What is brining?
Brining is the process of helping meat absorb and retain moisture while it cooks to prevent a dry finished product. The most basic key to juicy poultry, tender pork and exceptional beef roasts is salt! Traditional liquid brine is a solution made by dissolving salt and sugars in boiling water and adding seasonings. Dry brine (or dry rub) is a mixture of blended seasonings rubbed generously on a dry piece of meat. Click here for our favorite liquid brine recipe.
When should I brine my meat?
Not all cuts need to be brined, but they all can be. Consult our meat mongers and butchers when you call ahead or pick up at the shops. If you do decide to brine your meat here’s some basics you need to know:
- Tender cuts brine much quicker than their tougher counterparts. For example, chicken breast and filet mignon brine much faster than a ham or short ribs.
- To determine how much brining liquid you’ll ultimately need, place your meat in a big bowl or container and cover it with water. Remove the meat, measure the amount of liquid and that’s how much brine you’ll need to yield.
- You don’t need to boil an entire gallon of liquid to create your brine. Start with a quart and add your salts and sugars to create a saturated solution. After boiling, pour your hot liquid over ice to cool it for immediate use. Give ample time for this step so you don’t cook your meat in the brining solution.
- Because water is a heat conductor you will find that a brined piece of meat will cook faster than a non-brined piece. Check the temperature early and often.
How do brines work? Let’s get nerdy.
The brining process starts when the salt that you added to your brine breaks down into its negatively charged parts, Sodium and Chloride ions. These Ions diffuse themselves between the muscle fibers and actually create larger than normal gaps for moisture to be trapped into. It also starts to denature the protein strands and increase its hold on the moisture already present.
Types of brines…
There is equilibrium brining (or liquid brining) and dry rub or salt pack brining. Equilibrium brining is when the salt added to the brine is a percentage of the total weight of the meat plus the weight of the water used to cover. Typical percentage is around 1% and depending on the size of the protein can take between an hour to several days!
Dry Rub or salt pack brining is when a piece of meat is covered in the “brine” or rub and time is what’s used to control how much salt is absorbed. This is usually a much more aggressive brine and often requires rinsing of the meat before cooking.
1% is a pretty magic ratio of weight, meat:water ratio will depend on the container so no there is no formula