Throughout this website and especially on poultry, I am always encouraging folks to brine the meat they are getting ready to smoke but what exactly is brining meat? That's exactly what I aim 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?
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 some of those flavors seem to get drawn in as well and thereby flavor the meat.
This wet brining process seems to work the best on poultry and fish.
Why Brine Meat?
Back in the day, meat and fish was covered in salt to preserve it since there was no refrigeration however, nowadays, we brine meat to improve flavor and to increase or retain the moisture level inside 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 the moisture trapped inside and while it also experiences moisture loss during the cooking process, it ends up more moist and juicy than it would have been otherwise.
Ingredients for Brining Meat
The standard liquid to salt ratio is 1:16 or 1 cup of Kosher salt per gallon of liquid. I usually need around 2 gallons of brine to cover a 12 pound turkey and therefore I use 2 cups of kosher salt and 2 gallons of liquid.
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 more salty than intended.
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 makes a good brine container. 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.
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, pork chop, lamb chop, etc.
Most professionals recommend about ½ teaspoon of salt per pound of meat. I usually use closer to ¾ teaspoon per pound when I measure.. most of the time I just “eyeball” it.
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 at least 2 hours but overnight is a lot better. The thicker the steak or meat, the longer it should be allowed to sit.
You can let meat dry brine up to 48 hours. After that it seems to start affecting the texture of the meat too much.
First the salt begins to draw moisture to the surface. This happens in about 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 absorbed back into the meat. This absorption process has a good start after only a couple of hours however, overnight is best for full effect.
A steak that has been dry brined will taste slightly salty and flavorful and if you let it go long enough, all the way through to the center.
When the dry brining process is finished, it is ready to cook.
It is not necessary to rinse the meat after this dry brining process as the salt has been absorbed.
How About the Juiciness of Dry Brined Meat?
Unlike wet brining, we do not add extra moisture when dry brining meat however, the same thing that happens when wet brining, happens during dry brining.
The protein strands unwind, the moisture that is absorbed back into the meat get trapped inside of these protein strands and during cooking, less moisture cooks out of the meat than it normally does. This means you end up with a more juicy steak that is also more flavorful.
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Smoke, Wood, Fire: The Advanced Guide to Smoking Meat – Unlike the first book, this book does not focus on recipes but rather uses every square inch of every page teaching you how to smoke meat. What my first book touched on, this second book takes it into much greater detail with lots of pictures.
It also includes a complete, step-by-step tutorial for making your own smoked “streaky” bacon using a 100 year old brine recipe.