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Brine Meat for Moist Flavor

Brine Meat for Moist Flavor

March 20, 2012
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brining meat

Remember studying for a big test in college, joking that you would sleep with the book under your pillow to learn by osmosis? The idea being while you slept the information from the book would work its way into your brain. For me it never seemed to work with studying, but osmosis has worked beautifully to make meats, especially notoriously dry poultry and pork, moist and flavorful. Who knew science could be so delicious?

A basic brine is made of water and salt. Often sugar and additional flavoring ingredients are added, but it is those first two ingredients that make it work. The meat is submerged into the brine and since there is less salt in the meat than in the brine the salt starts moving into the meat to reach a state of equilibrium. And where salt goes water follows (as my tighter pants remind me every time I put too much soy sauce on my Chinese food). The salt also causes changes in the protein structure of the meat which helps the water get stuck inside. Adding additional moisture before cooking means you will have more moisture left after cooking in the form of moister meat.

brining meat
Brined Pork with Pineapple Salsa

But why stop at salt and water? Since you are already moving liquid into the meat why not flavor the liquid thereby flavoring the meat. Try substituting juice for part of the water like in the Brined Pork with Pineapple Salsa recipe or this Brined Chipotle Orange Turkey Breast recipe. The juice in the brine moves into the meat with the salt and stays there. This give meat flavor all the way through versus just on the surface like with a rub or quick marinade. Additional seasoning like garlic, juniper berries, peppercorns, and herbs and spices can also be used.

brining meat
Brined Pork with Pineapple Salsa

Before brining meat make sure to look at the label. Some manufacturers are already adding a salt based solution to help keep meat moist. A statement of “% solution added” is your tip off that the product you are buying is already enhanced. Some of these enhanced meats have added flavor like teriyaki or citrus and others are done just to add moisture. Trying to brine an already enhanced meat is just wasted effort. The mechanism that draws the brine into the meat (osmosis) won’t work if the meat is already full of salt and water.

The next time you are looking to add additional flavor and moisture to your meats give brining a try. It is much easier than studying for a big test and, unlike a perfect grade, you can eat these tasty results.

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I never think about brining meat. I'm making a whole chicken for dinner tonight. Typically how long does the meat need to sit in the brine? I'd love to brine it before I cook it tonight if time permits.

Posted March 22, 2012 by Katie
Test Kitchen Comment
From: amber
For a whole chicken I would recommend at least 4 hours but no more than 8. If you brine meat for too long you do run the risk of making it mushy. Hope this helps!
Posted March 26, 2012