If you’ve been keeping up with barbecue trends in 2021, you’ve no doubt come across the technique of adding beef tallow to smoked brisket. Specifically, there’s been a lot of hype around wagyu beef tallow. In this guide we’ll cover what beef tallow is, how to get your hands on some, and the different ways it can be incorporated into barbecued brisket.
Beef tallow is simply the rendered fat from beef. It’s made by cooking down fat and then removing any leftover solids and impurities. Much like butter, it is solid at room temperature but becomes a liquid at higher temperatures. You can use it just like any other cooking oil, so it works nicely for searing steaks or sautéing vegetables. And yes, it’s the same stuff that is sometimes used for making candles and soap.
But what about the “Wagyu” part? Wagyu is a tricky term to define, since it used to describe only beef that came from four breeds of Japanese cattle. Nowadays there is crossbred Wagyu from other parts of the world, including America. Regardless, the defining characteristic of Wagyu is its high fat content, which is clearly visible through its incredible marbling.
So to put it all together in plain terms, Wagyu beef tallow is rendered fat from Wagyu cattle.
Where Did This Technique/Trend Come From?
As far as I can tell, it all started with Jeremy Yoder, creator of the YouTube channel Mad Scientist BBQ. Jeremy was watching some videos featuring Franklin Barbecue when he noticed some anomalies. For example, in one video he saw that liquid absolutely gushed out of punctured brisket wrap. In another, he noticed that the butcher paper was completely soaked when a Franklin employee unwrapped a brisket on the slicing line.
Now let’s be clear: it is normal for fat to cook off from a brisket, but the amounts Jeremy saw seemed to obviously be above the norm. He theorized that Franklin is likely adding extra fat, and it’s probably tallow, since other fats like duck fat or butter would give the brisket a different flavor.
Benefits of Adding Beef Tallow to Brisket
So why would you want to spend the extra time on this technique? The goal is to make a juicier brisket. If you’ve ever been unsatisfied with a dry bark, adding some tallow to your wrap will almost certainly remedy that. On the flip side, the one negative is that too much tallow can wash away exterior seasoning, so you want to make sure the bark is well formed before adding tallow to the wrap.
Additionally, from the perspective of presentation, adding tallow really makes the bark shine with moisture. That glistening exterior is appealing to home cooks and competition judges alike.
Finding Beef Tallow
When it comes to getting your hands on some beef tallow, wagyu or otherwise, there’s two ways to do it: buy it or make it yourself.
Where to Buy Wagyu Beef Tallow
Like pretty much anything, you can buy beef tallow online. South Chicago Packing makes a Wagyu variety, while Fatworks makes one from 100% grass-fed beef. Both companies note that their tallows are made from pasture-raised cattle.
Your local butcher may also sell beef tallow. It’s not something that’s often on display, since most customers simply aren’t interested in it, so be sure to ask if they’ve got some in the back.
How to Make Beef Tallow
If you like experimenting in the kitchen, then you shouldn’t find the process of making your own beef tallow too difficult. But note that you would have to use fat from a wagyu cow if you want wagyu beef tallow specifically. Here’s the process in broad steps:
- Grind your beef fat or cut it into small pieces. Large chunks will not render as effectively.
- Add your fat to a pot with a cup or two of water, depending on the amount of fat.
- Simmer the fat and water for 3-4 hours. During this time the water will evaporate, and you will be left with only the fat.
- While the mixture is still warm, but not scalding hot, use a cheesecloth to strain out impurities and solids. What you’re left with is pure beef tallow! Store it in a glass jar or another vessel of your choosing.
You can even use brisket trimmings to make tallow. In fact, this would be a great way to spend the time when your brisket is on the smoker, but not yet wrapped. Here’s a detailed video from All Things BBQ breaking down that exact process:
How to Smoke Brisket With Beef Tallow
So you’ve purchased some Wagyu beef tallow or made some yourself, and now it’s time to get cooking. There are two main ways to incorporate tallow into your brisket.
