HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


Brisket Without Fat

I just ordered a brisket at Whole Foods and asked if they could give me one with a layer of fat. The guys behind the counter said that no one wants fat on the brisket and they come in with very little. Customers want any remaining fat removed.

Am I the only one who thinks brisket is more tender with some fat on it? How is everyone else cooking their brisket?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Brisket Without Fat?

    What's the point

    Why buy brisket then. Get a bottom round

    I'm with you Daisy. If I'm buying brisket I want some fat in there. And If I'm smoking one I want more marbling and a good fat cap.

    1. I like it to have fat on it too, because I prefer to cook it the first day, defat it and warm it up and serve it the next day. Agree the fat adds flavor and helps the meat be more tender. I braise it, by the way.

      1. I depends (IMO) on how the cook intends to use the brisket, which comes from the front most part of the breast. There are two parts to the brisket, the inner portion is quite lean but the outer portion is usually well marbled and offers a nice layer of fat. You can tell the difference because the outer portion is shaped like a triangle and weighs less than the inner piece.
        Because brisket is usually slow cooked (corned beef) in a braising liquid the fat is commonly removed by the meat cutter. The inner layer has very little fat and hardly any marbling so if you want fat tell your meat cutter you want something from the outer portion with fat on. I assume you're wanting to smoke or BBQ this brisket?

        9 Replies
        1. re: todao

          It was interesting that they said everyone wants the brisket completely trimmed. Is this because it was Whole Foods? I'm braising the brisket and the last time I made it without a lot of fat, I thought it wasn't as tender.

          1. re: DaisyM

            In my experience over the years, butchers often tell you that you don't really want whatever it is they don't have. At WF, their brisket may be "butchered" off site and delivered to them with the fat already off, so they don't actually have the option of giving it to you untrimmed. It's also hard to find large pieces of brisket, again because it's often delivered to retail butchers already trimmed to a given size.

            1. re: jns7

              Yes, they said that it comes to them with very little fat and that's what their customers want.

              1. re: jns7

                In my experience over the years, butchers often tell you that you don't really want whatever it is they don't have.


                Go elsewhere.

              2. re: DaisyM

                If you are braising it, then you don't need a brisket with a fat cap. Plus, fat does not necessarily make your meat "tender" when you are braising it. Fat content and tenderness do not go hand-in-hand. For example, tenderloins (or filet mignons) are tender (hence the name), but they are very lean.

                A fat cap, however, is necessary in my opinion when you are smoking or barbecuing your brisket.

                1. re: DaisyM

                  The terms "tender" and "brisket" don't really go well together because brisket originates in a muscle group that gets lots of exercise (it's between the two front legs) so it's quite grainy. Tender brisket, if there is such a thing, is the result of low and slow braising so that the collagen fibres gelatinize (that begins at approx. 150 degrees internal temp.) and with the recirculation of meat juices and braising liquids develop flavor. From 150 degrees upward the brisket tends to lose moisture and as the internal temperature rises it becomes drier. Knowing when to lift it out of the braise can be tricky. Some recommend allowing it to cook until the internal temp. reaches 210 degrees. I'm not sure about that. A big part of the difficulty in ensuring that brisket as tender as possible when serving is proper carving. The brisket is made up of two opposing grains and it's important to watch when carving to be certain that each cut runs cross grain and not along or at an angle less than 90 degrees to the grain.

                  1. re: todao

                    I meant that to be able to braise it till it is tender. I only make brisket once a year and last year's had very little fat. I felt that it wasn't nearly as tender as previous briskets that had a cap of fat that was removed after cooking.

                    1. re: DaisyM

                      You don't need fat to make beef tender when braising it.

                2. re: todao

                  Flats do vary a lot in fat content or marbling

                3. do what ever you do w/ the brisket fat or no fat. when the brisket is done, trim the fat off and be done. the brisket is loaded w/ fat anyway. if one doesn't want that much fat try bison

                  1. Whole beef brisket is often butchered into 2 different cuts before it reaches a retailer.

                    The point cut of the brisket is the fatty part. I don't even have the option of ordering this through my warehouse. You see it most often as corned beef these days if it doesn't end up in commercial grind.

                    Flat cut brisket is leaner. It makes a more regular shape to the cut. People tend to buy this cut so much more often that the point fell out of favor.

                    Properly cooked the flat makes for a wonderful meal.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Brandon Nelson

                      BJ's, Sam's Club, and Walmart now only sell flats here in central Florida. I hope to get one with the point by special order from Publix once it cools down to the low eighties.

