How to Brine

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Soaking lean meats in a salt water solution is so easy and it makes such a difference! Here’s how to brine.

Soaking lean meats in a salt water solution is so easy and it makes such a difference! Here's how to brine.

You’ve probably heard of brining, and maybe you’ve even done it with your Thanksgiving turkey. But brining is a great idea for all your favorite lean meats, like chicken breasts and pork chops. Why? Because it helps make them both juicier and more flavorful!

Let’s take a closer look at this simple kitchen trick.

WHAT IS BRINING?

It’s simply soaking food in a salt water solution. Sometimes for extra flavor, you might add other ingredients, like sugar, herbs or spices. But all you really need for a brine is salt and water.

HOW DOES A BRINE WORK?

One, the meats that you’re soaking absorb the brine, making them more moist and juicy. All meat loses liquid during cooking, but since brined meats start out with more, they end up with more, too.

And two, brining dissolves some of the meat’s muscle fibers. The technical term for this is denaturing. But don’t worry about that. The important thing is it literally turns some of the solids into liquid, enhancing your experience of moisture.

TWO BENEFITS

The additional moisture makes your meat juicier. The fact that the moisture is salty makes it more flavorful. Win and win!

WHAT SHOULD YOU BRINE?

Because the benefits are juiciness and flavor, the best meats for brining are lean meats, because with less fat they tend to dry out and also to have less flavor. Enter the Thanksgiving turkey.

But also—pork chops, pork loin and pork tenderloin. Chicken breasts or whole chickens. And some people even brine shrimp!

On the flip side, beef and lamb aren’t good candidates for brining because they’re fattier and they can be enjoyed rarer than chicken or pork. Both those things mean they cook up juicier and more flavorful by default.

HOW TO BRINE

See my recipe below for a basic brine. It’ll make enough for 4 pork chops, 4 chicken breasts or 2 pork tenderloins. If you’re making something bigger, just double, triple or quadruple the recipe. The recipe also tells you how long to brine the different cuts.

Note that the amount of salt in the recipe depends on what kind you’re using—Diamond Crystal kosher salt, Morton’s kosher salt versus any kind of finely ground salt like table salt. Personally, I like kosher salt because it dissolves easily, but any kind will work.

As for additional ingredients, I’ve found that sugar can make a nice difference, but adding herbs and spices makes a very mild difference at best. Experiment and see what works for you.

Happy brining!

Christine :)

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How to Brine


  • Author: Allie McDonald

Description

Soaking lean meats in a salt water solution is so easy and it makes such a difference! Here’s how to brine.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups cold water
  • 6 Tbsp. Diamond Crystal kosher salt, 4 1/2 Tbsp.Morton’s kosher salt or 3 Tbsp. fine or table salt
  • 2 Tbsp. brown or white sugar (optional)
  • Lean meat for brining
  • Optional ingredients: peppercorns, juniper berries, rosemary, thyme and/or sage sprigs, bay leaves, allspice berries, whole cloves, star anise, other favorite herbs and spices

Instructions

  1. In a large nonreactive container, combine the water, salt and sugar (if using), stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar.
  2. Transfer to a resealable bag, add the meat and any optional ingredients and seal the bag, squeezing out as much air as possible.
  3. Set aside in the refrigerator for 4- 6 hours for chicken breasts, 1-inch thick pork chops or pork tenderloins, 8-12 hours for a whole chicken or turkey breast and 12-24 hours for a whole turkey or pork loin.
  4. Remove the meat from the brine, pat it dry and proceed with your recipe.

 

 

Notes

Note: This recipe makes enough brine for 4 pork chops, 4 chicken breasts or 2 pork tenderloins. Double, triple or quadruple the recipe for bigger cuts or larger batches.

14 Responses to “How to Brine”

  1. jim — September 14, 2019 @ 6:45 pm (#)

    I brined two chicken breasts using your proportions. WAY too much salt. I rinsed the salt off, patted them dry, cajun- spiced them, grilled them perfectly and after about three or four bites of several different pieces, I threw them in the wastebasket and made some burgers. I’ve seen a couple other recipes on different websites, same ratios. And I never have been sold on brining anyway. But this was off the scale.

    • Christine Pittman — September 18, 2019 @ 12:24 pm (#)

      Jim, the only ways I can think of that this would be inedibly salty are if you didn’t use the right amount for the type of salt (for example, if you use fine or table salt, but use the amount recommended for kosher salt the brine would be way too strong – table salt, by volume, is twice as salty as kosher salt), or if you left something in the brine for longer than recommended (although my guess is that would make for a worse texture more than a markedly bad taste, but maybe it’d have a big effect on taste too).

      A third possibility is that after brining, you don’t want to use as much salt in a recipe as the recipe calls for. For example, if I brined a pork tenderloin, and then made a recipe with it that called for 2 teaspoons of salt, I probably would only use 1/2 or 1 teaspoon. So if you used a Cajun seasoning on the brined chicken, and that seasoning had salt, it could make the chicken too salty.

      Let us know if any of those could have been a problem and maybe it will help others as well!

  2. Terry — July 8, 2019 @ 10:58 am (#)

    Can u marinate for an hour after brining time is done to add flavor?

    • Christine Pittman — August 27, 2019 @ 6:06 pm (#)

      Yes Terry, you can marinate after brining. But the easier thing to do is to add flavor ingredients to your brine. These will also transfer to your meat as though it has been marinated. Enjoy!

  3. Marilyn — June 21, 2019 @ 9:21 am (#)

    When using juniper berries, do you crush them or use them in the brine whole?

    • Christine Pittman — August 22, 2019 @ 4:15 pm (#)

      Thanks for your question, Marilyn! You’ll want to gently crush the juniper berries for the brine.

  4. Timothy — May 27, 2019 @ 3:34 pm (#)

    You shouldn’t use sugar in a brine.

    A sugar molecule is 36 atoms wide a salt molecule is 2 atoms wide.

    The sugar is much to large to absorb into the meat.

    Here is an experiment you can do:

    Make some salt water and add green or blue food coloring. Then make some sugar water and add green or blue food coloring.

    Put 2 chicken breasts in two bowls and add the salt and sugar mixtures. Cover and place in the fridge overnight.

    In the morning remove the two chicken breasts and cut them open on a cutting board. You’ll see that the salt water solution has penetrated throughout the meat while the sugar water hasn’t even broken the surface.

  5. James silva — March 27, 2019 @ 8:25 am (#)

    After doing the brining process. Do I still need to wash the meat? Would it be have salty taste?

    • Christine Pittman — March 31, 2019 @ 10:51 am (#)

      Yes, rinse after brining and then pat dry. Don’t salt the meat after that. Good luck, James!

  6. Frank — November 21, 2018 @ 2:25 am (#)

    I use a clean cooler.  

    • Christine Pittman — November 21, 2018 @ 8:49 am (#)

      This is a great idea, especially when brining something large like a turkey. Just use lots of ice or ice packs and keep it at 40F. Great idea! Thanks, Frank!

  7. Lisa — November 19, 2018 @ 9:43 pm (#)

    Where do I get a ziplock big enough for a 12 lb turkey??

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