Wrapping Brisket with Tallow
Adding tallow to the brisket when wrapping is the most common method. This is typically done with butcher paper, but foil works too.
First off, let’s talk about when to wrap. Some folks choose when to wrap based on temperature, since wrapping can help fight against the stall. Others prefer to wrap when the bark is fully formed. Since the extra moisture from tallow can wash away a bark that hasn’t been completely developed, you want to make sure the exterior is looking nice and crispy before wrapping.
When it comes time to wrap, lay out your paper (or foil) like you normally would, but first cover it with a thin layer of tallow. This will be easier if you first heat up your tallow until it becomes a liquid. After that, just finish cooking your brisket until it reaches its target temperature.
As an optional final step, you can re-wrap your brisket (again with tallow) when it’s done cooking. The goal is to get rid of extra moisture from the cooking process, allowing the brisket to rest in just a modest amount of tallow rather than a soupy mess of fluids. Jeremy Yoder does this in his video outlining the process (see 7:45 for the second wrap).
Injecting Brisket with Tallow
Injecting a fatty cut of beef like brisket with even more fat might seem like a silly idea, but there are a couple reasons to do it.
First, as you probably know, brisket is made up of two muscles, with the point being fattier than the flat. By injecting the flat, you can ensure that it won’t dry out, which can be a problem if you have a lower grade brisket or one with a particularly thin flat muscle.
Second, you can use this as an opportunity to add more flavor by mixing some seasoning with the fat. Think of it as a typical water-based injection, but with tallow instead. I’m sure the competition pitmasters are already experimenting with this technique.
Is There a Different Between Using Wagyu Beef Tallow and Lower Grade Beef Tallow?
The main benefit of splurging for a prime or wagyu steak is the higher intramuscular fat content. But tallow, no matter what kind of cow it comes from, is 100% fat. So does it matter if it came from a cow that initially had a higher fat content? Personally, I don’t think so. Some might argue that wagyu has better flavor, but there’s all sorts of wagyu, including American and Australian varieties. Surely some prime or even lower grade briskets have flavor that’s just as nice, even if they are lacking in the marbling department.
Also, let’s not lose sight of the main goal here, which is making a brisket that is more juicy, not necessarily more flavorful. For these reasons, I think it’s perfectly fine to use a generic beef tallow. But if you want the top shelf stuff, go for it!
How Do You Store Beef Tallow, and How Long Does it Last?
You can store beef tallow in any air-tight container. Glass Mason jars work nicely.
While it is probably safe to store tallow at room temperature, I take the extra step of keeping it in the fridge. I figure it’s going to be a solid that needs to be heated up whether it’s at room temperature or refrigerated, so why not take the extra precaution? If you don’t want to refrigerate it, many tallow makers claim it will keep for up to a year in your pantry.
You can even pour tallow into ice cub trays and freeze it. This is convenient if you’re going to sauté with it – just pop out a cube as needed and throw it in the frying pan.
What Else Can You Cook With Tallow?
If you only used a portion of your beef tallow on a brisket, you might be left wondering what to do with the leftover amount. Like I mentioned above, tallow can substitute for butter or cooking oils, so the possibilities are endless. But if you need some inspiration, here are a few recipes:
- Tallow Basted Ribeye – Yes, this is an obvious choice, but this recipe takes it to the next level by infusing the tallow with garlic.
- Beef Tallow Furikake Fries – In case you’re wondering, Furikake is a fine mix of sesame seeds, seaweed (nori), salt, and other spices. And if you don’t want to go all out with fries, use tallow instead of butter next time you make frozen hash browns. Basically, it’s great with potatoes.
- Beef Tallow Chocolate Tortes – If you’re daring, try this chocolate dessert, complete with bourbon-salted caramel sauce.
Summing Things Up
While there’s no way to know for certain if Aaron Franklin cooks his briskets with beef tallow, we do know it’s an effective method for adding extra moisture to smoked brisket. The process doesn’t require much extra time or effort, so definitely give it a try if you’re wanting to take your brisket to the next level. Then tell me how it worked in the comments below!