                    2. I always have my butcher leave a nice layer of fat on top. There is no point to brisket without fat. You might as well ask for brisket without flavor. That is actually one of the many reasons I do not like Whole Foods. Meat needs a certain amount of fat on it for flavor - and brisket without fat? Just so wrong!!!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: wincountrygirl

                        AGREE! And so do many other cooks...see this recent article from the NYTimes dining section extolling the virtues of the deckle, or second cut:


                        1. re: erica

                          I recently got a brisket that had the second cut still on it. The brisket was huge, but it had the most amazing flavor!! I braised it the way I always do, and it was one of the best I ever had.

                      2. I'm one of those who prefers fat on either the point or flat when either braising or barbecuing. The only real solution to the OP's dilemma seems to be finding a better butcher. That way even a whole packer should be available. I find the effort of making a proper barbecue brisket worth investing in and cooking the packer, but the result is a lot of meat - great if you're inviting the neighborhood, but a bit overwhelming if it's just the two of us. You can always by it and cut it down (or have the butcher do it) so you wind up with one to cook and one to freeze . . . .

                        Since it's sorta on point to this discussion, here's Melissa Clark's recent NY Times piece on "second cut" brisket:


                        1. "The guys behind the counter said that no one wants fat on the brisket and they come in with very little. Customers want any remaining fat removed."

                          These are the same customers who buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts and complain that they have no flavor. People are idiots. You need to locate a butcher that knows WTF they're doing. I get 12lb flats for barbecuing at the local Asian market and leave the fat cap on. It works like a thermal shock absorber when smoking and I trim after I've finished cooking, nto before. When I trim it for braising, I always save the fat in the freezer to season my cast iron or to lube the iron skillet for sukiyaki.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: monkeyrotica

                            Even the recipe that I use refers to the fat cap and tells you to remove it prior to carving. You are right....I have to find another butcher.

                          2. No, I prefer whole brisket so I get that slab of fat between the pieces. Thin or first cut is a pale comparison.

                            1. Definately FAT. You just asking for a dry brisket w/out it.

                              1. In the spirit of bringing clarification in this thread, you can remove the entire fat cap without having any adverse affect on the texture at all. Marbling (flecks of fat throughout the meat) and a fat cap are two totally different things. Marbling will noticeably contribute to flavor, but the fat cap will contribute little flavor to the final product if it's trimmed off before eating.

                                Since you're not smoking the brisket in a smoker and, instead, braising it, leaving the fat cap on will only contribute to flavor, not texture. Even cooking that brisket in liquid versus cooking without additional liquid will not be a huge contributor to the final texture of the meat.

                                Internal temperature as a function of time will be the primary determiner of the final texture of the meat. With that said, it's not as straight forward as simply inserting a probe thermometer, setting the alarm, and walking away until the alarm goes off. The reason is the brisket will be done when it's done and the definition of "done" when it comes to tough meats like brisket does not refer to a particular internal temperature, but simply it's texture. In theory, Brisket A with an internal temperature of 170 degrees F can be just as tender and moist as one with an internal temperature of 195 degrees F. Here's why: because connective tissues begin to dissolve (meaning tough meats begin to become tender) around 160 degrees, but dissolve faster at higher temperatures. So, a brisket can become tender if cooked at 170 degrees, but it will take much longer than if it were cooked at a higher temperature such as 350 degrees F. You can seal the brisket in foil and roast it in the oven at 350 degrees F and have it done in a fraction of the time than if it were cooked at a lower temperature such as 250 degrees F.

                                The key to a moist, tender brisket is to cook it enough to allow the connective tissues to dissolve and lubricate the meat fibers, but not overcook it so that it becomes dry. This window is not tiny, but it's not wide open either. Experience will be your best teacher. It will be done when it's done. Simply wrap the brisket in two layers of heavy duty aluminum foil, seal it tightly, set it directly on the oven rack with a pan on the next rack below to catch any leaking drippings, and roast it at 350 degrees F until a probe from a probe thermometer slides into it effortlessly like it's sliding into butter. Remove it from the oven and let it rest for an hour then slice against the grain and serve.

                                Moving back to the issue of the fat cap, removing it is simply a taste issue. If you like it on at the table, leave it on. If you don't, take it off. But, if you do want it on at the table, trim it to 1/4" before you cook it so that it's ready to serve once it's done resting.

                                1. Honey, I grew up eating A LOT of brisket!!! All the fat does is give it much flavor. But now that I'm older and need to eat better I too, cut off the fat. Cook it long, low and slow - 300 degrees for three to four hours. Basting helps unless u use a slow-cooker. 1 pack of onion soup mix and a cup of water or wine!

