Throughout this website and especially on poultry, I am always encouraging folks to brine the meat they are getting ready to smoke but what is brining meat? That's exactly what I am going to explain on this page.
After reading this page you should know what brining meat is, why you should brine meat and most importantly, how to get the job done in a way that brings results.
What is Brining
I am not a scientist and I won't try to explain what I don't understand but I will tell you that when you put meat and salt together, the salt finds it way into the center of the meat in a most remarkable way.
Brining meat is simply placing salt on meat or putting meat down into very salty water and allowing that salt to go through a series of natural scientific processes to find it's way inside of the meat.
In it's most basic form, these processes seek to equalize the amount of salt on the outside of the meat with the amount of salt on the inside.
As you very well know there is little if any salt inside the turkey therefore the salt and water is drawn deep into the meat fibers of the meat creating the process we call meat brining. The really neat thing about this process is that you can add other spices, herbs, flavorings, etc. down into the bucket with the salt water solution and it will get drawn in as well and thereby flavor the meat.
This process seems to work the best on poultry but it is also works well on pork, beef, fish, lamb, etc.
Why Brine Meat?
This question is sort of answered above but in essence, we brine meat to improve flavor and to increase the moisture level in side of the meat. During brining, moisture gets drawn into the meat fibers and it gets trapped there. During the cooking process, moisture loss happens.. it's a given. A brined piece of meat has more moisture inside and while it also experiences moisture loss during the cooking process, it started with more and therefore ends up more moist and juicy than it would have been.
Ingredients for Brining Meat
The standard water to salt ratio is 1:16 or 1 cup of Kosher salt per gallon of non-chlorinated water. I usually require around 2 gallons of water to cover a 12 pound turkey and therefore I use 2 cups of kosher salt and 2 gallons of water. Any seasonings you choose to add after the base solution should contain little or no salt else the brining meat you are using can become too salty.
How to Make the Brine
First you need the liquid (it doesn't have to be water). It can be juice, milk, wine, soda pop, etc. In the following example, I used a juice mixture.
The juice is poured into the pitcher. Looks like I used ½ gallon here so I added ½ cup of kosher salt.
The salt is stirred into the liquid until it is completely dissolved.
A ziptop bag is one of the best brine containers. In the picture above, the chicken was placed into a gallon sized bag.
The brine is poured into the bag to cover the chicken.
Be sure to press out as much of the air as you can before zipping the bag closed.
Bags are not always 100% leak proof so I recommend placing the bag into a large bowl or pan just in case.
Most things like chicken pieces can be brined for as little as just a few hours or overnight.
Here is a more complex recipe I use once in a while using the same process as above:
2 Gal Water
2 Cups Kosher Salt
3 Cups Sugar
1/4 Cup Zatarains Liquid Crab Boil
4 TBS Black Pepper
1 TBS Dried Rosemary
1 TBS Thyme
1/4 Cup Molasses
1/4 Cup White Wine (not Cooking Wine)
1/4 Cup Worcestershire
Soak a 12 pound turkey in this mixture overnight or 10-12 hours in the fridge
Experiment with Your Favorite Brine Ingredients
You can get real creative with meat brining and add pinches and dashes of this and that until you find the right combination. On the recipe above you can leave out the crab boil for a less Louisiana flavor. Try a dash or two of cinnamon for a nice twist. Wanna spice things up a bit…add a few teaspoons of cayenne or run a couple of jalapenos through the food processor and pour the puree into the mix…oh yeah!
After the meat has brined for 10-12 hours take it out of the bucket, rinse the meat real well making sure there is no traces of salt left on the outside of the brining meat and discard the brine. Smoke (or bake if you must) as usual.
What About Dry Brining?
Dry brining is a slightly different animal since it uses no extra water. This is simply done by sprinkling a generous amount of kosher salt all over a piece of meat such as a steak.
In this example you can see the type of salt coverage that I use and recommend.
Set the steak(s) on a plate or pan and allow it to sit in the fridge for 2-4 hours. The thicker the steak or meat, the longer it should be allowed to sit.
First the salt begins to draw moisture to the surface. This happens in about 5-10 minutes.
The moisture causes the salt to dissolve and the mixture becomes a salty slurry. This happens within the first 30-45 minutes
This salty moisture is then drawn back deep into the meat.
A steak that has been dry brined, will taste slightly salty and flavorful, all the way through to the center even if you add no extra salt.
When the dry brining process is finished, it is ready to cook.
I have not found it to be necessary to rinse the meat after this brining process but it also does not hurt if you are worried about it being overly salty.
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