Many chefs, including Heston Blumenthal, swear by brining their meat, especially meats that are traditionally dry like turkey. It increases the ‘juiciness’ of the meat and stops it drying out as much in the cooking process. This is done by:
- Hydrating the cells of the meat via Osmosis
- Denaturing the proteins which coagulate and trap more water
Brining can also help in seasoning the meat and brining fish for 10minutes also helps stop it falling apart when being cooked.
Why Not Brine?
It takes time, work and equipment you may not have. For wet brining, you need to submerge your meat in a brine solution overnight. If you are brining a turkey, this means you’ll need to find yourself a decent sized bucket or container and find space in your fridge. Before you cook it, you then need to rinse the turkey to remove some of the saltiness. For dry brining, it’s a bit simplier (just salting the turkey) but it all adds to your workload.
It can change the flavour. Wet brining can tend to take away some of the flavour of the meat and make it more bland. You’re adding more moisture to your meat, however it’s just water and salt, so it will dilute the ‘meaty’ taste.
It can make your meat too salty. If you don’t rinse or soak the meat enough in fresh water, you can end up with it being too salty. Remember, you can always add salt later, but it’s difficult to take it away.
How to Brine:
As mentioned, there are 2 main ways to brine your meat: Wet Brining and Dry Brining.
- Suitable for poultry, prawns/shrimp, pork, fish and beef/steak.
Wet brining involves submerging your meat in a brine solution for up to 8 hours.
- A container big enough to submerge your meat (see Tip, Tricks and Hacks below)
- Salt (either table or kosher)
- Meat (defrosted)
- Place your meat in the container
- Cover with water
- Add salt. Recommended ration is 8% w/w (80grams/Litre or 10.5oz/US Liquid Gallon)
- Gift it a stir to dissolve the majority of the salt. Don’t stress too much about making sure all the salt is dissolved. This is not an exact science and I always argue that Brownian motion should sort out the rest 🙂
- Leave the meat for the required time:
Meat Wet Brining Time Chicken (whole) 4-8hrs Chicken (parts) 1.5hrs Chicken (breasts) 1hr Turkey (whole) 12-18hrs Pork (chops) 2-8hrs Pork (loin) 24-36hrs Prawns 0.5hrs Fish 10mins
- After the brining time, remove the meat and drain. Rinse the meat with fresh water and dry with cloths before cooking.
Tips, Tricks and Hacks for Wet Brining
Measuring: To make sure you use the correct ratio of salt, place your container (with meat) onto a set of bathroom scales. Tare (zero) the scales, add the water, then multiply the weight (kg or lb) by 0.08 to get the weight of salt required (kg or lb).
Weight of Water (kg or lb) x 0.08 = Salt required (kg or lb)
Suitable Container: It may be tough finding a big enough bowl/tub/bucket/wading pool big enough for your turkey/chicken/steak. Options could be:
- A coolbox/Esky/chilly-bin
- Refrigerator drawer
- A brining bag (essentially a large ziplock/snaplock bag)
- A rubbish/trash bin (preferably new)
- A large pot
Refrigeration: You should keep your meat cold whilst brining it (<4°C or <40°F). Unfortunately, you probably don’t have a big enough fridge to store a bucket or coolbox in.
Some alternatives are:
- If it’s cold enough, store it outside or in the garage. Make sure it has a decent lid on it to keep bugs and wild animals away!
- If using a bucket or coolbox, place some ice in the water (either ice cubes in bags or soda bottles filled with water and frozen), checking the temperature occasionally.
- Suitable for poultry, pork, fish and beef/steak.
Dry brining is a much simpler process and involves sprinkling salt over your meat and leaving it for a period of time. It’s a much more forgiving process and can be left for a longer period of time without fear of ruining the meat. Dry brining is sometimes referred to as pre-salting.
- A shallow try or dish to hold your meat
- Salt (either table or kosher)
- Meat (defrosted)
- Place your meat in the dish
- Sprinkle all over with salt. A rough guide is 5.5grams/kg of meat (0.1oz/lb of meat). You want to cover the meat all over but not create a crust. If you’re dry brining a turkey or chicken, make sure to salt the cavity, underneath the skin and on top of the skin.
- Rest the meat in the fridge using the table below as a guide.
Meat Dry Brining Time Steak (<1" thick) 1hr Thick cut steak, chicken breasts and joints 2-4hrs Whole chicken and large roasting joints 12-24hrs Whole Turkey 24-72hrs
- After the proper resting time, remove the meat from fridge and cook as per normal, omitting any requests for additional salt.
Tips, Tricks and Hacks for Dry Brining
Cooking a whole chicken or turkey? Help with making the skin extra crispy by mixing some baking soda in with your salt before brining the skin. Replace about 1/3rd of the salt with baking soda.
Extra Flavour: Add some dried or fresh herbs to your salt mix – especially if cooking a whole turkey or chicken.
Is It Worth It?
As I said at the start of this article, many chefs swear by brining. Due to the amount of additional work required for wet brining, I don’t use it, especially considering the flavour loss (or dilution) that you get. However, given how easy dry brining is, this is my preferred technique.
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