Smoking a perfect beef brisket requires a lot of time and patience. So should you take the extra step of brining the meat beforehand? Will the results be worth it? Let’s find out.
Brining brisket should prevent the meat from drying out as it cooks. It will also give the meat a boost in the flavor department. If you don’t have a container large enough to hold the whole brisket plus the brine solution, dry brining is an excellent alternative.
The concept of brined meat is not a new one. Before refrigerators became a kitchen staple, it was customary to preserve meat by bathing it in a saltwater solution. Today, the process is less about preservation than it is about taste and texture.
Brining brisket–or any other cut of meat, including pork and poultry–will help to keep the meat nice and moist. During the long smoking process, the water in the brisket will evaporate on the surface. Salt helps the meat reabsorb this moisture, thereby giving you the texture you want.
Of course, the salt will make the meat exceptionally flavorful as well. You can even experiment with different seasonings in the brine to make the flavors more complex.
Why You Should Brine Brisket
The brisket is composed of two muscles located in the pectoral region of the steer. These muscles are largely responsible for supporting the animal’s weight, which is around half a ton. As a result, the brisket is tough and sinewy, with a lot of intramuscular fat.
Because brisket can turn out dry if it isn’t done right, brining the meat offers a layer of insurance against moisture loss. It will also enhance the smoke flavor and promote tenderness in a naturally tough cut of meat.
Like most cooking techniques, brining can be a disaster if you don’t adhere to a few basic rules. Fortunately, these rules are simple to remember and even easier to follow.
First of all, make sure you get the proportions right. Use 1 cup of kosher salt per gallon of liquid. You can use apple juice or cider for some of the water if you’d like, but we think this method is better suited to pork ribs and poultry. When it comes to brisket, we prefer to stick with a salt and water solution.
Second, refrigerate the brine on its own for a while before adding the meat. The liquid needs to be very cold. Otherwise, the meat might climb into the temperature “danger zone,” which ranges from 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once the brisket is in the brine, push it down to ensure that it’s fully covered. If any of the meat is sticking out, it won’t receive the benefits of the brining. You could even run the risk of spoilage, depending on how long the meat was in the refrigerator beforehand.
Lastly, don’t be tempted to leave the meat in the solution too long. You might think that a longer brining period equals more flavor, and that’s true up to a point. However, brining the brisket for longer than 24 hours may give the meat a grayish hue. We would suggest brining the meat for about 1 hour per pound, or overnight.
There is one caveat: If you want to use the brisket to make corned beef, the curing process will take several days. In this case, we recommend using a pink curing salt, which has nitrites added to prohibit bacteria growth. It will also prevent the meat from turning gray during the long exposure to the brine.
How To Brine Brisket Like a Pro
1. Determine how much brine you’re going to need. This isn’t an exact science–you just need enough liquid to submerge the entire brisket.
One easy way to find out would be to set the wrapped brisket in your chosen container, then cover it with water. The volume of water that’s left in the bowl after you remove the brisket is the amount of liquid you’ll need.
Since a whole packer brisket weighs around 10 to 16 pounds, it can be tricky to find a container that’s large enough to hold the meat plus the brine solution. One alternative would be to cook either the flat or the point rather than the whole brisket.
2. Boil 2 cups of water for each cup of salt you’ll need, based on the calculations we described above. Once the water is boiling, add the salt and whatever spices or flavorings you prefer. A handful of black peppercorns and a few sprigs of thyme or rosemary are good options. Some chefs also like to add a cup or two of brown sugar.
3. Stir the mixture until the salt is completely dissolved. Let it cool slightly, then add the remaining water, which should be as cold as possible. Refrigerate the brine until it’s completely chilled.
4. If you’re using any other liquid besides water, now is the time to add it. When the brine contains all of your chosen ingredients, it’s time to add the brisket. You may need to put a heavy plate on top of the meat to allow it to fully submerge.
5. Place the container in the refrigerator. Let the brisket sit in the brine for about 1 hour per pound of meat.
6. Remove the brisket from the brining solution. If there’s a lot of salt visible along the surface, run it under cold water before patting it dry with paper towels. Otherwise, there’s no need to bother with rinsing.
7. Smoke the brisket according to your chosen recipe. Since the brine will have permeated the surface of the meat, it’s best to leave the salt out of any spice rub that you might use.
As an alternative, you might consider dry brining the brisket. This will still give the meat an extra dose of flavor, but you won’t have to worry about finding a container large enough to submerge a whole brisket. It also eliminates the extra step of boiling the water and salt solution beforehand.
1. To dry brine a beef brisket, start with about 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt per pound of meat. This might look like a lot, especially if you’re working with a 15-pound whole packer brisket, but don’t be tempted to decrease the amount. Otherwise, you won’t get the full effect of the brining.
Similarly, it’s not a good idea to substitute table salt for kosher salt when dry brining. Kosher salt is made of coarse flakes that are ideal for drawing out moisture.
2. Pat the meat dry with paper towels and set it on a clean work surface. Rub the surface of the brisket all over with the salt, taking care to massage it into every crevice.
3. Place the brisket on a wire rack set inside a large rimmed baking sheet. This will catch any juices and keep them away from the meat’s surface.
4. Set the tray on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Leave it undisturbed for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight. We would recommend letting the brine do its work for 12 to 24 hours, particularly if the brisket is large.
If you’d like, you can apply a rub at the same time and give the meat a chance to absorb those spices overnight. Remember to check the rub recipe–if it contains too much salt, it’s best to steer clear of it. Making your own spice rub is an easy way to avoid over-salting the brisket.
5. When it’s time to start cooking, take the brisket out of the refrigerator. If you haven’t already applied the spice rub, do so now.
6. Put the brisket in the smoker and let it cook according to your recipe.
The Bottom Line
Should you brine brisket in the first place? The step isn’t strictly necessary, but it’s fine to do so if you’d like to experiment. We would recommend dry brining over wet brining, as it’s much neater and requires less effort. Either way, the process should bring you one step closer to your goal of achieving moist and tender brisket.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!