How To Slice Brisket

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Congrats, you’ve put 12-14 hours into your smoked brisket and it’s looking amazing, now comes the time to slice the brisket for the dinner party attendees. As you approach this simple task you start to realize your brisket slices don’t look anything like the Texas BBQ joints you’ve been to. Today we will guide you…

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Congrats, you’ve put 12-14 hours into your smoked brisket and it’s looking amazing, now comes the time to slice the brisket for the dinner party attendees. As you approach this simple task you start to realize your brisket slices don’t look anything like the Texas BBQ joints you’ve been to.

Today we will guide you on how to properly slice this large cut of beef, starting with the flat and ending with the point. Make sure you have a good carving knife for this, if you don’t we show you our favorite brisket slicing knives as well.

How To Slice Brisket

Understanding Brisket

To get going, you need to know how the brisket is comprised.

The brisket is from the chest of the cow, so it’s tough due to the amount of work and carrying weight it did during that cow’s life. That’s why we cook it low and slow, to give the connective tissue and intramuscular fat time to break down and render out so we get those wonderfully moist and tender slices of brisket. 

However, unlike other large cuts of meat like a pork butt, the brisket is two different overlapping muscles. They are the point and the flat, and they have different characteristics that require care.

The Point

The point is the thick portion of the muscle that sits on top of the flat muscle. It has much more marbling and connective tissue, so when it’s properly smoked, it is incredibly moist and tender. If you’re ever in Texas and see an option for fatty, that’s the point. It’s also what people make brisket burnt ends from. You’ll notice the point muscle starts to meet the flat muscle in the middle of the picture below.

Brisket Flat and Point

The Flat

Even though the flat has a thick layer of fat on the surface, the muscle itself is lean, hence why Texas BBQ restaurants have it listed as lean on their menus. It requires more care than the point due to the lack of marbling.

Since the point and the flat have different amounts of marbling, we have to be careful about not drying the flat out while we wait for the point to render out properly. When it comes to slicing, we also need to be careful because the two muscles’ grains run in different directions. So we have to be aware when we switch from slicing the flat to slicing the point so we can adjust the direction of our knife. For more in-depth information, check out Julie Harris’ article What Is Brisket? 

How To Slice A Brisket

Okay, time to get down to business. You’ve got your rested brisket on the board with your slicing knife. Where do you start? There are two schools of thought: separating the flat from the point at the beginning and slicing the flat until you reach the point. Both are valid and can work. 

If you want to separate the flat and the point before you start slicing, you need to find where the two muscles are separated by a layer of fat. Slice at that spot and you’ll have the brisket separated into the flat and the point. Then you can continue following the directions below. The video below shows the method of separating the flat and point.

Jeremy Pike of Angry BBQ Slicing Brisket

Slicing The Flat Against The Grain

The flat is probably the easiest to begin with. It’s the thinner end of the brisket, and you can simply begin slicing at the end and work your way towards the point of the brisket. Some places recommend cutting a corner of the flat during the trimming process before smoking so you can tell the direction of the grain when it’s time to slice.

You want to keep your slices fairly thin, roughly in ¼ inch slices. This keeps the brisket tender and ensures everyone who wants a slice of lean brisket will have plenty available. 

If you’ve separated the flat from the point beforehand, slice the flat until you reach the end. If you have not separated the two muscles, you’ll keep slicing the flat until you reach a spot where you will see two layers of muscle. Congratulations, you’ve found the point.

Cutting The Point Against The Grain

We already established that the point’s grain runs perpendicular to the flat, so we now need to adjust how we are slicing. Rotate the point 90 degrees from how it was attached to the flat, then slice the point in half. Then slice these halves into the same ¼ inch slices as you did with the flat. 

What Do I Do If I’m Struggling Slicing Brisket?

We completely understand, sometimes things just aren’t working out right. Does that mean your brisket is ruined? Absolutely not! There are other ways to enjoy smoked brisket beyond simply slices despite the iconic nature of these thin strips of beefy goodness. Just don’t try to convince your Texas BBQ-loving friends that this is the proper way to serve brisket.

Chopped Brisket

Want the satisfaction of using a big knife without the need to be as concerned with grain direction? Chop your brisket up after smoking it! Then toss it with your favorite BBQ sauce and you’ve got chopped brisket sandwiches. Or even brisket tacos.

Shredded Brisket

You can also treat your brisket like you would a pork butt by shredding it for sandwiches and tossing it with your favorite barbecue sauce. You can also go for a Tex-Mex feel by making shredded brisket tacos. 

What Do You Need To Slice Brisket?

So now that we are aware that we can’t simply pick a direction and slice our entire brisket, we also need to know what we need to ensure we can slice this behemoth slab of beef. There are three essential items we need. You can also wear some food-grade gloves to help keep your hands from getting messy while also ensuring you don’t get any germs or bacteria on the brisket. We do recommend you wear gloves if you’re slicing brisket for a party.

