How to Properly Cut Brisket No Matter How You Cooked It

updated Apr 18, 2024
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Beef brisket is a high-effort, mega-high-reward food. Whether you roast your brisket in the oven, use a slow cooker, or smoke it, a well-cooked brisket is tender and very flavorful. But cooking is only part of the process: For truly melt-in-your-mouth meat, you’ll need to know the right way to slice a brisket. (It’s also a good idea to read through our tips for cooking brisket!)

To properly slice brisket, it helps to have a basic understanding of its anatomy, including how to tell the flat from the point. The most important part, however, is knowing how to slice the brisket against the grain. But don’t worry — we’ll show you all of that so you can cut brisket like the best of ‘em.

Credit: Photo: Paola + Murray; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

What You’ll Need

How to Slice Brisket

Step 1: Trim any excess fat from the brisket.

Most brisket experts recommend trimming excess fat before cooking, because it’s easier to work with when it’s cool and uncooked. (Ideally, you’ll want to leave around 1/4 inch of fat around the brisket. Anything extraneous should be removed. Remember that there’s lots of fat inside the brisket point! You can also ask a butcher to do this for you. Some grocery store meat departments may be able to help.

Step 2: Cook the brisket according to your favorite recipe.

The steps for cutting the brisket are the same no matter how you cook it, so just choose your favorite recipe. Here are a few of ours.

Step 3: Let the brisket rest once it’s cooked.

Once you’ve pulled your brisket out of the oven, the slow cooker, the pressure cooker, the smoker, or the grill, it’s crucial to let it rest for about an hour, although smaller cuts can get away with less time. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, so they won’t pool on the cutting board. Cover the brisket loosely with foil, set it on a cutting board on the counter, and resist the urge to slice it right away.

If you didn’t remove the fat before the brisket was cooked, use a sharp chef’s knife to trim away the extra parts before slicing with your brisket-specific knife. Discard the fat, unless you’re the “DIY tallow soap and candle making type.”

Credit: Photo: Paola + Murray; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

Step 4: Separate the flat cut from the point cut.

Now’s the time for your long serrated knife. You need to separate the ‘point’ — the tall, irregularly shaped part of the brisket, which contains more fat— from the ‘flat’ — the larger, leaner part. If your brisket has both parts (the point and the flat), cut in between them with one or two long, slicing motions. Set the point aside for now, so you have ample room on the cutting board to slice the brisket flat.

Credit: Photo: Paola + Murray; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

Step 5: Slice the brisket flat.

Identify which way the grain runs in the brisket flat. A quick trick for this is to cut a piece off of the end of the flat before cooking, when the grain is easier to spot. You can use this piece as a guide once the brisket is cooked.

Place your knife perpendicular to the fibers, so you’re ready to cut against the grain. First, slice off the tip. (In barbecue, this part is known as the burnt end, and it’s delicious. Don’t throw it away. Hoard the burnt ends for yourself, or serve them sauced to your family and friends if you’re nice.) Then use your knife to confidently slice through the flat, aiming for 1/4- to 1/2-inch-thick pieces. The goal is to slice, rather than saw. Aim to slice through all or most of the meat in one motion each time.

Credit: Photo: Paola + Murray; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

Step 6: Slice brisket point.

If your brisket contains just flat, you’re done. Serve and enjoy. If your brisket has the point, you’re almost done. Rotate the point 90 degrees from where it was sitting against the point. The reason for this is because the fibers run in different directions between the flat and the point. Once you’ve identified which way the grain runs in the brisket point, situate your knife against the grain and continue to slice, the way you did with the flat.

How to Chop Brisket 

Prefer to serve chopped brisket instead of sliced brisket? This is a good preparation for nachos and tacos, chili, pot pie, or barbecue sandwiches. A meat cleaver is the right tool for this job; it helps you run through the meat quickly and uniformly, so you have lots of bite-size pieces of brisket. Although chopping brisket is less precise than slicing it, you should still aim to generally cut against the grain. Hot tip: The point, due to its high fat content, is usually the portion used for chopping.

What’s the difference between brisket point and flat?

First, cut straight from the cow, a brisket contains two distinct portions: the point and the flat. A brisket point is fattier and more unctuous, thanks to a seam of gelatinous fat that runs through it. A brisket flat is leaner, with a higher meat-to-fat ratio. You can easily tell the difference between brisket point and flat, because the point is taller and irregularly shaped. It’s crucial to separate the two, because the fibers run in different directions. 

However, not all brisket you will buy contains both parts. Brisket purchased in a grocery store will typically only have the flat, which means you don’t have to worry about separating the two. Brisket purchased from a specialty butcher may have both. (Also of note: Many Costco locations sell brisket with the point attached.) If you’re not sure if your brisket has the point, ask a butcher to help you identify it.

Credit: Photo: Paola + Murray; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen
To cut brisket against the grain, slice perpendicular to the direction of the grain.

What does it mean to cut against the grain with brisket?

You may have heard the term “cutting against the grain.” This is done with all cuts of beef, from a large brisket to a small strip steak. All meat has fibers (muscle tissues) that run in one direction. These fibers are long and stringy. By cutting opposite the grain (in other words, holding your knife perpendicular to the fibers), you help the slices of meat to be more tender. Quite simply, you’re slicing through the fibers so your knife does more work and you can do less chewing.

Credit: Photo: Paola + Murray; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen
To cut brisket against the grain, slice perpendicular to the direction of the grain.

What kind of knife is best for slicing brisket?

A long, serrated slicing knife is best for slicing brisket. The ideal brisket knife is at least 10 inches in length (remember, brisket is big!) and has hollow indentations along the sides, rather than saw-like teeth. This knife from Shun is made specifically for slicing brisket — it’s excellent, but a bit spendy. For a cheaper option, try this Victorinox knife sold on Amazon. To keep your brisket knife sharp between uses, store it in its original packaging or in a knife block or rack. Do not store it uncovered in a utensil drawer.

Tips for Slicing Brisket

When cooked correctly, brisket is very tender. That means you won’t have to press down too hard on the brisket as you slice it. Gently hold one end steady with your hand or a meat fork as you slice it with the opposite hand. (It may help to think about slicing through a tender loaf of bread. That’s the right amount of pressure.)

Another trick of the trade? Be prepared to sop up brisket juices as you slice. Even after resting, brisket can be messy to cut. Use a large cutting board with a juice trench or groove. You’ll also want to keep a roll of paper towels or a stack of clean (non-fuzzy) kitchen towels handy for mopping excess juice.

Credit: Photo: Paola + Murray; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

What to Do with Leftover Brisket

If you have leftover brisket — and unless you’ve served a crowd, you likely do — there are plenty of ways to use it up. If you’re not planning on freezing your leftover brisket, try one of these delicious and creative recipes.