Brisket Rub: What Is It, How To Make It At Home, and More – Our Complete Guide

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When it comes to preparing brisket, it’s easy to focus on the part of the process that revolves around your getting your smoker.  After all, your brisket is likely to spend upwards of 8-12 hours on the smoker if you’re cooking it low and slow.

But one of the most important parts of the brisket making process happens before your hunk of meat goes on the rack.  Choosing the right brisket rub can lead to legendary brisket that friends and family talk about for years and years.  Choose the wrong one?  Your brisket could leave you wanting more.

In this article, we’ve created a complete guide to brisket rub.  We’ll touch on what it is exactly, why it’s important, how to apply it, and a few of our favorite brisket rub recipes for you to try at home.

What is a Brisket Rub?

Simply put, a brisket rub is a combination of seasonings and flavoring ingredients which are mixed together and applied (or rubbed) to the outside of your brisket.  The term “brisket rub” simply refers to a BBQ rub that either was designed specifically for brisket or a general BBQ rub that works well with brisket.

Generally speaking, brisket rubs can be dry rubs or wet rubs and almost all of them consist of salt and some sort of sweet component as well.

Common ingredients for a brisket rub include but aren’t limited to:

  • Coarse kosher salt (fine table salt won’t get it done)
  • Coarse fresh ground black pepper (same here – the pepper needs to be coarse)
  • Onion powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Smoked paprika
  • Brown sugar
  • Mustard powder
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Chili powder
  • Maple sugar

Many professional pit masters and restaurants have their own brisket rub that you can pick up and try at home.  But it’s also entirely possible to create a perfectly delicious rub at home with staple spices and ingredients.

Smoking vs Grilling – and What it Means for Rubs

Before we go any further, it’s important to note that brisket rubs, and all BBQ rubs for that matter, are for when you’re cooking meat low and slow on a smoker.

They are not for grilling or searing on high temperatures – which is done over direct heat.  The reason being, many of the ingredients that are commonly found in BBQ rubs aren’t suited for high temperatures.  If you were to use a brisket rub that had sugars as an ingredient for seasoning a burger or steak, you’d be looking at a burnt and smoky mess after a few minutes of operating your grill.

BBQ rubs can be used on the smoker when the meat you smoke is cooked over long periods of time at low temperatures.  Especially if your rub has sugar in it, this method will allow for the rub to seep in and flavor your brisket beautifully while it cooks.

We’ve created a resource on the differences between a smoker and a grill right here if you want to dive a little bit deeper into this topic.

What Does Brisket Rub Do to a Brisket?

So now that you know what a brisket rub is, you might be wondering what a rub’s purpose is in the brisket smoking process.

First and foremost, a brisket rub is used to enhance the flavor of your beef.  All of the seasonings and ingredients, when balanced and applied in the proper amounts, will bring a next level of richness and flavor out of your brisket.  A good rub simply will make your brisket taste better and bring out the beefy brisket flavor that we all love.

The second reason that pit masters love to use brisket rub is because it helps them create delectable BBQ bark on their brisket.  Bark is a crunchy and flavorful crust that can form on the outside of your brisket when it’s cooked a certain way.  It’s the sort of thing that adds even more flavor, complexity, and deliciousness to your meat.  The perfect BBQ rub combined with cooking it the right way (and how you wrap your brisket) can result in some spectacular bark that’s sure to please the crowd.

How to Apply Brisket Rub

There are a few principles to keep in mind when you’re applying a brisket rub to help you get the most out of your spice mixture.

First, you’ll want to make sure your brisket is nice and trimmed before you apply your rub.  Some butchers or grocers will sell briskets pre trimmed, but if yours isn’t then you need to properly trim your brisket before you add any seasonings.

Brisket rub should always be applied liberally to the beef – it’s really hard to over do it so you should err on the side of coating your rub very generously.  Since brisket is such a large, tough, and beefy cut of meat to work with it can handle all a large quantity of rub spices and seasonings on the outside.

Use a paper towel to pat down the outside of the brisket before you get started to remove a little bit of moisture.  From there, you can also score the outside of your brisket, cutting slits about an inch long and half an inch deep across the entire exterior of your brisket.  This technique allows for even more surface area to work your brisket rub into – and the spices will have an easier time seeping down into the meat.

Should You Put Rub On Brisket Overnight?

The answer to this question is up for debate.  Some pit masters put their brisket on the smoker right after applying the rub, and others swear by refrigerating the rubbed brisket overnight before it goes on the smoker.

At the end of the day, this comes down to personal preference.  The longer the rub marinates on the brisket, the more the flavors will seep in before it goes on the smoker, and the more it will tenderize the brisket.

