The Best Pepper for Smoked Brisket: Making Texas-Inspired Rubs

The seasoning plays an important role in the brisket’s bark and flavor. I love a good barbecue rub, but sometimes a simple salt and pepper “Texas-style” rub is all that’s needed on brisket. However, it can be overwhelming trying to find the right pepper because there are so many different types on the market. In this article, we’ll find out all there is to know about pepper and its relationship to brisket.

The best pepper for brisket seasoning is a black pepper with a grind between 10 and 20 mesh. The size of the peppercorn is important for the texture of the bark. Any lower than 10 mesh, the peppercorns will be too large, and any higher than 20 mesh, the pepper will be too fine. For the best flavor, use a black pepper rather than a white or green pepper, which are not suitable for barbeque.

Key Points

  • It is recommended to use a black pepper with a grind between 10 and 20 mesh for seasoning brisket.
  • Aaron Franklin uses a 16-mesh cafe grind black pepper on his smoked brisket.
  • Mesh size refers to the number of holes in a sieve and determines the size of the pepper.
  • For brisket, a mesh size between 10 and 20 is suitable, with 14 to 16 mesh being ideal for the right amount of flavor and texture.
  • You can grind your own pepper using a pepper mill or coffee grinder, or you can purchase pre-ground pepper.

Type of PepperDescription
Black pepperThe most common type of pepper, made from dried and ground peppercorns
White pepperMade from dried and ground peppercorns that have had the outer husk removed
Green pepperMade from unripe peppercorns that are dried and then ground
Pink pepperMade from the dried berries of the Brazilian pepper tree
Red pepperMade from dried and ground red chilies or chili flakes

What Pepper Does Aaron Franklin Use On Brisket?

Famous pitmaster Aaron Franklin uses a 16-mesh cafe grind black pepper on his smoked brisket. A cafe grind black pepper has a much stronger flavor than a finely ground pepper, and it gives the bark a nice texture. Franklin uses a Texas-style rub on brisket, which is a simple 50/50 mix of black pepper and kosher salt. This simple brisket seasoning allows the natural beef flavor to shine through. In his brisket recipe, Franklin uses 1/4 cup of black pepper and 1/4 cup of kosher salt. You can adjust the quantities, just keep the ration the same.

What is 16-Mesh Black Pepper?

A 16-mesh black pepper refers to the size of the peppercorn. Mesh is the unit of measurement used to determine the size of peppercorns. To put in simple, a whole peppercorn is a 6-mesh, while a finely ground table pepper would be a 30-mesh. So a 16-mesh sits in the middle in terms of flavor intensity and texture. You can make your own 16-mesh black pepper by grinding whole peppercorns in a pepper mill, or buy pre-made 16-mesh pepper online. Spice company McCormick make a 16-mesh that’s available on Amazon. Check the latest price here.

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

What is Pepper Mesh Size?

Before we talk about black pepper, the first thing we need to understand is mesh size. The mesh size is the unit of measure used to determine the size of pepper and refers to the number of holes in a sieve. It took me a while to get my head around the idea of mesh scales, but in simple terms, the mesh relates to the holes in a sieve.

So the higher the number, the finer the pepper. A 60-mesh pepper would be too fine for a barbecue rub and is more suited for sauces, soups, etc. A fine pepper will give food a fast hit of pepper flavor, whereas the more coarse peppercorns are slow release.

Pepper Mesh Sizes

Pepper Mesh
Whole Black Pepper6 – 8 
Half Cracked Black Pepper6- 8 
Quarter Cracked Pepper8-10 
Coarse Black Pepper12- 14
Table Ground Black Pepper18 -28
Restaurant Ground Black Pepper22 – 28
Fine Ground Black Pepper30 – 34
Ground White Pepper60

Best Pepper Mesh Size For Barbeque Meat

  • Anywhere from 10-mesh to 20-mesh is suitable for brisket, although there will be a difference in bark texture depending on the size of the peppercorn.
  • A 20-mesh is a common table black pepper and is probably as high as you would want to go for brisket.
  • Any higher than 20-mesh may be too fine for a decent brisket bark.
  • 14-mesh to 16-mesh is ideal for brisket, giving the crust the right amount of flavor and texture.
  • Any lower than 10-mesh is on the large side. An 8 mesh is a 1/4 peppercorn, and a 6 is a full peppercorn.
Mesh SizeDescription
40-60 meshFine ground pepper, often used for seasoning salads and sauces
30-40 meshMedium grind pepper, often used for general cooking and seasoning
20-30 meshCoarse grind pepper, often used for marinades and rubs
10-20 meshVery coarse grind pepper, often used for steaks and other grilled meats