1. A Good Quality Slicing Knife

Brisket Slicing Knife

Sure, this may seem like a no-brainer, but a quality chef’s knife isn’t actually going to be a quality slicing knife when you’re cutting brisket, especially a packer brisket. So what kind of knife are you looking for? Proper slicing knives are at least 12 inches long up to 14 inches. The sides of the knife blade are usually scalloped to help the knife slide easily through and keep the meat from sticking to the knife.

Slicing knives can be serrated, but we aren’t talking full-on steak knife serration. These serrated slicers have gentler serration with less-pointed teeth so you don’t rip and tear the meat. We want clean slices of brisket, not shredded brisket. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be worried about the direction of the grains.

Also, slicing knives are different from carving knives. They’re quite similar, but there are a few differences. A carving knife has a thicker blade that ends in a point, while a slicing knife is thinner with a curved end.

Hexclad makes a great carving knife that is perfect for slicing brisket. Pictured below.

2. Large Cutting Board

A packer brisket, even after smoking, is a big piece of meat. Your normal, garden-variety cutting board is not going to cut it (pun fully intended.) Some packer briskets can be up to two feet long. It’ll shrink during the smoking process, but it will still be plenty long after. Some people will completely skip cutting boards and opt for a butcher block. It will be big enough to accommodate a packer brisket with enough weight that you won’t have to worry about it sliding around as you try to cut brisket.

Regardless if you go all the way to getting a butcher block or stick with a large cutting board, you’ll want something that is at least 24 inches long. That way you can also use it for trimming your brisket prior to smoking it. 

Large Cutting Board
Mike’s custom made cutting board. Built by Ken McCormick.

3. A Properly Rested Brisket

Threw you a bit of a curveball there, didn’t I? However, one of the biggest keys to properly slicing briskets is resting your brisket properly. You don’t want to lose all that moisture by cutting briskets too early. It’s hard to be patient while the brisket smokes, and it’s hard to be patient while it rests. However, you want it to rest for the best possible end product. 

You should be letting your briskets rest a minimum of one to two hours. The longer your brisket rests, the better your brisket will be when served. You do have to ensure you keep your brisket over 140°F so it doesn’t become a breeding ground for the bacteria that will give you and all the people you’re serving food poisoning. For more information, check out our article on how long you should be resting brisket.

Wrapping It Up

A properly smoked brisket is one of the best dishes in barbecue. We’re huge fans of Texas-style brisket here at Angry BBQ. That combination of wood smoke, salt, and black pepper is hard to beat in our opinions. However, all the hard work done ahead of time and the time spent in the smoker can be undone if we slice brisket the wrong way. Just like every type of meat we slice, you need to cut brisket against the grain. What makes brisket tricky is that it’s actually two muscles with grain running in perpendicular directions so you can’t just continue slicing the same way through the entire brisket.

Do you have any tips or tricks for slicing brisket? Let us know in the comments!

FAQs

Question: What’s The Best Wood For Smoking Brisket?

Answer: If you’re going central Texas-style brisket, there’s only one answer, and that’s oak. Specifically post oak, but if you can’t find post oak, you likely can find oak at most major retailers. You can also try mesquite, but it has an incredibly strong flavor profile and you need to be careful. For a milder smoke flavor, you could try alder, beech, or even pecan. Check out our explanation of smoking woods along with the handy chart below!

Smoking Wood Chart

Question: How Long Do You Smoke A Brisket?

Answer: There’s no hard and fast rule to tell you exactly how long to smoke a brisket. After all, smoking meat isn’t like baking where you might put brownies in the oven for 38 minutes. The rule of thumb for brisket is that it will take between one and two hours per pound of brisket. The differences between briskets, smokers, and temperatures are why there is such a wide range. For more detailed information, check out our guide on how long to smoke brisket.

Question: Do I Have To Use Salt And Pepper To Season My Brisket?

Answer: While we are big fans of a traditional Texas preparation for brisket, by no means do you have to stick to that. In fact, we’ve got a recipe for a homemade Kansas City-style brisket rub that you can check out for a sweeter take on brisket. As always with any type of barbecue, feel free to experiment with your flavors to find what works best for you and the people you’re serving brisket to. We’re just big fans of salt and pepper, but don’t let that stop you from finding your new favorite brisket dry rub.

Question: What Can I Do With My Leftover Brisket?

Answer: Briskets are big cuts of meat, so there’s definitely potential for leftovers, especially if you’re cooking one for just your family. So what do you do with the leftovers? I’m a big fan of adding brisket to my grilled cheese (I say toasted cheese, but that’s a regional thing) sandwiches. You also can’t go wrong with brisket nachos. Want some more inspiration? Check out our favorite leftover brisket recipes for more ideas!

Jeremy Pike

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