The Great Brine Debate- does brining actually help the flavor and juiciness of your smoked meats?
Everyone’s had some chicken, turkey, or ribs that have needed an extra helping of gravy or barbecue sauce, but is not brining really to blame? The only way to find out is to give it a try for yourself, and to make it easy on you, we’ve created this introduction to brining to set you off on the right food. Deliciously juicy meat awaits!
Brining isn’t new, though with the increase in popularity of smokers, it has become more well known as it transitions into a common barbecue practice. Cooks have been brining meat in a mixture of salt and water for centuries. A technique that’s been around for that long can’t be all that bad, can it?
Brining meat was originally used for food preservation, back in the days before refrigeration. Large amounts of salts were used to preserve meat until it was ready to be cooked. Modern brining requires significantly less salt and is generally mixed with other herbs and spices, to really spice up your meal. Not only does brining add tenderness and flavor to a cut of meat, it also has been known to reduce cooking times as well. Brining is actually becoming even more important to tenderness of meats, because of changes in how livestock are raised, the meat overall contains much less fat than in the past. That this means for your meal is that meat tends to dry out much quicker now when cooked.
There’s some simple, but awesome, chemistry happening whenever you cook brined meat. The magic of brining relies on a chemical process called Osmosis, or the absorbsion of brine into the meat. By immersing meats into a liquid with a higher concentration of salt than the meat’s normal salt water content, the liquid is absorbed, adding extra moisture to keep your meat nice and juicy throughout your cook.
Brining also changes the chemical structure of proteins by breaking some of the bonds that give proteins their shape. These broken proteins then act to trap water, further allowing moisture to be retained. According to Dr. Burt B. Quency (made up doctor), “My studies have shown that deliciousness and brining are significantly correlated.” Because these proteins are broken down, the salt, herbs, and spices in the brine are able to enter the meat as well.
Science Says Brining Makes Your Meat Delicious.
Besides just simple taste and tenderness, there are some other great benefits to brining. First of all, correctly brining your meat will give you a cushion for cooking, so you can overcook your meat a bit and it will remain most. This is a huge benefit if you like having some beers with friends while smoking and are prone to lose attention. Brining also can cook faster, because water is a heat conductor. Meaning that your meat cooks from the inside as well as the outside. Finally, brining adds flavor throughout the meat, instead of to the outside only.
Getting Down To Business- Brining Recipes
To prepare your brining solution, there are two methods.
Method 1 – Dissolve salt in cold or room temperature water, add ingredients and mix. Allow solution to set overnight before use.
Method 2 – Mix salt, sugar and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add other flavorings. Let cool before use.
1/2 cup Sugar
1/2 cup Kosher Salt
1 Gallon Water
Another Standard Brine
3/4 cup Kosher Salt
3/4 cup Brown Sugar
1 Gallon Water
1/2 cup Black Pepper
How long you should brine isn’t a science, it’s an art. It all depends on the meat you’re working with and your personal taste. To get you started, here’s a good rule of thumb for different kinds of meat you would be brining that we’ve found work great.
4-5 lb Whole Chicken – 8-12 hours
Chicken Breasts – 1 hour
Whole Turkey – 24-48 hours
Turkey Breast – 5-10 hours
Pork Chops – 12-24 hours
Whole Pork Tenderloin – 12-24 hours
Brining Tips and Tricks
- Don’t be afraid of adjusting the amount of salt in a brine to match your tastes. Just generally try to stay above 1 cup of salt in your mixture to make sure the brining is doing its job.
- To avoid your chicken looking greyish after cooking, add some sugar to the brine. This carmelizes the meat a bit, giving it a really great look.
- If your meat tastes over-seasoned and looks mushy, the acidity of your brine may have been off. Also, make sure you don’t brine your meat for too long.
- Make sure that your meat stays below 40 degrees when brining. If it gets above this point, bacteria can start to grow making your meat dangerous to consume.
- Brining frozen meat won’t work, fully thaw your meat before brining.