Brine 101

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Have you ever bitten into a piece of chicken or turkey and found it to be as dry as the Sahara? Chances are it was not brined prior to cooking. It is shame too, because brining is such an easy way to add flavor and moisture to often overcooked lean meats and poultry. Read on to learn about the process and how you can put it to use today.

How It Works

In order to understand brining, we will first have to go back to some science class basics, more specifically, diffusion and osmosis.

The law of diffusion essentially states that particles move from areas of high concentration to low concentration.

Furthermore, osmosis is the process by which water moves from an area of high concentration to low concentration.

A brine solution contains water, salt and sugar, among other things. When you place a turkey in this solution there is a greater concentration of particles (salt & sugar) outside of the turkey than there is inside the turkey’s cells. Based on the law of diffusion, the salt and sugar will travel from the high area (brine) to the low area (cells).

The third part of that brine, water, also has a higher concentration than inside the turkey – which is where osmosis comes into play. The water is following the sugar and salt right into that darn, dry turkey.

Once the brine is inside the turkey cells, it begins to change the make-up of the protein cells and thus, holds onto the moisture all the way through the cooking process. You end up with a finished product that is better seasoned and more moist.

Basic Brine Recipe

This recipe is great for your first brine. Keep in mind that it is also very basic. Traditionally, brines include additional spices or herbs, used to impart more flavor into your choice of meat. Even when adding spices or herbs, you can keep the ratios the same. See below for recommended additions to this brine.

  • 4 cups cold water
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Mix cold water, salt and sugar in your brine container. Stir until sugar and salt are dissolved.
Immerse food in brine, seal and refrigerate.

Brine food at a rate of one hour per pound. If brining multiple cuts of meat, use the weight of one of the cuts of meat to determine your time.

Remove food from brine, dry with paper towels and cook as you normally would.

Note: This recipe will make enough brine for 1 pound of meat. If you have two or three pounds of meat, double or triple the recipe – up to 2 1/2 gallons of brine. Even with a 14 – 16 pound turkey, you won’t need more than 2 1/2 gallons of brine.

Recommended Additions

  • Whole Peppercorns
  • Allspice Berries
  • Brown sugar (in place of white sugar)
  • Vegetable stock (in place of some of the water)
  • Whole garlic cloves, peeled
  • Bay leaves
  • Thyme
  • Parsley
  • Cloves
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Honey
  • Soy Sauce

The Brine Candidates

A brine works best on what many consider the toughest meats to cook, i.e., those that have a tendency to overcook quickly. That being said, chicken, turkey and pork are great brine candidates. Stay away from beef and lamb when brining. You can also brine many types of seafood. Shrimp and whole sides of fish take to a brine well.

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