Brisket comes from the chest of a steer, a muscle responsible for holding 60% of its 1600-plus pounds. It’s a very hardworking muscle making it a tough cut to work with.
So how a brisket is prepared (and sliced) makes all the difference between a tough dry ‘bleh’ to a tender, flavorful eating experience.
Injection is one method for boosting the moisture content of a brisket and can go a very long way to preventing turning out boot leather.
This technique can be used for any large meats that go on the grill or smoker. There are different takes on ingredients and on time between injection and cooking, but there are a few standards by which everyone abides.
Let’s take a look at the why, how, and what of brisket injection, so you’ll know all the ins and outs before we provide a some recipes and instructions for you try this technique yourself.
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Injection Hows and Whys, and Recipes, Too
injecting your brisket is the method of delivering fats, seasonings, and other flavorings deep below the beef’s surface.
It’s a relatively straightforward and quick process which will help the brisket, especially the flat, retain moisture as it smokes low and slow.
Butcher BBQ gives a pretty good tutorial but cheerfully ignores what seemed to be one of those standards by injecting across and with the grain.
Marinade vs. Injection
A marinade will only saturate into the outer surface of a brisket, all the seasoning stays on the outer rim. That leaves the bulk of the meat without any flavor or moisture-enhancer.
Injection carries the flavor deep into the meat. You could combine the two, marinade overnight in the fridge, pat it dry, bring it up to room temperature, inject, and put it on the fire. But personally, we think this is a bit overkill, with injection followed by a dry rub being all a piece of meat needs.
Can I use a Marinade as an Injection?
You can, but with a few adjustments.
If the brisket will be injected the night before it’s grilled, you won’t want to use a marinade with a high vinegar or citrus level. Too much time and vinegar will turn the meat into mush as the acid breaks down the tissue. Compensate for a high vinegar content in a marinade by thinning with water or marinating for a few hours shorter.
Nor would you want to use a marinade containing pineapple overnight because it contains bromelain. According to HowStuffWorks, this enzyme is found in the stem and juice of the fruit.
Although bromelain (or pineapple juice) is sometimes used as a meat tenderizer, if it’s in contact with meat for too long before cooking, It will break down the collagen into a mush. And there’s a lot of collagen in brisket so… yeah, avoid the mush if using pineapple and only apply it for just a few hours before it goes into the smoker.
You’ll find many injection recipes calling for Dr. Pepper, cola, coffee, and various fruit juices. Some will also have a plethora of seasonings. This can result in your brisket tasting like barbecued soda, not meat.
The goal should be to enhance or complement the natural flavor of the beef while preventing the meat from drying out. Like so many things, yes you can do it, but why would you?
Now that we’ve covered the why and the what, let’s get to the how of injection.
The Right Tools
An injector has a sharp point, but the liquid is dispensed through holes along the sides of the needle. The point just gets the liquid deep into the brisket.
Injectors come in various sizes, if you’re going commercial or have a whole lot of briskets to get through, you may need something resembling those pump sprayers used for gardening. But for home use, a small or large hypodermic-like needle is sufficient.
Needle size depends on what you’re injecting: Liquids with little or no sediment (pepper granules or bits of herbs), or thick pastes like pesto, jerk seasoning, or romesco.
Stainless steel will hold out longer than plastic and won’t hold smells and oils like plastic can, and nor will it react with foods such as copper or aluminum can.
Two ounces should be the minimum amount of liquid the injector can hold.
Hand grip can range from a straight or 2-finger plunger to a spring-grip plier.
Deep container to accommodate the injector. Some will use a tall glass, others a large mixing bowl or measuring cup. The goal is to fill the injector easily without damaging the needle.
Which Part of the Brisket Should be Injected?
Although if you have a full packer brisket, all parts can benefit, the flat benefits the most as it’s the leanest part and therefore the most likely to dry out during cooking.
Since the second reason for injecting brisket is to enhance flavor, the fatty point can benefit too, but it’s more for taste than for retaining moisture.
The simple Steps of Injecting a Brisket
- Inject with – or along the same direction of – the grain, to prevent dotting the meat with holes and creating unappetizing-looking streaks.
- Insert the needle between the muscle fibers and bundles.
