If you love tailgating and BBQ but hate getting/staying up at ungodly hours to tend a whole packer brisket the night before a game then we have a solution for you: smoked brisket flats. Cooking just the flat of the brisket is a great way to tailgate because they take much less time to cook and are, well, brisket!
While it is true that the point is certainly the most delicious part of the brisket, that’s like saying Frank Sinatra is the best singer in the Rat Pack: yes, he’s the best, but it’s not like the others aren’t worthwhile! Come along and we’ll show you how to get delicious sliced brisket in the time it takes to smoke some ribs.
Brisket flat benefits
Some may balk at the idea of using only the flat of the brisket, but even putting aside the convenient fact that flats are often easier to find than whole packers, there are some serious advantages to a partial-brisket tailgate.
The first and perhaps greatest advantage is that a brisket flat is thin and of uniform thickness, and that means that it has better thermal properties. A whole brisket is strangely shaped with some parts that are 6” thick and some that are only 2” thick. That’s not a recipe for even cooking. In fact, this is why so many briskets that you have eaten have had bad flat: in the process of proper point cooking, the flat often dries out. Cooking the flat alone gives you greater thermal control.
(To learn more about cooking whole brisket, take a look at our Brisket 101 post!)
The thinness also leads to a second advantage: brisket flat cooks so much faster than whole packers do. Depending on the size, you can cook a flat in the time it takes to cook some babyback ribs. That makes getting to your game-day celebration on time a lot easier! And because they are easier to cook and smaller, you can cook several flats simultaneously without stressing yourself out.
Here’s an idea. Cook three flats for a party that would normally only eat one or maybe two whole briskets. This means flavor explorations! Season three flats three different ways and satisfy your scientific curiosity about which rub really is the best! And that’s not a problem, thermally speaking, with the new Signals™ 4-channel BBQ thermometer. With the Signals’ Wifi and Bluetooth® capability, you can monitor your cook while you get painted up for the game.
Finally, the last advantage I’ll mention for cooking brisket flats is ease of service. With only one grain direction on one muscle, you only have to slice it and go. Cut it across the grain all the way across the meat and it’s not a problem—certainly easier than cutting a whole brisket!
Brisket flat challenges, brisket solutions
- Cooking Brisket flats does present some challenges. It is still brisket after all. For instance, you need to dissolve a lot of collagen into gelatin for that tender, fall-apart meat experience. Of course slow cooking takes care of that problem by allowing the whole piece of meat to cook at collagen-dissolving temperatures without burning. That’s why brisket is such a famous BBQ meat!
- In addition to having loads of connective tissue that make it a naturally tough meat, the flat of the brisket is also lean. The point is shot-through with fatty marbling, but the flat is quite a lean cut, all things considered. This leanness can lead to drying out, if we’re not careful.
To combat the leanness problem, we’ll do two things: take advantage of the fatcap and add some liquid. Most brisket flats come trimmed on one side with the fatcap remaining on the other. Malcom Reed of the Killer Hogs BBQ team leaves the fatcap untouched when cooking a flat and cooks the brisket with the fat side down. This offers a layer of insulation between the meat and the heat source, keeping the meat on the bottom from drying out too quickly. He also recommends adding a cup of beef broth to the wrapping during the crutch (more on that in a second), which the meat can partially soak up as it rests. While not much will actually go into the meat, the added moisture in the cooking environment will speed our journey through the stall, getting your meat done faster with less time to dry out. Plus, you get BBQ seasoned beef broth for dipping later, which you won’t complain about, I promise.
- The final obstacle that brisket flat presents is the stall. Yes, even without the point, your meat is still going to hit a stall when the proteins start to constrict and squeeze out their inner water reserves. That water then makes its way to the surface where it starts to evaporate and cool the tings down. You’ve heard of the meat sweats, right? These meat sweats stop your meat from cooking further for a long time.
As usual, we’ll combat the stall with a crutch. Wrapping the meat in aluminum foil when it reaches 160°F (71°C) will prevent evaporative cooling and will allow your meat to continue to cook relatively quickly. As I said above, we’ll add some broth to the wrap to increase moisture content and also to make a delicious sauce out of later.
Smoked brisket flat temperatures
There are a few key temperatures of which we should take note when cooking brisket flat. The first is the cooking temperature. You’ll want to smoke brisket flats at about 250°F (121°C) for a nice balance of speed and moisture control. Set the pit-channel on your Signals to have a high alarm at 275°F (135°C) and a low alarm at 225°F (107°C). That way you’ll be alerted on your phone if the pit temperature spikes or stalls out and needs attention.
To wrap your briskets for the stall, set the high alarms on all your meat channels to 160°F (71°C)—the approximate temperature that the stall starts. When each brisket reaches that temp, you can take it out and wrap it. The genius of monitoring all three flats a the same time with your Signals BBQ alarm is that you don’t have to take just one temp and guess that the others are ready at the same time!
In fact, that’s an advantage to the multi-channel approach. In this cook, I found that one brisket was heating faster than the others—my smoker has a hot spot, apparently—which I was able to notice because I was monitoring all their temps on the free app (available for Android or iOS). To rectify this, I went out and shuffled the briskets around so they were exposed to even heat in my smoker. This actually sped up the whole cook, as I didn’t have to wait for the slow ones to catch up for as long. Nice.
Once you wrap your briskets, reset your high-alarms for 200°F (93°C) to finish cooking. Let the briskets rest (preferably in a cooler) for an hour before slicing thin and digging in! (I know we usually recommend cooking to 203°F [95°C] for briskets, but because of the leanness on this cut, we recommend a slightly lower pull temp.)
Smoked Brisket Flat Recipe
Based on the instructions from Malcom at How To BBQ Right.
- Up to 3 Brisket flats
- 2 C Mustard, divided
- BBQ rubs of your choice (equal parts by volume salt and pepper is a great way to go, though!)
- Preheat your smoker to 250°F (121°C).
- Pat your flats dry.
- Smear each flat with mustard on all sides.
- Generously sprinkle the rubs on the flats.
- Place the flats on the smoker with probes for each connected to your Signals. Set your high-alarms for 160°F (71°C).
- Use the included grate-clip to place your air-probe in the smoker. Set the air probe’s high alarm for 275°F (135°C) and the low alarm for 225°F (107°C).
- Smoke those briskets! Monitor the temps as you go either at the smoker or on your phone/smart device.
- When each flat reaches 160°F (71°C), take it out and wrap it in a double layer of heavy-duty foil. Add a cup of beef broth to each as you wrap.
- Keep cooking the briskets after wrapping, this time with the high alarms set for 200°F (93°C).
- As each alarm sounds, verify the internal temps with a Thermapen® Mk4. If you get a cooler reading, adjust your probe and continue to cook.
- Place each brisket in a cooler to rest for an hour as it comes off the smoker.
- Slice them up! Save the drippings from inside the foil. Now you have BBQ jus. Sandwiches! Sandwiches! Go, fight, win!
Whole briskets can be intimidating. They’re hard to get right and they can take forever to cook. But a flat is much easier. Its thermal properties are easier to handle and you can provide more variation for the party by seasoning them differently. And with the Signals, you can easily watch a whole smoker-full of them to make sure you’re getting the very best results for your tailgate!