There’s a lot that can go wrong when smoking brisket. It could turn out too dry or chewy from over-cooking or bitter from excess smoke. Another equally frustrating problem is over salting your brisket. Salt is a key ingredient to the perfectly smoked brisket, but too much is almost unbearable and will make your brisket difficult to salvage. I did some research and found out all there is to know about the relationship between salt and brisket.
The rub and the brine are the most common causes of a salty brisket. Most barbeque rubs contain a lot of salt, which means the brisket will get a double salt layer if you also brined the meat. The best practice is to make your own rub and eliminate the salt from the recipe. Also, be mindful of the salt content when injecting meat with broth or marinade and use low-sodium binders and mop sauces.
Control The Salt
To avoid a salty brisket, you need to take control of the salt in all aspects of the brisket preparation and through to the cooking. There could be salt in the rub, the brine, the marinade, the slather, the injection, or the mop sauce. The best practice is to eliminate salt from everything else and apply it separately. That way you are taking control of the salt content and will avoid over-salting your meat. If you must use a pre-mixed marinade or rub, make alterations elsewhere to make sure the brisket isn’t getting double the amount of salt.
Is Your Rub Too Salty?
Once you have brined your brisket, be careful not to use a salty rub. The best practice is to control the amount of salt by adding the salt separately. Store-bought rubs contain an enormous amount of salt, so take care when using them and read the labels. If you insist on buying your favorite rubs, consider skipping the brining. The best option is to make your own rub at home. Most homemade rub recipes will have salt in the ingredients, but don’t include the salt to ensure you have complete control of all the flavors.
The Importance of the Rub
The rub is one of the most important steps in brisket preparation, but if you’re not careful, the salt will hijack the flavor. If you can separate the rub and the salt, you will have more control over the flavors. The rub plays a role in the bark’s development and gives the meat a nice crusty layer on the outside of the brisket. One reason we mop or spritz our brisket every hour is to help with the bark formation. The seasonings in the rub remain on the outer layer of the meat but the salt can penetrate the meat fibers and work its way into the meat.
Homemade Rubs – Control The Salt
It may seem intimidating, but making your own rub is simple. There are some great rub recipes online that are used by experienced pitmasters, and they are easy to make. I’ve written a full-length article on rubs for brisket which contains all the best recipes. You can find the article here: The Best Rub Recipes For Brisket.
Ever since I started making my rub, I like to keep the rub spices in a designated box, separate from all the other spices in our kitchen. I buy large quantities of the spices I need for the rub and keep them together so it’s easy when I want to make a large batch. Rub shakers are an easy way to make different batches, and I’ve labeled them “chicken” “pork” or “beef” and made batches without salt.
Trust me, once you have made your own rub, you won’t need to buy store-bought rub again. Get yourself some rub shakers and experiment with some different recipes. The plastic rub shakers are much cheaper and you can buy them in large packs, but if you want something more sturdy, get yourself a stainless steel rub shaker.
Store-Bought Rubs – Overly Salty
There is nothing wrong with buying rubs, and there are some great products on the market. It took a while for me to make my own rub and I preferred using rubs that were made by well-known pitmasters. The problem with pre-mixed rubs you buy from the store will have a high-sodium and high-sugar. If you buy a rub, be extra careful when adding salt in other areas such as brining, marinading, injecting, spritzing/mopping, etc. You need to keep track of the salt in every aspect of the process and eliminate salt wherever possible.
Even the binder that you apply to your brisket prior to adding the rub could contain salt, so be aware. If you are after some good pre-made rubs, check out Harry Soo’s Amazon store. Harry is a World Barbeque Champion and has his own brand called Slap Yo Daddy. Another one to check out is Malcolm Reed’s Killer Hogs rubs. Malcolm has the largest meat smoking channel and is an absolute guru with smoked meat. You can check out Killer Hogs on Amazon here.
Brining Brisket – Be Careful
The brine may also be one reason your brisket turned out salty. If you left the brisket soaking in a brine for too long, then all that salt is going to penetrate all the fibers of the meat. The other common mistake is not getting the quantities right when making the brine. Brining is an important step in the smoked brisket. A brine will add flavor to the meat, but it will also play an important role in helping the meat remain moist while cooking.
A large brisket will be exposed to high-heat for 10 to 15 hours, so the meat will need all the help it can get to retain moisture. However, if the brisket is over-brined, it will turn out too salty. When making a brine, pay careful attention to add the correct amount of salt, and don’t leave the brisket in the brine for too long. Also consider dry brining the meat rather than wet brining. A dry brine will give you more control of the salt content.
