset smoker, which has a separate fire box. So the side where the smoke box is situated will be hotter than the other side. Franklin places the thicker, fattier part of the brisket towards the firebox to protect the meat from drying out.

Charcoal smokers have the heat source coming from below. If you don’t have a heat deflector, then your brisket will be at risk of drying out. Even with a heat deflector, the underside of the meat will withstand more heat than the top of your brisket.

Trimming The Underside Of The Brisket

Often the underside of the brisket is lean and doesn’t contain much fat. Remove the arteries and silver skin because these won’t render. Use the point of the knife to slide under the silver skin and remove.

The Anatomy Of A Brisket

A brisket contains two muscles; a point and a flat. The point is the round, oval-shaped muscle which contains a lot of fat and is much thicker. A brisket flat, as its name suggests, is thinner, and is leaner. The other difference between the two muscles is the grain runs is different directions. So when you slice brisket, always slice against the grain. Cut one way with the point, then the other way with the flat.

Cook The Flat Separately

If you don’t rotate the brisket during the cook, there’s a good chance the flat will dry out. Some people separate the point and flat and cook them separately. This makes sense because they are different muscles that should be treated differently. Cooking the two muscles separately makes it easier to manage the flat in particular. If you have a pellet grill or a multi-level smoker, separating the two muscles will allow you to cook the flat on the top rack where it’s cooler, and the larger, fattier point muscles can cook down the bottom closer to the fire.

What Knife Does Franklin Use To Trim Brisket?

Aaron Franklin uses a boning knife when trimming brisket. You can get a boning knife from a restaurant supply store. Victrinox or F. Dick are the best boning knives on the market. These German-made blades are of high quality and will last many years.

How To Choose A Good Brisket

Franklin will use a full pack of brisket when cooking brisket. Aaron Franklin selects briskets with a thick flat muscle. Also look for a brisket with nice marbling for the extra flavor and moisture.

Can You Separate The Point And The Flat?

Some people separate the point and the flat because they are two different muscles that need to be cooked differently. If you’re cooking a full brisket, often the flat will cook before the point. The flat is thin, so it will be done sooner. So because it’s done sooner, it will dry out if overcooked.

Brisket is a large cut of meat, so it’s difficult to manage in the smoker. If you have a massive packer brisket, sometimes it makes sense to split the two muscles. However, it’s not absolutely necessary. You can cook a large brisket as a whole piece. As long as you rotate the brisket, it should be fine. If the heat is coming from the left side of your smoker, lay the flat directed towards the right.

How To Cook A Flat Separately

According to many pitmasters, the best way to cook a brisket flat is in an aluminium pan. The underside of the flat is lean, so will therefore dry out. By placing the flat in a pan, the underside of the brisket won’t have a nice bark. It will be soggy.

Another trick I learned from the smoking meat forums is to place fat trimmings above the pan where the flat is cooking. The fat will drip onto the brisket flat during the cook, keeping it moist. Another thing you can do is place some beef stock in the aluminium pan to add some flavor.

Save The Brisket Fat For Tallow – The Pitmasters Secret

Adding beef tallow to your brisket at the wrapping stage of the cook is a secret I learned from Texas pitmasters. It can take your brisket to another level in terms of flavor and juiciness. Tallow is used in many barbecue joints in Texas and has become an online trend.

In simple terms, tallow is cooked down fat. All the impurities are removed and all you are left with is an oil-like substance.

Making tallow is super easy. You can turn the leftover brisket fat into beef tallow by placing the fat into a separate pan and cook alongside your brisket. The other way is to cook the fat on the stove and store the tallow in jars.

I’ve written a full post on how to make tallow, and how to use it on your brisket. Check out: How To Make Beef Tallow.

Different Brisket Grades

The different brisket grades make an enormous difference to the eventual outcome of your brisket. Pitmasters like Aaron Franklin will use USDA Prime Grade brisket—which is one reason their meat tastes so good. A USDA Prime Brisket will have lots of marbling. More marbling makes it harder to dry out, and it contains more flavor.

Another good brisket is the USDA Choice. These briskets also have a high level of marbling. The cheapest brisket is USDA Select. These briskets are difficult to cook because they contain very little marbling. Select Grade brisket aren’t as flavorful, and will dry out easily if you’re not careful.

It can be deceiving watching Pitmasters cook brisket. More often than not, they’re using high-quality meat. The average backyard cook may not afford a Choice or Prime grade brisket. So it’s a good idea to learn how to cook a Select brisket. You can read my guide to Select Brisket here.

