In our grillers guide on how to brine meat, we are going be explaining exactly what brining is, what brining is best used for, and how best to do it.
Brining is an age-old tradition that brings meat to a new level of juiciness and flavor. Originally used as a way to preserve meats, the process is continued to be used as a way to aid the flavor and texture of meat. It is basically a salt and spice bath for meat.
If you have ever wondered how to brine meat, there are a couple of ways to go about it. This article will break down some base ways to get it going. That way you can take the idea and run with it, creating your own masterpieces based on spices and a scientific process of osmosis.
If you want a juicier, more flavorful, and more tender piece of meat, the one ingredient that will improve all three is salt.
Read on to find out why.
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How Brining Works
So what does brining do to meat exactly?
Brining relies on osmosis to draw extra liquid into the meat allowing it to retain more moisture. Water wants to move from areas of high concentration to low concentration. Because of this, the water is drawn into the meat. The absorption of the water also brings in whatever spices you have added.
The combination of spices that have been drawn into the meat adds extra flavor, and the water makes the meat stay juicy. While grilling or cooking, the meat will lose about the same amount of water as it would without using a brine, so the meat ends up with more water and juice within it when all is said and done.
If you don’t want to soak your meat in water, you can use a dry brine as an alternative. Wait… but what is dry brining? Dry brining is a similar process as wet brining, minus the water solution. You coat the meat very well with salt, put it in the refrigerator, and let it sit for a day or two (or however long is needed).
What Meat Should Be Brined?
When looking at how to brine meat, there are some alterations to keep in mind for different meat types. The basic reasoning for brining is to keep the meat juicy and tender while adding some extra flavor.
With that in mind, the types of meats that can see a drastic improvement are types that don’t normally have a juicy texture otherwise. Extra fat in a cut of meat will give it extra juice, and keep it moister after cooking. That is the reason ribeye’s are known for being so succulent. Therefore, meats with lower levels of fat are great examples of meats to brine.
That doesn’t mean you couldn’t or shouldn’t brine fattier meats like ribeye’s as well, but brining is going to help out those less fatty meats retain what juices they do have.
Here are a few examples of meats that are prime candidates to be brined.
Poultry is one example of a good meat to brine. A full turkey or chicken can take a long time to cook and can lose a lot of its moisture in the process. Brining is a great way to keep extra moisture and flavor locked into the bird.
Big pieces of meat that take much longer to cook, like pork shoulder or pork roasts, are another awesome type of meat to brine. The thick chunks of meat can take a bit longer to fully season though, so keep that in mind when you are planning your brine before cooking them.
Next, we’ll take a look at the different methods used for wet brining and dry brining and the benefits of each. For a more in-depth guide on the difference between wet and dry brining, check out my guide Dry Brining vs Wet Brining – Which To Use, When, And Why
What Is Wet Brining & How Do You Wet Brine Meat?
The process is simple but elegant. Wet brining has the benefit of giving you the ability to personalize, and expertly craft your own recipes.
Start with a container that will easily hold whatever meat you are planning to brine. Add one cup of salt for every gallon of water you use. Make sure you add enough water to completely submerge the meat.
You want the salt to be completely dissolved into the water before adding your meat. A sure way to dissolve all the salt in the water is to lightly boil the water, or at least at the beginning while adding the salt in.
Before adding your meat in though, let the water sit. The water should be cool or at room temperature at most. The water should not be hot, you don’t want the water to start cooking your meat before you’re ready.
A trick of the trade is to check the water solubility by putting a raw egg into the brine solution. If it floats, there is enough salt. Also, add whatever seasons you want to be infused in your meat. This is based on preference and can be changed depending on what style of cooking you are going for.
Once your brine is ready, it’s time to place your meat in the water. Some meats will float in the water, forcing you to place something over the top of them so they will stay completely submerged. The key is to have the meat surrounded by water and covered on all sides. This way it will soak in as much delicious flavor as possible.
Now that your meat is in the water and ready to soak, cover the container and place it in your fridge. Nobody wants extra bacteria in their food. By covering and refrigerating the meat, you are helping keep bacteria out.
For a more in-depth guide on wet brining, check out What Is Wet Brining? A Grillers Guide To The Benefits Of Wet Brining
The length of time you should brine meat depends on the size and type of meat. For larger, denser meats, you will need to soak them longer for them to fully infuse with the seasoning. It is possible to over-soak your meat, but much less likely than under-soaking it. Be sure to keep it reasonable though.
A basic rule of thumb is to soak the meat for about one hour per pound of meat. This is if you are soaking a single piece, of course. There are also some other base soak times for different meats, depending on their density.
Chicken & Seafood
Since these meats are so much less dense, they will need less time soaking. A whole chicken or Turkey can follow the “hour-per-pound” rule. Shrimp won’t need more than an hour to soak, no matter the amount. Since they are all separate pieces, they will completely infuse in a short amount of time.
Any pork loin or shoulder should be soaked for at least 12 hours. The density of the meat plays a significant role here, so allowing ample time for the brine to work its magic is crucial.
A quick brine is not very helpful, I wouldn’t bother if I were running late in the day and hadn’t started the pork brining before going to work. Feel free to leave the meat in for 150% of what you initially calculated. That amount of time won’t hurt your meat and will add that extra flavor throughout the meat.
What Is Dry Brining & How Do You Dry Brine Meat?
Dry brining does not rely on water and takes more time to thoroughly soak in the spice mixture. Since the meat isn’t surrounded by water, it can’t rely on the osmosis of the meat’s liquid to draw in the spices. Instead, it needs to sit longer while covered in the spices, allowing it to absorb the flavors slower, but still deeply if done correctly.
Start with about one tsp of salt for every two pounds of meat, then add any other spices you want to the mixture. Coat the mixture generously on the meat, completely covering it. Once you have coated the spices onto the entire surface, put the meat uncovered in the fridge. If uncovered meat sitting in your fridge grosses you out, you can loosely cover it with saran wrap. Don’t tuck it in though.
Let it sit for at least a full day. Since it isn’t sitting in water, the meat won’t get ruined so easily by over-brining. It is more of a worry to still cook the meat while it is fresh. Don’t leave it for weeks because that’s gross. Anything more than three days and you are entering the zone of serious food safety issues. My preferred method is 12 to 24 hours.
Another method for dry brining or “deep seasoning” is to leave the meat uncovered in your refrigerator for one to three days. After adding your salt mixture, place it on a wire rack over a foil-lined tray in your fridge. This is my go-to method. For more on that, check out A Grillers Guide To Salting Your Steak.
Now that you have a base understanding of wet and dry brining, here is a great way to finish off your meat on the grill by using the reverse sear method.
For a more in-depth guide on dry brining, check out How Does Dry Brining Work – A Grillers Guide To Dry Brining
Final Thoughts on Our How to Brine Meat Guide
How to brine meat depends on the size and type of meat, also on your personal preferences. Whether you like super spicy, outlandishly flavorful; wet, or dry brining; brining is a great practice to bring into your kitchen. The food will speak for itself, so give it a try and let us know how it goes!
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