Cooking is an art. Whether you’re a novice or pro pitmaster, cooking anything requires time, patience, skill, and knowledge. If you’ve ever tried to cook a brisket, you’ll know this all too well.
Producing the perfect brisket isn’t easy. One of the most important things you need to determine is whether or not to brine your brisket.
So, if you’re not sure where to start, we’re here to talk you through all things brine-related, so you can walk into your next cooking escapade armed with knowledge and set up for success.
Wet Brine Vs. Dry Brine
What’s better for your brisket – wet brine or dry brine, and what’s the difference?
Dry brined meat naturally enhances the flavors of your meat.
To dry brine your meat, simply rub it with sea salt, allow it to chill with plenty of airflow for as long as 48 hours, and smoke the fat side down for between six to nine hours.
Ideally, it should be wrapped in a few layers of foil and be smoked for an extra four to five hours.
When you dry brine your meat, you use the moisture from the food’s own moisture to create the brine. This then soaks back into the meat and produces a juicy, wet, and flavorful brisket.
Dry brining your meat will also help produce a crispier and browner skin.
To wet brine your meat, you’ll need to submerge it in a solution of salt and water. Wet brining is no longer the most popular method of brining, but it still produces great results.
Although salt is the prime ingredient for both dry and wet brining, other ingredients can be added to wet brine to create different flavors and results.
Though you may be tempted to think that wet brining leaves your meat soggy, this isn’t true.
Meat loses plenty of moisture when it cooks, so when you wet brine, most of this moisture evaporates during the cooking process but still leaves behind a juicy result.
Whether you dry brine or wet brine, salt is the key ingredient. Salt has the power to unleash aroma molecules, which can balance out any sour or sweet flavors, and mask unpleasant ones.
More importantly, though, salt will enhance the exquisite flavors of your brisket and give you a mouth-watering result.
Why You Should Avoid Wet Brine For Brisket
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with a wet brine, we wouldn’t recommend it for your brisket. Here’s why.
Unless you’re planning to make a corned brisket, wet brining your brisket is unnecessary.
You want your brisket to be tender and flavorsome, but unfortunately, wet brining can make you lose too much flavor and ruin the end result.
Wet brines tend to work well with poultry and pork. Your raw brisket will be fatty, tough, and thick.
To produce the best results, you should dry brine your brisket by rubbing it down, refrigerating it until wet, and smoking it until tender.
Wet brining your beef will make it taste more like corned beef. Although there’s nothing wrong with this, it might not be the result you’re trying to achieve. So, unless you want corned beef, we’d recommend avoiding wet brine.
Should You Brine Brisket Before Smoking It?
First off, brining isn’t always necessary. However, it will prevent your meat from drying out as it cooks, and it will give your meat a much-appreciated boost of flavor.
So, while it’s not an absolute ‘must follow’ step, we’d recommend it.
When it comes to brisket, dry brining ALWAYS produces the best results. So, if you want to try it out, go ahead and brine up before you smoke your meat.
Brining will help your meat retain moisture by reabsorbing anything that would have evaporated during the brining process – so why not give it a try?
How Long Should You Brine Brisket?
There are no hard and fast rules to follow here. How long you choose to brine your brisket for will depend on what result you want to achieve.
However, the minimum length of time is around two hours. If you want the most flavorful brisket possible, we’d recommend brining it for between twelve to fourteen hours.
So, be prepared to put in the prep work for the best tasting brisket possible!
The time you brine your brisket for will also depend on its size. Salt is the primary ingredient here, and it’s going to need some time to work its way into the meat and give you the best flavor possible.
So, if you’re working with a chunky portion, brine for as close to twelve to fourteen hours as possible. Brine up the day before, and keep your dry brine brisket in the refrigerator overnight. Trust us; the results will ASTOUND you.
After you’ve dry brined your brisket, don’t forget to wrap it in plastic to keep those flavors in.
When your brisket has sat in the refrigerator for long enough, don’t let it sit at room temperature for too long before you start smoking it.
Ideally, your brisket should go straight from refrigerator to smoker. This is because your cold brisket will naturally attract more smoke – the end result? A heartier, smokier brisket!
How To Dry Brine Brisket
So, we know that dry brining produces the best results – but how exactly do you do it? Thankfully, there are not many instructions to follow here.
Dry brining is much simpler than wet brining, and it will only take you a few minutes! So, while your brined brisket will need plenty of time to absorb the salt, you won’t have to do any heavy lifting to get great results.
To dry brine your brisket, simply rub a generous amount of salt over your meat, wrap it in plastic (or put it in an airtight container), and leave it in the refrigerator overnight.
(Remember, leaving it closer to twelve hours will give you the best results possible).
If you want to introduce more flavor to your brisket, feel free to rub in some more spices at the same time. What spices you use will depend on your preferences.
However, peppercorns, mustard seeds, and coriander seeds are all popular choices.
Brine Brisket: What Salt Should You Use?
Salt is the cornerstone of any great-tasting brisket, but does it make a difference what salt you use? Well, actually, it might.
Though we’re not going to lecture you too hard in this department (after all, high-end salt can be EXPENSIVE, and we don’t all have the facilities for that), your run-of-the-mill table salt probably isn’t up to the job.
Most budget table salts contain additives such as iodine to prevent those pesky lumps and clumps from forming – unfortunately, this doesn’t always give the best results.