How To Grind Pepper- Choose Your Own Mesh Size

You will be surprised how much pepper is required when preparing a Texas-style brisket of salt and pepper. There are a few different ways to grind your own pepper for your rub mixes. You can use a mortar and pestle to crush the peppercorns, however, the sizes will be inconsistent. I recommend getting a decent paper mill, preferably an electric. However, if you want to go all-out, use a coffee grinder and make huge batches of spice mixes. The Burr Mill costs about $60-$70 and will automatically grind your spices to to exact pepper mesh size that you’re after.

Pepper Mills and Pepper Grinders

In order to use peppercorns for your cooking and barbecue, you need a decent peppermill or pepper grinder. Some pepper grinders allow you to adjust the blades on the grinder so you can have a course pepper, a medium grind, or a fine grind.

If you buy an adjustable pepper mill, you can select the grinding level which allows you to grind your pepper or spices from fine to coarse. So if you buy whole peppercorns, you can adjust the mesh size until you find a size that you’re happy with.

There are so many types of grinders on the market. Electric grinders are awesome and make light work if you use a lot of ground pepper. Use a grinder with a quality blade. This makes a difference. Amazon sell several electric automatic Salt and Pepper grinders with adjustable blades. This one is an Amazon Best Seller.

Pepper millA handheld device with a crank or button that grinds the peppercorns as it is turned
Electric grinderA device that uses electricity to power a motor that grinds the peppercorns
Mortar and pestleA traditional method that involves grinding the peppercorns using a bowl-shaped mortar and a small club-shaped pestle
Hand grindingA method in which the peppercorns are placed on a flat surface and ground using a rolling pin or other hard object

Where To Buy Good Pepper?

You can buy whole black peppercorns on Amazon, such as this 16 oz bag (check latest price here).

What is Pepper?

Pepper comes from a peppercorn tree and there are a few different varieties. The three different kinds of pepper are:

  • Black Pepper
  • Green Pepper
  • White Pepper
  • Red Pepper

Black Pepper

The most common type of black pepper is the black peppercorn. It is the black pepper that you will see mostly in barbecue and used on brisket. The type of black pepper commonly used comes from a pepper tree. The pepper corns are unripe, and have been cooked then dried. Since black pepper is unripe, it has a milder pepper flavor that is less intense than white pepper. Amazon sell 16oz whole black peppercorns here.

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What is White Pepper?

White pepper is a ripened peppercorn from a pepper plant. Unlike black pepper, white pepper has not been cooked, although it has been dried out. So the difference between the white pepper and the black pepper is the black pepper has been cooked, which gives it the darker color.

  • White pepper is also much larger than black because the black has been cooked and shrunk a little.
  • We rarely use white pepper in barbecue, and is more often found in Asian cooking.
  • White pepper is great to use if you don’t want the pepper to be seen, but only tasted.
  • White pepper also has a stronger, more prominent flavor because it has been fully ripened.
  • Use white pepper with caution, as the flavor is intense.
  • When applying white pepper to barbecue, use less than you would black pepper. A 50/50 mix of pepper and salt is fairly standard in a Texas style rub, but if you’re using white pepper, use far less.

Amazon sell white whole peppercorns in 4oz bags (check latest price here).

What is Green Pepper?

The other variety of pepper is green pepper. This kind of pepper that has not been ripened or cooked. It is also much smaller than green and black pepper because it is a younger pepper. This type of pepper is much milder than black or green pepper. Used in barbecue, this will have a less intense flavor on your brisket. Green whole peppercorns are sold on Amazon where you can get a 4oz bag here.

What is Pink Pepper?

Pink pepper isn’t actually a pepper like the white, black, and green pepper. A pink pepper is actually a dried berry from a Peruvian tree, which is in the cashew nut family. Pink pepper is much milder than true pepper corns, but has an interesting flavor that is a little spicy and also has a slight citrus flavor. You could experiment with this type of pepper on your brisket, and see how it turns out. Just keep in mind, pink pepper is a fruit, not a true pepper. Check out these pink peppercorns on Amazon.

