The Fat Cap Discussion Thread (Applies to Pork too)

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Smoking Fanatic
Original poster
OTBS Member
Aug 11, 2005
Some people use foil, others think its a crutch.

Some people swear by mesquite only, others bury mesquite in the yard (thats almost a DrBBQ quote :) )

Now I would like to start a discussion here that has strong advocates on both sides.

Fat Cap, up or down.

I spent my first couple years smoking an a ECB $40 Brinkman water smoker. I then graduated to bigger units (A Bandera, then a WSM) and gradually joined more forums and discussion groups.

I spent those years always doing what I was told (or learned early). Fat cap up, that way the juices can work their way into the meat as the sinews break down. Makes sense. Or so I thought.

Then, in a discussion thread like this, Jim Minion suggested that he always does fat cap down, especially on butts. Butts are already such a high fat content, that they don't need any more rendering.

Brisket is a bit leaner, but he still likes them fat cap down.

Then he posted a comment that instantly hit my "duh" bell (why didnt I think of that)

"Fat cap down protects the down facing meat from the heat" he said.

BBQ alarm bells went off in my head. For nearly 3 years, as I cut into pork loins (this was also before I started using foil) or briskets, the meat side that was down was clearly more "seared" or affected by heat (re: dryer) than the meat on top (which was obvious, cuz it was under the fat cap).

So to take what seemed to now be a perfectly logical thought, that the fat cap down would prevent "heat damage" to the meat, the "have your cake and eat it too" moment comes next. Now that your meat, and not fat, is facing up, that is the side getting the sprays and the mops, not the fat side. So not only is it getting any juice it needs, it is getting something with each and every spray/mop: BARK!!

The nirvana of briskets, butts, and loins, is in that deep rich bark. Now the bark in on the meat, and not on the fat cap. And those burnt ends that will inevitably dry out anyway, those are now barked nuggets of gold.

Not only that, but I save alot of rubs. I never rub down the fat cap on any cut of meat. Why bother. Your going to either leave some on the grates (fat that is) or pull it off when you pull it (pork mostly)

Now my bandera is a vertical smoker. So once I put a few things in there, whatever fat from the top ends up basting stuff below anyway.

But the bark, and the never having even the slightest toughness to the meat side down, is worth an experiment, don't you think :)

To be honest, I have not done fat cap up in almost 2 years. My brother in law came up from Texas "nope nope nope, your all wrong. Fat cap MUST be up to render the meat". Um, whose house is this. "It ain't gonna work, nope nope nope." about 18 hours later, sheepishly, "hey, I'm gonna have to try that when I get home. One of the best damned briskets I ever had. And I'm not even in Texas!"

So add you .02 here, and maybe give it a try some time.

My way is not the only way, it is but one way.

Heck, I know people that flip the briskets a few times, so they go both ways. :oops:
Thanks for opening the discussion. I'm less than a year into this smoking thing and I'm having a lot of fun, eating some wonderful meat and adding a ton of knowledge to my somewhat limited base. It has been a great learning experience.
But in all my reading, I have always seen "fat cap up." I have applied this to ribs (bone side down), butts, briskets and any other cut of meat that has a fat side. However, you make some good points. I especially agree with the thought of putting rub/mop to the fat cap in the up position. It has also occured to me that since I'm going to discard any unrendered fat, any bark accumulation here will be lost. I'll give it a try and thanks again for the thoughts.

Bill (Fla)
I don't know about the rest of the guys & gals here, but this is the first time I've ever heards this theory, and it certainly goes against the conventional thinking. However, upon reading Bills' explanation, I must admit that the logic does work. I, for one, am gonna give it a try on my very next smoke. Perhaps I'll do my own little experiment and do two briskets, one up and one down, just to see the difference. It's not as though I'd ever have to worry about having TOO much... :shock:

I also forgot to mention fat cap down renders out more of the fat, so when you slice the brisket, no more large layer of fat that the kids leave on the plate.
After a little more rumination and cogitation, I've come up with other thoughts/questions. If we are to use the fat cap down approach, what is the use in even having a fat cap? Why not just trim it off (butt and brisket) before putting it into the smoker? Further, if the cap is not to be used for the basting effect, why do we need the packer cut? Why not just use the flat?