If you do want to use table salt, bear in mind that it weighs twice as much by volume as kosher (the most popular choice), so you’ll need to follow and adjust your recipes carefully.
As we just mentioned, Kosher salt is the most popular salt to brine brisket with. Pitmasters LOVE kosher – why? Well, kosher salt has no additives and large, chunky granules.
It also prevents lumps and clumps by using anti-caking agents. In a nutshell, it’s more ‘natural’ than table salt (which is seen by some as a bit of a gimmick), and most would say it generally just tastes better – we’ll leave that up to you to find out, though.
Want to know what salt to avoid? Any type of curing salt should NOT be used on your brisket. Curing salts are designed to preserve meat.
They contain plenty of additives such as sodium nitrate, which are not preferred by pitmasters. If you want the best brisket possible, keep your salt as pure as possible. This is why we love Kosher!
Does Brining Brisket Help?
Is brining your brisket really worth it? As we said, it’s not always necessary to brine your brisket. You can still get great tasting results without dry or wet brining, but honestly, brining really helps.
If you’ve got a soiree to impress, or you simply fancy treating your taste buds, take some extra time to work that salt into your meat, and leave it to refrigerate overnight.
If you smoke your meat without brining it, it’s more likely to come out dry. Let’s face it – no pitmaster wants to serve up a hardened clump of beef to a hungry bunch.
It just doesn’t go down well. Liquid naturally evaporates during the cooking process, so your meat will inevitably get drier the longer it stays on the grill.
However, brining it will ensure you retain as much moisture as possible when you’re grilling.
So, although you’ll still need some skills to prevent it from burning, brining it makes it MUCH easier to avoid a rock-hard, super crispy brisket.
For best results, we’d recommend keeping your cooking temperature between 195-200 degrees Fahrenheit, and make sure you select a brisket with good marbling to guarantee that extra tender result.
Brine Brisket: What Tools Do You Need?
Now that you know how to brine your brisket (the right way), you’re almost ready to go. Before you head on over to start smoking though, let’s talk you through the tools you need to get the job done.
This may not be a must-have tool, but it’ll give your brisket an extra edge. If you want the middle of your meat to be just as good as the outside, a meat injector is your best friend.
Injecting your meat is the ONLY way to retain flavor and moisture in the middle – so honestly, it’s good to have on hand.
Most meat injectors are stainless steel, too, so they’ll last a lifetime. If you haven’t got one already, they’re well worth the investment, and they won’t break the bank!
One of the most important tools you’ll need is a meat thermometer. To produce the perfect brisket, you need to keep a close eye on the process from start to finish.
One of the most critical factors you’ll need to monitor is temperature.
With the right thermometer, you can keep an eye on the temperature of your meat throughout cooking, making it easier than ever to cook your brisket to perfection.
We’d recommend a quality, instant-read thermometer – these are great for the later stages of cooking when you need to check your meat in multiple areas.
Next up, we have brisket rub. This isn’t a necessity, but if you can’t be bothered to make your own, you can’t go wrong with store-bought rub!
Most mixes contain ingredients such as onion and garlic powder, paprika, salt (of course), brown sugar, and mustard powder.
These are exactly the kind of flavors you need to make your brisket pack a punch, and the best bit? You don’t have to spend any extra time doing the prep yourself! Simply buy it, rub it on, and get smoking.
If you’re not using butcher paper on your brisket yet… you should be.
Butcher paper can help speed up cooking time, but it still allows smoke to circulate through the meat, unlike foil (which we really wouldn’t recommend for brisket).
Your butcher paper will help soak up some of the grease of the brisket and form a nice layer of moisture that keeps the meat cooking.
Using butcher paper correctly requires some practice and patience, but once you master the art, you’ll never look back.
If you want to use a meat injector, you’ll need a decent brisket marinade to do the job. Brisket marinade will give a lip-smacking, mouth drooling result with punchy flavors, and plenty of moisture.
How To Avoid Dry Brisket
No one wants a dry brisket. If you want to prevent a true brisket flop, take this advice:
The art of cooking a delectable brisket begins the moment you choose your meat. So, making sure you select the right brisket is an essential part of the process.
For best results, we recommend choosing a brisket with good marbling to help you retain that all-important moisture.
Meat is often graded and given a marbling score between 3-13. The lower the grade of beef, the lower the marbling score, so keep an eye out for the higher numbers
If you want to cook the perfect brisket, keep your temperature low. At higher temperatures, liquid evaporates faster, and you’ll end up with a VERY dry brisket.
Smoke your brisket at around 195-200 degrees Fahrenheit for best results.
Inject Your Brisket
This isn’t something you NEED to do, but if you want to avoid dry brisket, injecting is a great way to add extra moisture. Most meat injectors are inexpensive and easy to use, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t give them a try!
Wrap, Wrap, Wrap
If you really want to master the smoking process, you’ll need to wrap your meat.
Foil can be tricky to work with, and it doesn’t let the smoke through, so we’d recommend using butcher paper to prevent your meat from drying out.
The Bottom Line
In short – brining isn’t always necessary, but it does produce much better results.
Just remember to dry brine your brisket (avoid wet brine unless you want corned beef!), and you’ll be well on your way to producing a five-star, juicy brisket.