Dry Brining vs Wet Brining
The best form of brining for brisket is a dry brine. A wet brine is better suited for turkey, etc, and if you wet brine a brisket, it may end up tasting like corned beef rather than smoked brisket. If you love a crispy bark, soaking the brisket may also contribute to a softer crust, which is what we want to avoid. You also risk over-salting your brisket if you leave it in a wet brine for too long, but a dry brine will give you more control over the salt.
A dry brine is fairly straightforward. To dry brine a brisket, all you need to do is rub kosher salt into the meat a few hours prior to smoking. Dry brining the day before is more common, and will give the salt ample time to work its way into the meat. Kosher salt is the best salt for dry brining brisket. You should be able to find kosher salt at your supermarket, but if not, you can buy it online. Check the latest price on Amazon here.
Injecting Brisket – Pumping High-Sodium
Injecting your brisket with a high-sodium liquid can contribute to your meat becoming overly salty. Injecting brisket is a popular technique used to get extra liquid into the meat. However, if you injected the meat with a salty marinade, salted butter, salty stock, or a salty broth, then it could ruin your meat. As with the rub and the brining, we always need to be in control of the salt content.
If you are injecting the brisket with a marinade, check the salt content and make alterations with the brine or the rub. If you pump bone broth into your brisket, use a low-sodium broth. Again, the best practice is to eliminate the salt from everything else and salt the brisket separately when pre-brining.
Be sure not to buy corned brisket, or brisket that has been pre-marinated or enhanced because they will already contain a lot of salt. If you then add your salty rub, or worse, make your own brine, then the brisket will be far too salty to eat. Corned brisket is delicious for cold meat, however, this is not the type of brisket we buy when making smoked brisket. If you buy a pre-marinated brisket, cook it as is, and don’t add rub or a brine.
Sauces and Binders – Another Possibility
People commonly use sauces in barbecue at different stages of the cook. Some recipes will glaze the meat in a barbecue sauce at the end, but this is more common with ribs. Be careful when adding any kind of sauce to your barbecue if you are trying to control the salt content because most sauces have a lot of salt and sugar which can alter the flavors.
Binders help the rub stick to the brisket, but most of the common slathers may contain salt. If you insist on using a binder, read the label and check the amount of salt. Common binders such as yellow mustard, mayonnaise and ketchup may be high in sodium. If you are worried about salt content, use olive oil instead. Olive oil is one of the most popular brisket slathers and contains no salt. The binder is not absolutely necessary and many pitmasters skip it altogether and splash the meat with a little water instead.
What’s The Best Salt For Brisket?
Kosher salt such as Morton is the best salt to use when preparing brisket. Sea salt is also suitable but avoid using curing salts which should be reserved for when you’re making bacon. When adding salt to your brine or rub mixture, pay careful attention when the recipe calls for salt. There are many kinds of salt, and they are not all equal. Believe it or not, but some salts are saltier than others, so make sure you follow the ingredients correctly. If the recipe asked for kosher salt, use kosher salt. I’m always extra careful when adding spice and salt to anything because I’ve made that mistake and served my family a brisket that was too salty or too spicy.
How To Save a Salty Brisket
In order to save your smoked brisket, try serving it with coleslaw. One of the first briskets I smoked was way too salty, but we didn’t notice the saltiness while eating it in a brisket sandwich with coleslaw. However, make sure your coleslaw mix is low in sodium. The other option is to disguise the salt with more chili. A nice hot chili sauce will divert everyone’s attention away from the saltiness.
For more brisket troubleshooting, check out some other articles on Meat Smoking HQ. We have written several brisket guides that cover all aspects of the brisket smoking process. You can check them out here:
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My Favorite Brisket Tools
Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.
Meat Injector: Injecting meat is a great way to take your barbecue to the next level and help you make competition-style brisket. An injector is the only way you will be able to get flavor and moisture into the middle of the meat. The Beast Injector is a stainless steel injector that is sturdy and affordable. Check the latest price on Amazon here.
Brisket Marinade: The best injection solution on the market is the Butcher BBQ Brisket Injection. This marinade is used in competitions and is made by World Barbecue Champion pitmaster, Dave Bouska. You can find the marinade on Amazon here.
Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.
Brisket Rub: These days I make my own rub when possible, but I always have a few pre-made rubs for when I’m running low. Barbecue guru Malcom Reed produces Killer Hogs, one of the best brisket rubs I’ve found over the years. Another great rub is Slap Yo Daddy, made by brisket master and multiple World Barbecue Champion, Harry Soo.
Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.
Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.
Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.
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