Binder For Brisket – Should You Slather?

Applying the rub is an important step when preparing a brisket. The rub will add flavor and it will help form the bark around the outer layer of the brisket. Before adding the rub, some pitmasters apply a binder to the brisket to help the rub stick, while others don’t think it’s important. I wanted to find out if binders are necessary and do they make a difference to the flavor and texture of the bark?

Yellow mustard and olive oil are the two most common brisket binders, but you can also use mayonnaise, ketchup or plain water. Also known as a slather, the binder helps the rub stick to the meat and contributes to the formation of the bark. Different binders can influence the size of the smoke ring, the texture of the bark and enhance the flavor of the rub.

MustardA common binder that can add a tangy flavor to the bark
Olive OilA binder that can add richness to the bark and help the rub stick to the meat
WaterA simple binder that can help the rub stick to the meat, but may not contribute much flavor
MayonnaiseA binder that can add a creamy flavor and help the rub stick to the meat
KetchupA binder that can add a tangy, sweet flavor and help the rub stick to the meat

Key Points

  • Applying a rub to brisket is an important step in preparation as it adds flavor and helps form the bark around the outer layer of the brisket.
  • Some pitmasters use a binder, such as yellow mustard or olive oil, to help the rub stick to the meat before smoking, while others do not think it is necessary.
  • Common binders include mustard, olive oil, water, mayonnaise, and ketchup. Each binder can influence the size of the smoke ring, the texture of the bark, and enhance the flavor of the rub.
  • Once the brisket has been smoked, the binder’s taste will likely not be noticed as the smoke and rub will overpower it.
  • Different binders can affect the texture of the bark. Mustard, for example, produces a softer bark when compared to olive oil and no binder.
  • Wrapping the brisket in foil can also soften the bark, but it can be hardened again by placing it back on the grill for 10 minutes before slicing.
  • Binders do not have a significant impact on the size of the smoke ring as per experiments.
  • Mustard is a popular binder for brisket among pitmasters and can add a tangy flavor to the bark.
  • More information on brisket bark and how to get a good smoke ring on a brisket can be found in in-depth articles.

Can You Taste the Binder?

Once the brisket has been in the smoker for several hours, it is unlikely that you will taste the binder. The smoked brisket has multiple layers of flavors that are more prominent than the binder. The smoke and rub will overpower any taste that remains from the binder. There have been multiple experiments where participants have taste-tested smoked meat with different binders, and the results focus on the texture of the bark, the enhanced flavor of the rub rather than the taste of the slather.

Do Binders Soften The Bark?

A firm bark is one aspect of the smoked brisket important to most pitmasters. We spend hours nurturing the bark by mopping/ spritzing our briskets every hour. The type of binder you choose for your brisket will have an influence on the bark. Mustard in particular will produce a softer bark when compared to olive oil and a brisket with no binder. In one experiment, an olive oil slather produced a harder bark than meat with a mustard binder and the meat with no binder. A mustard binder produced the softest bark when compared to olive oil and a no-binder roast.

Wrapping a brisket in foil will produce a lot of steam which will soften the bark. A common solution to the bark softening is to place the brisket back onto the grill for 10 minutes before slicing. This will harden the bark if it has gone soggy because of the wrapping stage.

If we develop a good bark early in the cook, then the softening of the bark should not be much of a problem. However, if the mustard binder is slowing the bark formation in the early stages of the cook, then it will only get softer after the foiling. These are the things you will have to weigh-up when deciding upon your slather.

If you want to learn more about brisket bark, I have an in-depth article: How To Get Bark on a Brisket

Do Binders Influence The Smoke Ring?

BBQ Testing lab produced an interesting video on YouTube and compared three binders to meat without a binder. The goal of the experiment was to find out if the binder had an influence on the smoke ring. The results of the experiment showed the binder has little impact on the size of the smoke ring, and experiment found only minor differences. In once experiment, they compared three binders to a roast without a binder and the size of the smoke ring was only slight.

The meat without a binder had a more prominent smoke ring, followed by the olive oil binder, yellow mustard and mayonnaise. If the smoke ring is important to you, then skip the slather. Just make sure your brisket is damp enough for the rub to stick.

