A few years ago I began brining poultry. Started with the wet brine and have recently been working in dry brine. My first brine experience was with a turkey. Haven’t looked back since. If you haven’t tried brining before, I encourage you to give it a shot. If my word is not enough to sway you (and considering we barely know each other, I understand that), let me present you with some better data. According to a study “Brining Effects on Flavor and Moisture Uptake and Retention in Turkey Meat” published in the Journal of Culinary Science & Technology brined turkey scores better on the taste scale then un-brined turkey. In fact, a panel of culinary students rated the brined turkey more flavorful over a normal turkey by a factor of over 2-1. The paper presents some great info, but the bottom line is if you want to achieve the best tasting poultry, especially breast meat, brine it.
If you want to give brining a shot, here is a 101 to get you started.
The basics of bribing are simple. Introduce salt to the meat to help it retain moisture better (if you are interested in the Chemistry, check out the referenced paper discussed above). The primary goal being to keep meat, especially breast meat, from drying out during cooking. You can accomplish this using two main methods, a wet brine and a dry brine.
A wet brine is a solution of water, salt, and any number of added seasonings. Super, peppercorns, lemons, liquid smoke, and herbs are typical add ins. You add all ingredients into a pot, boil to dissolve salt and sugar, let cool, they add to container and submerge meat. Let sit for 8-24 hours. When ready to cook, rinse meat and pat dry. If you are planning on wet brining a lot, invest in a large plastic container with a lid you can fit in your fridge. Brining bags (basically large plastic bags) are also a must for large birds. My first thanksgiving I brined a turkey I put the turkey in a garbage bag in a bucket with ice in my garage cause I didn’t have the right setup. Don’t make that mistake!
Significantly easier then the wet version. For this one, all you need to do is coat the meat in salt and let it sit in the fridge (uncovered). I usually do overnight, but even a few hours will make a difference. The amount of salt you use is proportionate to the thickness of the meat. If you are doing a turkey or a tri-tip for example, coat is well. The meat is thick and no real risk of over-salting it. If you are doing wings, a lighter hand may be required. For this style you DO NOT wash off the meat. The salt should be absorbed.
- When you season your meat before cooking, remember you brined with salt. Many times I don’t have to add anymore salt to the seasoning.
- The type and grain of salt matters. I recommend kosher salt in a medium course grain. I stay away from the finer grain stuff since its harder to control and its easier to over do it. Remember the meat will absorb the salt, so if you use a salt with a flavor profile, expect it to show up at least somewhat in the meat. Smoked salt may be an interesting experiment here.
- Dry your meat. For a dry brine, dry before you add salt. For a wet brine, dry it after the brine. This is a critical step missed a lot. Drying it helps you get crispy skin and a good sear.
- Wet brine can be messy. When you finish brining, you have a bowl, bag, or container filled with salmonella laced liquid. My least favorite part of the wet brine process.
- Play around. Brining is a good tool to have and the more comfortable you feel with it the better. Try out each type and on different meats. It is great for poultry, but recently I have brined tri-tip and port loin (for smoking). In each case I enjoyed the final product.
Brining is one of those tools for the cooking tool belt. Not something you will do all the time, but something worth learning. Anyone have some other good tips or brine recipes they want to share?