- Inject every 1-2 inches in a grid pattern across the whole piece of meat, to ensure an even distribution of liquid.
- Depress the plunger while withdrawing the needle.
- Mop up excess liquid. Be warned, there will be a lot and this is a messy exercise.
What’s in the Injection Solution?
The liquid can be as thin as broth or be thick and heavy with spices. There are a few commonly used ingredients, from standards like
- Beef stock or broth
To interesting ingredients like
- Worcestershire sauce
- Apple juice
- Garlic and herbs
Two competition-winning commercial injection solutions, Fab B Light and Butcher BBQ Brisket Marinade, contain food-ish ingredients such as
- Hydrolyzed soy protein
- Sodium phosphates
- Monosodium glutamate
- Autolyzed yeast extract
- Disodium inosinate
- Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil
Bottom line, consider what you want your beef to taste like and what you want in your food. Like so many things, you could inject all sorts of things into your meat or poultry of choice, but it doesn’t mean you should.
What have you tried?
What do the Experts Use?
- Meathead Goldwyn of Amazing Ribs uses beef broth since the goal is to boost moisture content.
- Steve Raichlen of Barbecue! Bible makes a more complex beef brisket injection recipe using:
- Broth or stock
- Melted butter or olive oil
- Cognac or whiskey
- Hot, Worcestershire, fish, or soy sauce
- Fruit juice, molasses, or honey for sweetness
- Aaron Franklin, guru of all things brisket, doesn’t use any injection in his recipe.
How Much Injection Should be Used?
Meat is muscle which is saturated with water (up to 85% of muscle is water) so it won’t take more than a few ounces of liquid.
A good ball park figure is a 1:1 ratio of liquid ounces to pounds of meat.
How Long Before Cooking Should I Inject the Brisket?
Some grillers will leave the injecting until right before grilling. Others will inject and refrigerate the brisket overnight.
There doesn’t seem to be a consensus on why one method is better than the other. One of the selling points of injection is that it’s a fast way to deliver moisture and flavor, unlike a marinade which requires hours of soaking.
So we’re in the camp of injecting just an hour or so before cooking.
3 Very Good Beef Brisket Injection Recipes
Simple things work best; a good injection solution can be as simple as salt water, low sodium stock, or salted butter. Salt is an important ingredient; it’s what will capture water and keep the meat from drying out.
- Beef base
- Worcestershire sauce
- Soy sauce
This injection of barbecue champs is simple and all about the beef. Though the salt factor may be overdone since every ingredient except the water contains sodium.
Accent promotes itself as a salt alternative and of providing umami, that elusive meaty / rounded / savory fifth taste.
Many people react badly to monosodium glutamate; umami can also be had from foods high in mushrooms, anchovies, miso, and other foods naturally high in glutamate.
This key amino acid is responsible for how cells work and is also a neurotransmitter. It’s good for enhancing flavors, too. In its natural form, glutamate may not trigger a reaction as MSG does, but proceed with caution.
by Meathead Goldwyn
- Kosher salt
- Water and/or low sodium beef stock
- Herbs and spices
Meathead gives an outline of different injections, including beef.
I appreciate the restrained use of sodium and the allowance for personal taste in choosing herbs and seasonings.
He allows for the addition of MSG but, again, my preference would be a natural source of glutamate, like mushrooms. (What’s better than beef and mushrooms?) The oil is an interesting addition.
- Kitchen Basic’s Beef Stock
- Worcestershire sauce
- Bay leaf
This injection liquid is cooked, strained, and refrigerated overnight.
I like that the salt sources are few and the seasonings very basic. The herbs are allowed to infuse the liquid before straining them out, so there’s no worry of clogging the needle while injecting.
The brisket is left tasting like nicely seasoned beef, nothing more, which how we think it should be, while still adding moisture and keeping the end product nice and tender.
While many people agree with Franklin’s view that injecting brisket is unnecessary, probably just as many are all for it.
The end takeaway: A tough cut of beef is made tender and moist with the beef flavor augmented when using a good injection recipe. Sure, there will always be some who like hitting the seasonings hard, but you can also be quite subtle and complementary to the beef.
What’s your preference?
If you have a comparable alternative to the award-winning but alarming-ingredients Fab B Light or Butcher BBQ Brisket Marinade, PLEASE, do share it with us!