If I understand Willkats original post correctly, the fat cap is useful in at least two ways. Firstly, it serves to protect the bottom of the meat from too much drying heat. Also, as I see it, the fat cap down would naturally lubricate the grate to prevent sticking and meat side up means that you would preserve that beautiful luscious bark right against the meat instead of leaving half of it stuck to the grate.

Secondly, as the fat renders, it would automatically baste any thing that might be cooking beneath it. How can that be anything but good?!?

Of course, I am not speaking from experience. As noted earlier, this is the first time I've ever heard this approach suggested, but the logic behind it does seem to make sense. At least its enough to warrant an experiment. I don't know...we'll see.

I be sure to post my results when I try it next time.

See, this is the kind of thoughtful discussion that is good for barbecue. This is great!

As Brian noted, trimming if off would not protect, as fat cap down does, as well as "feeding" anything under it.

But Bill (FL) does bring up a good "point" on packer cuts. This is where my discussion on fat caps, as it pertains to brisket only (because loins and butts are one cut as opposed to packer) needs to be "qualified"

"Here's where he'll squirm on this one" is what you might be thinking, but my qualification is that I can speak from a veiwership experience, and not the pit boss experience.

Let me explain. I can't get packer cut briskets. Not without paying a butcher $4+/#. No thank you. I buy flats from Costco at $2.65# and even that bugs me. My friends in other states (outside Texas where packer cut briskets get delivered with the Sunday paper) go to Restaurant Depot and get packers for 1.19#. So my personal "hands on" experience here in Chi-Town are flats, which are perfect for my experiment above.

But a couple times a year, I get together with a group of people like yourselves. People I met on the internet, and we all fly into a place somewhere and throw a 3 day party at one of the members houses.

It's an insane weekend where the only carbs are beer and sauce. :) But I digress.

It is at these events that I have "seen" (and eaten) packer cuts done fat cap down. It protects the point and the flat. And the point is the more tender meat, and is usually done sooner. So at some point, "the" point is seperated from the flat, and the flat remains to be cooked to temp. But sometimes we don't seperate, wait for the flat to be done, and seperate the point for the chili pot. So I never was the "cook" for one of these events, as I am in charge of pork loin (and Cabo Wabo tequila distribution).

This past September, 16 people, 3 days, 140# meat, and more alchohol than I want to admit to.

So Brian/Bill, I have seen the fat cap down work just as well on the packers (because alot renders off) but I fully admit to not being the pit boss cook in those instances. I was only the eater. And some of these packers were cooked by "designated Bosses" which stayed sober, started briskets at 8pm, so we could have breakfast briskets with our fatties and skinnies.

So my own personal data is for flats (as pertains to brisket). For pork loin and butts, I have volumes of data and happy stomaches :)
This is what I love about this forum- a topic of discussion that brings out a dialog and sharing of different theories and ideas and the only flames are the ones in the smoke box. :D

I will admit to doing pork butts and picnic fat side down in the home oven because it's easier to see just where your inserting an instant read thermometer. But I don't know why I never thought about transferring that same logic to the smoker (DUH). Thanks for starting this discussion Will, it will be interesting to see what others think about this topic.
Don't forget what my dog says.

Bark Bark Bark
And when his butt goes over sandpaper, does he go "Rough, Rough, Rough"? :shock: :D
Hey Bill (Chi Town),
I hear your dog. But just think ..... if all the fat cap from the butts as well as the loins and brisket were trimmed off, we could build bark on all sides of the meat. Also, those of us who have access to packer cuts could cease the search (down hear, Wal Mart Super Centers usually are about the only ones who carry the packer cuts). All we would have to be concerned about would be finding some meat, apply the rub, perhaps some Mop and then enjoy the fruits of our labor .... not withstanding the application of the foil and cooler with the towels.
Seriously, I think I may well try a brisket or butt with the fat cap down and I'll be as objective as I know how, but I have to admit, old habits are hard to break. The logic to the fat cap down doesn't hold. If it did, we could trim all the fat off, cover with rub, mop throughout the smoking process and have meat with lots of bark and much less fat??