For more on the smoke ring, check out another article I have written that shows you how to get a good smoke ring on your brisket every time: How To Get A Smoke Ring On Your Brisket

Mustard as a Brisket Binder

Mustard is a common binder for brisket and is used by popular YouTube pitmaster Malcolm Reed. The mustard slather will give the brisket a yellowish color during the first few hours of the cook, but once the brisket is fully smoked, you won’t notice any difference.

As Science of Barbeque author Meathead Goldwyn points out, mustard is mostly water and vinegar, with a sprinkle of mustard powder. The water and vinegar in the mustard will evaporate, leaving a small amount of mustard powder behind. Your rub will probably contain more mustard than your binder, because many recipes contain mustard powder in the barbeque rub.

In the various YouTube experiments using binders, mustard showed some interesting results. In one experiment, mustard produced a softer bark than the meat using olive oil, water or no binder. The meat with the mustard slather took longer for the bark to develop and in the end, was slightly softer than the other roasts.

Another experiment involved a blind taste-test to compare the flavor differences between binders. The experiment found the mustard binder enhanced the flavor of the rub, and the participants could taste the seasoning and the spice with the mustard binder over the other slathers.

If a smoke ring is important to you, the mustard slather has a minimal effect on the smoke ring, however, meat without a binder had a more prominent smoke ring.

This brisket injection marinade is the secret used in competitions and made by a World Barbecue champion.

Olive Oil

Olive oil is another commonly used slather to help your rub stick to your brisket. One experiment found the olive oil binder produced a brisket with a harder bark when compared to mustard and a no-binder. The results of another test concluded there was less smoke flavor on the meat slathered in olive oil when taste-tested next to mustard, water and a no-binder roast.

No Slather

There is good evidence that shows a binder isn’t as important as many believe it to be. Several well-known pitmasters skip the slather and jump straight to the rub. World Champion brisket master Harry Soo doesn’t use a binder in his brisket fundamentals tutorials. Science of Barbeque author Meathead Goldwin doesn’t apply a binder with his brisket recipe. Mr Goldwin argues the slather is over-hyped and other aspects of the smoked brisket process is more important.

In the binder comparison experiments, the no-binder meat was found to have a more prominent smoke ring than mustard and olive oil binders. The no-binder meat had less smoke flavor than the other binders, but the no-binder had a firmer bark than the meat with a mustard binder.

Have you tried injecting brisket? All you need is one of these simple Meat Injectors.

What Binders to Avoid

I would avoid using any binder that contains a lot of sugar or salt. Your brisket will already get a layer of salt from the brine, another layer of salt from the rub. So if your binder contains salt, the brisket will get a third layer of salt which might be too much. Meat rubs also contain a lot of sugar, so be careful using a sugary slather. Sugar can burn easily and it will turn your brisket black.

The Rub

More important than the binder is the actual brisket rub itself. If you are interested in learning more about brisket rubs, you might like my Complete Guide to Brisket Rub. In the article I cover all the best rubs on the market and provide the best rub recipes from all the top pitmasters. If you want to learn more about rubs, check out my Brisket Rub Guide where I’ve included all the best homemade rub recipes and I’ll show you how to get your hands on rubs made by World Barbeque Champions.

Standard Barbecue Rub

Standard Barbecue Rub

I found this great rub recipe through How To BBQ Right. I use this recipe and alter it slightly depending on what I'm cooking. Made by the guys at Townsend Spice & Supply:

Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes


  • - ½ Cup Paprika
  • - ½ Cup Salt
  • - ½ Cup Sugar
  • - ½ Cup Granulated Garlic
  • - ¼ Cup Granulated Onion
  • - ¼ Cup Chili
  • - ¼ Cup Cumin
  • - 2 Tablespoons Black Pepper
  • - 2 Tablespoons Dry Mustard
  • - 1 Tablespoon Cayenne Pepper


  1. Combine all the spices together in a large mixing bowl
  2. Store rub in rub shakers

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.


Author and founder at Meat Smoking HQ

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