Brining is a culinary technique where meat, (most commonly poultry), is soaked in a solution of salt and water and other optional ingredients before cooking. The purpose of brining is to enhance the flavor, tenderness, and juiciness of the meat.
When a chosen meat is brined, it absorbs some of the salt and water through osmosis. The salt helps to break down the muscle proteins, allowing the meat to retain more moisture during the cooking process. This results in juicier and more flavorful meat.
In addition to salt and water, brines can also include other ingredients such as sugar, herbs, spices, and aromatics like garlic or citrus zest. These additional ingredients can add flavor and complexity to the meat.
What Meats Are Best To Brine
While brining can be used for a variety of meats, certain types of meat are especially well-suited for brining due to their texture, flavor, and tendency to dry out during cooking. Brining is particularly beneficial for lean meats like poultry, which can easily dry out during cooking.
Meats that generally do well with brining include:
- Poultry (chicken, turkey): Poultry is a popular choice for brining because it has lean meat that can easily dry out. Brining helps to retain moisture, resulting in juicier and more flavorful poultry. Grab Chef Pete’s brined turkey recipe here
- Pork (particularly pork chops and pork loin): Pork can benefit from brining, especially when it comes to lean cuts such as pork chops or pork loin. Brining helps to break down the muscle fibers, tenderizing the meat and preventing it from becoming dry during cooking.
- Fish (salmon, trout): Brining fish can help enhance its moisture content, improve flavor, and maintain its delicate texture. However, fish requires a shorter brining time compared to poultry or pork, as it is more delicate and can become overly salty if brined for too long.
- Corned beef: Brining is an integral part of the process for making corned beef. The beef brisket is typically soaked in a brine solution containing salt, sugar, and spices, which helps to cure and flavor the meat.
- Some cuts of beef: While beef is generally not brined as frequently as poultry or pork, certain cuts can benefit from brining. For example, cuts like flank steak or skirt steak can be brined to help tenderize the meat and add flavor.
It's important to note that brining is not necessary for all types of meat. For example, fatty cuts like a well-marbled steak or certain types of sausages may not require brining as they already have sufficient moisture and flavor. It ultimately depends on the specific meat and the desired outcome you want to achieve.
To brine meat, follow these general steps:
- Choose your meat: Select the type of meat you want to brine. Consider the size and weight of the meat as it will affect the brining time.
- Prepare the brine: In a large container or pot, combine water, salt, and any additional ingredients you desire. The basic ratio for a brine solution is typically 1 cup of salt per gallon of water, but you can adjust the amount based on your preference. You can also add sugar, herbs, spices, garlic, citrus zest, or other flavorings to the brine for added taste. Heat the water in the brine solution and stir until the salt and any sugar have completely dissolved. This helps to ensure that the flavors are evenly distributed.
- Cool the brine: Allow the brine solution to cool completely before using it. It should be at room temperature or chilled.
- Submerge the meat: Place the meat in a suitable container or a large food-grade plastic bag. Pour the brine solution over the meat, ensuring it is fully submerged. If necessary, weigh down the meat with a plate or other heavy object to keep it submerged.
- Brining time: The brining time will vary depending on the size and type of meat. As a general guideline, you can brine poultry for 1-2 hours per pound, pork for 4-8 hours, and fish for 30 minutes to 1 hour. However, you can adjust the brining time based on your preference and the specific recipe you are following. Be cautious not to brine for too long, as the meat can become overly salty.
- Refrigerate: Place the container with the meat and brine in the refrigerator during the brining process.
- Rinse the meat: After the brining time is complete, remove the meat from the brine and rinse it thoroughly under cold water to remove any excess salt from the surface. This step is essential to prevent the meat from being too salty.
- Pat dry and cook: Pat the meat dry with paper towels before cooking it according to your preferred method, whether it's grilling, roasting, or another cooking technique. Note that brined meat may cook slightly faster, so monitor the cooking process closely to avoid overcooking.
Remember to always follow specific brining instructions provided in recipes, as brining times and ingredient proportions can vary depending on the desired outcome and the meat you're using.
Chef Pete’s book, Paleo By Season is packed with even more chef secrets and techniques along with delicious seasonal recipes you and your family will love. Pick up your copy today.
Here is his take on simple brined chicken
Brined And Roasted Chicken With Cider Pan Sauce
Cook time1 hour, plus 12 to 24 hours to brine
For The Brine
(yields 2 cups)
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon honey(optional)
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup ice
For The Chicken
- 1 (2 to 3-pound) chicken
- 2 tablespoons dried thyme
- 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
- ½ tablespoon cracked black pepper
- ½ tablespoon salt
- ½ cup hard cider (see note)
- ½ cup chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon ghee
- Preheat the oven to 450 ̊F.
- Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan.
- Add all the brine ingredients and bring to a boil once more.
- Turn off the heat and add the ice to chill quickly.
- Once the ice has melted, place the chicken in a roasting pan or other deep pan or pot and cover with the brine.
- Let sit for at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours.
- Remove the chicken from the brine, rinse it well, and pat it completely dry.
- In a small bowl, mix together the thyme, rosemary, black pepper, and salt.
- Rub the mixture over chicken skin.
- Place the bird breast side up in a 9-by-13-inch roasting pan and roast for 50 minutes.
- Remove from the oven when the thigh meat is at 155 ̊F or the juices run clear when a knife is inserted into the thigh meat.
- Place the bird on a cutting board to rest and place the roasting pan on the stovetop over medium-high heat.
- Pour the cider and stock into the pan and scrape the bottom with a wooden spatula or spoon.
- After about 3 minutes of rapid reduction, turn the heat of, add the ghee, and stir until melted and combined
- Let the sauce sit for a few minutes while you butcher the chicken. Pour sauce over the chicken if plating individually or on the side if serving family style.