                                  1. waste of money to buy one without fat especially at Whole Foods prices. I do like Whole Foods meats but brisket without fat, are they kidding? I buy pork bellies there so not sure where this ati fat cap thing is coming from.

                                    11 Replies
                                    1. re: rasputina

                                      My report back....brisket good...but not tender like in previous years. I think there's a reason why the recipe talks about the "fat cap". Next year, I'm finding a new butcher.

                                      1. re: DaisyM

                                        If that happens again, add a layer of bacon on top when you cook it. Bacon = fat = flavor. Plus, it's bacon :) I'd suggest a layer of bacon on anything ... Chicken breasts? Add bacon. Super lean hamburger meat? Grind up some bacon. Tofu? BACON!!! lol

                                        1. re: SAHCook

                                          The key to good chicken breasts is to not overcook them. Cook them to only 150 degrees F for a super moist breast that doesn't need any additional fat to make them good.

                                          1. re: 1POINT21GW

                                            That was mostly tongue-in-cheek ;) "Mostly" because I do think bacon improves pretty much everything. But thanks for the doneness temp - I never remember and it's a pain to look up every time!

                                        2. re: DaisyM

                                          I hope you have a better experience with your brisket in the future, but I promise you, the presence of a fat cap would not have made this year's brisket any more tender so don't feel too bad about your decision to go with a brisket without a fat cap. There is no magic in the fat cap that will create a tender brisket.

                                          1. re: 1POINT21GW

                                            Intramuscular fat is where it's at. I've seen briskest with lots and very little

                                            1. re: 1POINT21GW

                                              My experience cooking a whole lotta brisket is that having a fat cap is essential to the entire dish and that nothing is worse than trimmed thin cut without it.

                                              1. re: mcf

                                                I agree wholeheartedly. I leave the fat cap (trimmed to 1/4-inch) on all the briskets I smoke/cook too. But, not to make the meat more tender because it won't.

                                                1. re: 1POINT21GW

                                                  It keeps it moister. When it's dry, it sticks in your throat no matter how fork tender it is, IME.

                                                  1. re: mcf

                                                    I think we're talking about two different things: the texture of the meat itself versus overall perceived mouthfeel of each bite.

                                                    You're right that the overall perceived mouthfeel will be different with an additional food item along with the meat, such as a thin slice of fat. Similarly, eating a fat cap-less slice of brisket along with a sauce such as barbecue sauce or hollandaise will also change the perceived mouthfeel.

                                                    Strictly speaking to the texture of the meat itself though, the fat will not affect the texture to any perceivable level. In other words, if the brisket were cooked with the fat cap on, then the fat cap was removed before eating, the texture would be, essentially, the same as a brisket cooked without a fat cap. What would change is if the brisket were, let's say, smoked in the open air the entire time: the fat cap-less brisket would have more of a bark (drier outside - very shallow) all the way around whereas a brisket with a fat cap smoked in the open air the entire time would, of course, have a moister, less barky, softer texture on the very outside localized to just under the fat cap. The interior of the meat will remain perceivably unchanged.

                                                    The biggest key to a moist brisket is the same as with most any other meat - avoid overcooking it. What is a little different with a tough cut of meat like brisket than with a tender cut such as the rib eye is the necessity to balance cooking it enough to allow the connective tissues to dissolve (which contribute GREATLY to tenderness), but not cooking it too much so as to allow too much moisture to be squeezed out and evaporate from the meat.

                                                    I completely see where you're coming from and, in the end, I agree with you: I much prefer cooking and eating a brisket with a fat cap than one without.

                                                    1. re: 1POINT21GW

                                                      "The biggest key to a moist brisket is the same as with most any other meat - avoid overcooking it."

                                                      I'd agree in principle, but to me, the very nature of braising til very well done is a kind of overcooking. There's no question that the fat blob is moistening and adding flavor during cooking, it's basting the meat from a coating of fat that contains moisture beneath it.

                                                      Mouthfeel comes from the retention of juiciness, and no amount of saucing dry shreds of meat compensates in the same way, in my experience. Since I remove all the fat I can (I love fat, but hate greasy mouth feel) after cooking, it's not fatty mouth feel I'm discussing. I kind of know the diff.

                                        3. It's a recent health trend, seriously we trim all the fat off all meat in the resturant (nys included). My first day I saw that and seriously questioned WTFH? then i relized we had like 20 sauces to put on it. the fat basicly got in the way of the sauce.

                                          1. Brisket without fat is like a day without sunshine. Obviously your Whole Foods butchers are no weathermen! Ditch 'em!

                                            1. "Fat's where it's at"!

                                              (Sorry, scubadoo, I didn't read your post 1st)