To get the best out of a Select Grade brisket, you might not be able to keep things simple by using the Aaron Franklin method. Franklin uses high-quality beef, which is why he doesn’t need to inject or use complex rubs.

If you’re cooking a Select Grade brisket, you need to use all the techniques at your disposal. A budget grade brisket is at high risk of drying out, so it may need to be injected with extra liquid.A Select brisket also lacks flavor, so giving the meat a boost with injection might be a good idea.

Beef tallow is another way to add extra moisture and flavor to a cheaper Select Grade brisket. Use the fat trimmings from your brisket by cooking them on a pot. This will remove all the impurities. Pour on the tallow at the wrapping stage of the cook. This will give a Select brisket extra fat flavor, and moisture. All these little tips and tricks can help if you are cooking a low grade brisket.

Fat Side Up Or Fat Side Down?

The fat-side-up or fat-side-down is one of the most debated subjects in barbecue. Aaron Franklin is a fat-side -up guy. However, Aaron uses an offset smoker where the heat source comes from the side. If you are using a charcoal smoker, the heat source will come from below. If this is the case, I would recommend cooking the brisket fat -side-down.

There are all kinds of theories why you should cook brisket fat-side-up, or fat-side-down. The fat-side-up people believe the fat will drip down and lubricate the underside of the meat. However, some barbecue experts suggest this will only lubricate the sides.

Another way some pitmasters cook brisket is to place the meat fat-side-down in the smoker, but lay fat trimmings on the rack above. That way, the fat will drip down onto the underside of the brisket. So for this method, you get the benefits of the fat insulation on one side, and you get the lubrication from the dripping fat on the underside.

Brisket Room Temperature

Aaron Franklin will bring his brisket up to room temperature before placing it in the smoker. He will remove it from the fridge, trim it, then apply the rub. After 1 hour out of the fridge, it should be close to room temperature. Franklin doesn’t do this with pork or poultry, only beef. Aaron finds that the brisket will cook more evenly if it’s cooked at room temperature.

Aaron Franklin Rub For Brisket

Aaron uses a Texas-style rub on his brisket. This comprises a 50/50 mix of kosher salt and black pepper. Franklin applies the kosher salt first and then applies the pepper separately. Franklin doesn’t go heavy on the seasoning for brisket because he likes to let the natural beef flavors be the star of the show. He uses a cafe grind 16-mesh black pepper, which gives the brisket a nice texture. For a more in-depth look at a Franklin rub, check out this article: Aaron Franklin Rub.

Binder for Brisket

Aaron Franklin doesn’t use a binder on brisket, although he may sometimes use olive oil on ribs or pork butt. Often, the brisket is still moist after being removed from the packaging. This is enough for the rub to stick. Also, Aaron does not apply a heavy layer of rub to the brisket, so it doesn’t need a binder. People who apply a thick layer of rub will need a binder, so it sticks and is not patchy. For more on binders, check out Binder For Brisket.

Brisket Cook Times

Brisket SizeTemperatureCook TimeIncluding Resting
12 lbs225°F 18 hours 19 hours
18 lbs250°F 18 hours19 hours
12 lbs unwrapped225°F 19 hours20 hours
18 lbs unwrapped250°F 19 hours20 hours
16 lbs275°F 10 – 12 hours 11-13 hours
16 lbs unwrapped275°F11-13 hours12-14 hours
Estimated Brisket Cooking Times

My Favorite Brisket Tools

Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.

Meat Injector: Injecting meat is a great way to take your barbecue to the next level and help you make competition-style brisket. An injector is the only way you will be able to get flavor and moisture into the middle of the meat. The Beast Injector is a stainless steel injector that is sturdy and affordable. Check the latest price on Amazon here.

Brisket Marinade: The best injection solution on the market is the Butcher BBQ Brisket Injection. This marinade is used in competitions and is made by World Barbecue Champion pitmaster, Dave Bouska. You can find the marinade on Amazon here.

Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.

Brisket Rub: These days I make my own rub when possible, but I always have a few pre-made rubs for when I’m running low. Barbecue guru Malcom Reed produces Killer Hogs, one of the best brisket rubs I’ve found over the years. Another great rub is Slap Yo Daddy, made by brisket master and multiple World Barbecue Champion, Harry Soo.

Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.

Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.

Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.


Author and founder at Meat Smoking HQ

Recent Posts