What is brining?
Brining is a method for improving the flavor and moisture content of lean cuts of meat like chicken, turkey, pork and seafood. You do this by soaking the meat in a moderately salty solution for a few hours to a few days. Brining also provides a temperature cushion during cooking because if you happen to overcook the meat a little, it will still be moist.
How brining works
Brining works through a process called osmosis. When you place meat in a bath of salty, flavorful liquid, the solution will travel into the meat in order to equalize the salt levels. Meanwhile, the brine also tenderizes meat by causing its muscle fibers to unravel and swell. At this point, your meat has a higher liquid content, so when you cook it, your meat will lose the same amount of moisture, but will still end up juicier and more tender.
How to brine?
Brining is very easy, economical, and requires no special cookware. Brining is like a marinade as it keeps food moist and tender.
One of the great things about brining is that there are so few rules. Most brines start with water and salt — traditionally, 1 cup of salt per gallon of water or 1 tablespoon of salt for every cup of water. If you decide to add sugar to the solution I tend to do 2/3 tablespoons of salt and 2/3 tablespoons of sugar for every cup off water.
Salt Types Used in Brining:
Kosher salt and table salt (without iodine) are the most common salts used in brining. Sea salt can be used, but it tends to be quite expensive. A cup of table salt and a cup of kosher salt are not equal. Table salt weighs approximately 10 ounces per cup and kosher salt weighs approximately 5 to 8 ounces per cup depending on the brand. If you use kosher salt in a brine, you must use more than a cup to achieve the same “saltiness” you would get from a cup of table salt.
You can add flavor in all sorts of forms such as herbs and spices. Use brown sugar, honey or molasses in place of the sugar (some sweetness tends to offset a saltiness the brine might otherwise impart). You can use apple juice, cider, orange juice, beer, wine, rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, stock, tea, or other liquids to replace some or all of the water. You can also put together decidedly Oriental flavorings with soy sauce or the Japanese rice wine mirin.
Refrigeration is absolutely required during brining:
The meat and brine solution must be kept below 40 degrees F. at all times.
If storing the meat in the refrigerator during brining, check to make sure that the container will fit in your refrigerator! A container large enough to hold a whole turkey might be too big for your fridge.
If storing the meat in a cooler during brining, you must keep the meat and brine cold without diluting the mixture. Put the meat and brine directly in the cooler and then place Ziploc bags filled with ice or reusable gel packs into the brine solution.
Oven Roasting Bag Storage:
Another approach is to put the meat and brine into a turkey oven-roasting bag inside the cooler, then pack ice or gel packs around the bag. Monitor the temperature of the cooler to make sure it stays below 40 degrees F. at all times.
Dry Brine vs Wet Brine
Dry brining is technically a misnomer. The term "brining" implies a liquid, and dry brining could more accurately be categorized as a rub, or a "cure," for your meat. However, the end result is quite similar.
By rubbing your meat with pure salt or a salty mixture, it both re-distributes moisture and pulls the seasoning deep into the meat, creating super-concentrated flavors, more internal moisture, and usually a drier exterior.
How to Dry Brine Meat
General dry brining technique calls for 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt per pound of meat, plus whatever other dried herbs or spices you so choose. It’s important to use kosher salt as it’s significantly less salty than table salt. Then you leave your meat in the fridge for as long as you prefer, usually no longer than 1 to 2 days. Just be careful, to much salt or too long of a dry brine could render your meat too salty sometimes.
General Tips for Brining Meat
Low Salt Brining Doesn't Work
A couple studies have been done that showed that the meats brined at half-strength were a lot less salty than those brined at full-strength.
What to do After Brining
Some recipes call for rinsing meat after brining, while others skip this step. Do whatever the recipe calls for. Rinsing is common in recipes with a very high salt concentration or that contain sugar, since sugar can burn on the surface of meat during cooking.
Regardless of whether you rinse or not, make sure to pat the meat dry with paper towels before cooking.
A Brine Should Never be Reused
Discard the brine solution after use. The brine will contain proteins, blood, and other stuff from the meat that soaked in it. From a food safety standpoint, it is not advisable to reuse brine, even if it is boiled first.
Sometimes you'll get the best results if you boil your brine solution before submerging your meat in it. But remember, if you do this you only want to boil half of your solution with your aromatics and spices and not with your salt and sugar. One it cools down you then want to add in the rest of your liquid, salt, and sugar if you decide to go with that, and then submerge your meat.
Dry Brining Hack
Adding a pinch or two of sugar to your dry brine will help the meat caramelize as it cooks.