Yes, you should brine a brisket before cooking it! Almost all meats benefit from being treated with a brine, and brisket is no exception. Apply a dry brine of ½ teaspoon kosher salt, or ¼ teaspoon table salt, per pound of meat, to the surface of the brisket a few hours to a day before you cook it. Keep the brisket refrigerated until you’re ready to smoke it.
As someone who is known as a pitmaster among my friends, I have gotten the question, “Should you brine a brisket?” a few times. I’ve got you covered. One of the keys to my juicy, meltingly tender brisket is that I dry brine it before I smoke it.
In this post, I will explain why you should brine brisket, how to do it, and a whole lot more! Fire up your smoker. Let's get started!
Yes, it is worth it to brine a beef brisket before smoking it. Brining gets salt into the brisket, which cranks up its flavor and helps it retain moisture. So you’ll get juicier, more tender, more flavorful meat. (Brining works this magic on all meats, by the way. Not just brisket.)
Since brining is so effective on brisket, I always hit it with a dry brine. I’d encourage you to add brining to your barbeque game since it’s incredibly easy and effective.
Look, when you’re low and slow cooking, the risk of dry brisket is increased. There are so many factors that can go bad, leaving you with dry or tough meat. Brisket is too expensive and delicious to screw up. Brining is one of the tools every pitmaster should have in their toolbox - it helps yield a better-finished product.
When it comes to brining, you have two options - wet brining and dry brining.
To create a wet brine, mix salt and water. The meat is then immersed in this liquid for an extended period of time, from 2 hours up to a day.
With a dry brine, the salt is patted onto the meat. You can apply additional seasonings to the dry brine, or add the other seasonings before cooking.
So, which method should you use for your brisket? While both types of brining work, I do not wet brine red meats - I dry brine them. Rich cuts like brisket have enough fat and connective tissue that they don’t need the water from the wet brine.
The other perk of a dry brine is that it helps create a lovely bark around the brisket, giving it a delightfully crispy exterior.
Wet brines are also more work. I choose to save the wet brines for quick-cooking cuts of poultry, fish, and chops.
In the end, it’s up to you to decide which method you prefer! Ask 10 pitmasters how to do something, and you might get 10 different answers. I will provide recipes and instructions for both types of brining.
For best results, I brine between 12 and 24 hours. This requires some planning ahead - you’ll be brining in the refrigerator overnight, the day before you smoke the brisket. Clear off some shelf space. But the process itself is incredibly quick and easy, and the results may leave you wondering what took you so long to embrace the brine.
If you’re pressed for time, even a couple hours of dry brining will be effective on brisket.
Now, there is such a thing as brining your brisket for too long. The longest that you should brine brisket is 24 hours. Any longer than this and the taste and the texture may be negatively affected.
You can follow similar guidelines for wet brining as well. At least 2 hours and no more than 24 hours at a time. Some people like to follow a rule that you should brine the meat for 1 hour per pound.
I use kosher salt to brine my brisket. There are two main types of salt - table salt and kosher salt. (Sea salt is a misleading bit of marketing because all salt comes from the sea.)
Why do I prefer kosher salt for brining? Well, I think the flakes stick to meat more evenly than fine-grained table salt. Since it’s less salty tasting than table salt, it also gives you a wider margin of error. You can always add salt to meat, but you can’t take it out of there.
The grains of kosher salt are larger than table salt, so you have to use more. My favorite brand is Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt. Yes, I have a favorite brand of salt. If you know, you know.
Even with a wet brine, I prefer kosher salt, but table salt works will do the job. Again, the grains of table salt are smaller, which makes it taste saltier. You need to use less of it.
If a recipe calls for kosher salt - if substitute it with table salt, I would recommend halving the amount of table salt that you use. (Unless you are weighing the salt. Kosher salt and table salt are equally salty by weight. Kosher salt is less salty by volume due to the larger size of the flakes.)
Use a paper towel to pat the meat dry.
Measure out the required amount of salt into a bowl. Sprinkle the salt on one side completely. Then, carefully rub the salt into the brisket. If you are using a dry rub, mix it up and press it into the meat now.
Flip the brisket over and repeat with the other side.
Place a wire rack inside on a suitably sized baking dish or pan. This will catch any juices that drip from the brisket while it is brining, keeping your refrigerator clean. Place the brisket on top of the wire rack. Refrigerate for 2 hours to 24 hours.
Remove the brisket from the refrigerator and smoke it. Don't wipe or wash off the rub or the brine before placing the meat in the smoker.
If you are using a dry rub, it is a good idea to make a mixture of your own. This is because most commercially available rubs have a high salt content. When you add this on top of the kosher salt you used for dry brining, you can end up with a smoked brisket that is too salty.
The amount of brine solution that you will require will depend on the size of the brisket. You’ll need a container large enough to fit the brisket - if you’re cooking a whole-packer brisket, you’ll need a very large container.
Add 2 cups of kosher salt for every gallon of water until the brisket is completely submerged in the wet brine. How many gallons you’ll need will depend on the dimensions of your container - you want that brisket fully submerged in the wet brine. If you’re using table salt, use 1 cup per gallon of water.
Some cooks add other ingredients such as herbs and spices to the solution. I don’t think this gets much flavor into the brisket, so I don’t add herbs to the wet brine. Instead, I hit the brisket with a salt-free rub before smoking.
Pour the required amount of water into a pan and bring to a boil. If your pan can’t contain the total volume of water, then add only half of the water into the pan.
Turn the heat off and stir in the salt. You can also add other seasonings now if you like. Stir until all the salt is completely dissolved.
Pour the solution into the container that you will be using (let it cool first if the container isn’t heatproof). If you didn't add the total volume of water earlier, pour in the rest of the cold water into the container, and stir to mix. Stick the container in the fridge. Wait until the brine has completely cooled before adding the brisket.
Once the liquid has cooled, place the whole brisket into the container. The brisket should be completely submerged. Cover the container and refrigerate overnight.
Take the brisket out of the liquid, rinse, and pat dry. Apply dry rub if using and place in smoker.
Another option for perfectly smoked brisket involves injecting a flavorful liquid into the meat before smoking it. The benefit of this is that you don’t need to plan ahead. You can inject the brisket right before it goes on the cooker. As with brining, injecting liquids boosts the flavor and makes the brisket more moist.
The sky is the limit with what liquid you use. Apple cider, beer, melted butter, and beef broth are all popular options.
You’ll need a specialized injector. This injector by Grillman is a solid option. I’d recommend going with a stainless steel injector - it’ll last a lifetime, unlike plastic. To me, a solid metal injector is worth spending a couple extra bucks on.
Some pitmasters swear by the injection method, so you certainly should give it a try!
Some people do get these processes mixed up. It’s understandable, since they both require brisket and salt. However, they are completely different methods.
With corned beef, you use pink curing salt, preservatives, and flavorings which creates an entirely different taste and texture to when meat is brined.
There you have it - go ahead and brine that brisket! It’ll be juicier, more tender, and more flavorful. That’s a win-win-win.
I’ve dropped the recipes, tools, and tips that you need to brine it right. Brining can seem daunting, but if you go with a dry brine, it’s incredibly easy.
I promise that once you get the hang of brining, you won’t look back, and you’ll apply a brine every time you smoke beef brisket.