Of course, the brisket can spend upwards of 8-12 hours cooking on the smoker, so the flavors will have plenty of time to combine regardless of whether or not you let the rub set in overnight.

Personally, I put my brisket on the smoker almost right away after applying rub – but there’s nothing wrong at all with doing it either way.

Brisket Rub Recipes

Now that you know what brisket rub is and how to apply it to your beef, it’s time to talk recipes.  There are lots of excellent brisket rub recipes out there, but here are 3 of our favorites:

Texas Style Brisket Rub

Let’s kick things off with a classic, and very simple brisket rub recipe.  Texas style BBQ brisket consists of only two ingredients – kosher salt and coarse ground black pepper.  It might sound basic, but there’s a reason it’s so popular and the rub of choice for legendary pit masters like Aaron Franklin.

Ingredients (for a 12 pound brisket):

  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup coarse ground black pepper

That’s it!  The beauty of the simple Texas style brisket rub is that it’s designed to bring out and accentuate the flavors within the beef.  It also puts a little bit more emphasis on the charcoal and wood smokey flavors that absorb into the beef while it cooks.  This is a great rub to use while experimenting with which type of wood for brisket you most like to use.

Traditional Brisket Rub

If you’re looking for a solid, traditional sort of rub that you’d expect to be used at your local BBQ joint, check out this combination of common household spices and seasonings.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp coarse ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Depending on the size of your meat, you might have a little bit of leftover brisket rub with these portions.  If that’s the case, simply store your homemade rub in an airtight container.  Store it in a dark, cool, and dry section of your pantry and it can last up to 4 months.

Smokey Brisket Rub

For those of you who prefer the smokey flavor profile of BBQ, you can bring out the smokiness of your brisket with this simple recipe. (Source: Downshiftology)

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup paprika
  • 3 tbsp maple sugar
  • 2 tbsp kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper

For my taste, this recipe brings about the perfect blend of sweet, spicy, and smokey.  If you like things on the spicier side feel free to increase the portion of cayenne pepper in this rub.

Tips for Finding the Perfect Brisket Rub

  • Don’t be afraid to experiment.  While there are definitely a few staples that should be present in your rub, there are literally endless possibilities when it comes to different combinations to try.  Don’t be shy about mixing things up from time to time to see if you can improve your recipe.
  • Make your rub in advance and store it properly.  Between trimming, applying rub to, and wrapping your brisket, there’s a lot going on when it’s time to cook a brisket.  Take a little bit of the stress off and make your spice mixture in advance.  Seal it in a spice jar or other airtight container, then store in a dry, dark place in your pantry and it will last up to 4 months.
  • Pre made brisket rubs are great too.  If you’re missing ingredients or simply don’t want to make your own rub, there are some delicious pre made rubs available for sale.  Odds are, your favorite local BBQ joint sells their own rub for smoking – don’t be afraid to give that a try either!
  • Salt and pepper are your friend.  Coarse kosher salt and coarse ground pepper are the basis of most great rubs – these seasonings just simply do a great job of bringing out the flavors of your beef.  When in doubt, you can’t go wrong with a simple salt and pepper blend.
brisket rub recipe

Traditional Brisket Rub Recipe

Jimmy Watts
A traditional brisket rub spice and seasoning recipe for smoking brisket
4.67 from 3 votes
Prep Time 5 mins
Total Time 5 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine BBQ
Servings 16
Calories 10 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 tbsp kosher salt coarse
  • 1 1/2 tbsp ground black pepper coarse
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Instructions
 

  • Mix ingredients together in a small bowl
  • Apply liberally to the exterior of your brisket
  • Store any leftover rub in an airtight container and place in a dry, dark place

Nutrition

Calories: 10kcal
Keyword BBQ Rub, Brisket, Brisket Rub
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Final Thoughts

Brisket rub is one of those things that might be easy to overlook – especially if you’re new to the game of smoking meats.  But the experienced pit masters and pros know that the difference between good and great can come down to the rub.  Get your rub right and wrap your brisket in the right butcher paper, and you’re well on your way to legendary BBQ.

No matter what your flavor preferences are, there’s a BBQ rub out there for you.  Like things spicy?  Go heavier on the cayenne.  Prefer sweet and smokey?  Add smoked paprika and brown sugar.  Simple is your style?  You can make a delicious brisket only rubbing with salt and pepper.

What’s your favorite brisket rub recipe?  Did you try out any of ours from this article?  We’d love to hear from you and how your brisket smoking went in the comments section below.