Can You Mix All The Peppers?

If you can’t decide what pepper to use on your meat, you can always mix the three together. Just blending even mix of black, green, and white pepper into the grinder and apply it to your brisket. You can buy a 16oz Rainbow Mix of all the different peppers on Amazon.

The Texas Rub – Salt and Pepper

When you bite into a slice of brisket, there is a lot of flavor happening all at one time. Sometimes the smoke and the rub will be the dominant flavors, and may overpower the natural beef flavor. A traditional Texas barbeque rub is a simple mix of salt and pepper (sometimes with a little paprika for color).

The best thing about a Texas style brisket rub is the beef flavor becomes the star of the show. If I were to smoke a wagyu brisket, I would definitely want the natural flavors of the meat to be at the forefront. I wouldn’t want to distract by having too many flavors going on from the rub and seasoning.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of barbecue rubs, and they add an enormous amount of flavor to the brisket. However, sometimes you just want to keep things simple with salt and pepper. Or maybe you’re running low on rub ingredients, so a simple S&P seasoning may all that’s on hand. Some days, I just want to try something a little different. Every time I cook a brisket, I like to try out something new. Sometimes I’ll use butcher paper to wrap my brisket, other times I’ll use foil. Maybe I’ll use beef tallow, or inject my brisket with marinade, sometimes I won’t. Experimentation is the best way to learn new techniques.

Kosher Salt With Pepper

So you can apply the salt and pepper at the same time, or you can apply the salt the night before. If you apply the salt the day before you cook the brisket, it will allow the salt time to penetrate the meat and dry brine the brisket. Dry brining is a great way to ensure your brisket doesn’t dry out during the long cooking process. Salt will help the meat keep moisture while it’s cooking. So if you sprinkle kosher salt on the brisket several hours before cooking, it will give the salt time to work its way into the meat and then it will come into play during the cook. Not only will the salt retain moisture, it will also add flavor. If you were to use this method, keep your measurements the same (50/50 mix of pepper and salt). The only difference is you are applying the salt earlier.

Paprika – Add Some Color

If you were to add in one more ingredient to your Texas rub, paprika is a great way to add a bit of color and give the brisket back a little kick. It doesn’t have to be much, just an even sprinkle.

Binder – Help The Rub Stick

Sometimes called slather, applying a binder to your brisket before seasoning with rub Will help the spices stick to the meat. If your rub doesn’t stick to the brisket, you will end up with a patchy bark. A slather will ensure your rub and spices stick to the meat and while cooking. The most common binders used for smoking brisket is yellow mustard or olive oil. This will also give your brisket a nice color, without altering the flavor. By the end of the cook, you won’t be able to taste the binder.

Texas-Style Salt and Pepper Smoked Brisket

Texas-Style Salt and Pepper Smoked Brisket
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 8 minutes
Additional Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 18 minutes


  • Brisket
  • Kosher salt
  • Coarse Black Pepper 10-20 mesh
  • Yellow mustard or olive oil
  • Apple juice or apple cider vinegar
  • Hickory, mesquite or post oak wood


    1. Trim the brisket, leaving 1/4 of an inch of fat on the fat cap.

    2. Smear the brisket with yellow mustard or olive oil.

    3. Apply a 50/50 mix of cafe grind black pepper and kosher salt.

    4. Set the temperature of your smoker between 225° F and 275° F.

    5. For a true Texas style brisket, use hickory or mesquite wood. However, be careful with mesquite as it is an acquired taste. Another great option is post oak or pecan wood.

    6. Place your brisket in the smoker and let it sit for a few hours without touching.

    7. After about 3 or 4 hours, spritz the brisket every 30 minutes. For the spritz, use apple cider vinegar, or apple juice.

    8. Wrap the brisket in butcher paper or aluminium foil once the bark is set. To know when the bark is ready, touch the brisket with your finger and if the rub doesn’t stick to your finger, the bark is ready.

    9. Insert a meat thermometer into the meat. Smoke until the brisket reaches 203° f or is probe tender.

    10. Rest the brisket for 1 hour, or place into a dry cooler for up to 4 hours.

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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