Just to further the discussion, I think we have a misunderstanding,

Look at what I quoted. "The logic to the fat cap down doesn't hold. If it did, we could trim all the fat off"

Never did I, or would I say that.

If you trimed it off, you would be doing the same as fat cap up, and searing the meat.

The fat layer can "protect" the meat from the direct heat.

Fat cap up would put the bark on the fat.

Trimmed, not cap top or bottom would be bark on top, dry on bottom.

Again, I am in no way saying this method is best, it is a competition method that I have embraced. I don't compete, but I love competition quality barbecue.

But what do you like?

but I have to admit, old habits are hard to break.

This statement, should be printed on my wall. Yes, Yes, this was me. Heresy you say.

Let me just say this. I have a pocket full of barbecue ideas that turned my world upside down.

My intent is to intrduce you to all of them. One at a time.

I was a non believer too.

But now I found Nirvana. I hope you do too
Hello Chi Town Bill! It has not taken you long to get into the thick of things! WELCOME!
My own smoking experience is limited but I am well versed in most other forms of cooking. Just had to comment on your party style. I like it!
Next Fourth of July is my turn. I have ten very private acres in Vermont and will be hosting thirty or more people at last count. Designated drivers, cooks, and a key board will be in effect.
Just a comment on fat cap down. When trailside roasting a hunk of meat on a spit over an open fire the fat cap is always the idle point. So it makes sense to employ your "radical" idea of fat cap down. I am a new smoker and easily influenced. (In matters pertaining to smoking!
Looking forward to more info from you and your bag of tricks!
Thanks Monty,

But I need to stress again, that my way is one way, not thee way.

If for nothing else, it gives us all a reason to test (and eat!)
Bill, I have plenty more, trust me.

I just don;t want to come off a a post it all,know it all.

I learned a new trick tonight on chicken wings here.

But just remember "pocket of tricks".

I am experimenting with this statement as I type
White Sox Bill,
We'll be looking for you. I understand where you are coming from and I appreciate your consideration. But I think all of us would agree that it's good to occasionally shake up our thoughts. We may not change our ways but isn't it great to challenge the old data base. I really believe that's one of the wonderful things about the human experiment..... the fun in asking why? I enjoy this forum more every day.

Bill (Fla)
Thanks, Bill FLa.

I think I'll just sit back and enjoy your experiments with my methods (not "mine" but what I learned)

As I look at my posts, I think I came across as a know it all. Even though I tried to say it wasnt my way or the highway.

I will try to not post as much, as I am the first to tell you, I don't know jack.

Okay, I know jack, but I don't know Fred :)

Not kidding. I don;t want all to think I am a know it all. I;m not. Heck, CrazyH gave me a great wing idea today.

I was trying to infuse discussion here, and I probably was out of line.

I will step back

I was not trying to take over you board.

The reason I started posting here, after luking, is that this place is small (300+) and might not have heard mt kinda crud

I enjoy your board and will limit my posts accordinglyl

Thank youu
Hey Bill,
I must not have said something right. First of all it is not my board. It is our board. Second, my last post was an intent to say thank you for starting, what I think is a very good discussion. Thirdly, I hoped to encourage you to reach down into your pocket of experience again ..... soon ..... and challenge us to think or at least question some of our beliefs. I really enjoy this kind of discussion. Please don't back off or go into the "lurk" mode. I really believe it is refreshing to go back occasionally and examine why we believe the things we believe to be true. I am still very much in the learning mode and I appreciate what you and others who are more experienced smokers bring to the table for us newbies to munch on.


I'm glad you stopped "Lurking" and finally joined in!

You're going to find that our forum is a little less on the "B.S." side than that of the Brethren. Not that there's anything wrong with that, I get a chuckle out of the banter some times!

Most of the Members here are "relatively" (and I use that lightly - not to offend anyone) new to the Art, and don't compete. However, in the short time we've been around and including our days at Yahoo (which still exists) we've gotten pretty tight and have shared alot of information with each other.

I know your caliber, and hope that everyone can learn from you and your experience. So please, don't be affraid to speak up and get involved!

Glad to have you onboard!

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