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Brining Meat

How and Why to Brine Poultry, Turkey, Beef or Other Meats 
 

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Every year when we make a turkey for Thanksgiving, we brine it. And inevitably most of the people who join us for Thanksgiving look at us like we're crazy when we talk about brining ... until they taste the bird. If you can imagine the juiciest, most flavorful turkey you've ever had - that's what brining gives you. We'll share with you how and why to brine meats, what meats can be brined, and how to cook meat that's gone through this preparation.

What is Brining Meat for?

I think the biggest confusion for people who don't understand brining meat is that they think first of other foods they're familiar with that are brined: pickles. In both cases, the item brined is soaked in saltwater and spices, but canned pickled items stay in their brine until serving - so the end result is very salty, wet and the texture is generally quite soft. This is not what you want when you're brining something like a turkey!

For meats, you brine them for a limited period of time, generally 2 to 24 hours depending on the strength of the brine and type of meat. But after brining, you remove them from the liquid and use another traditional method to actually cook the meat. The brining allows the meat to absorb some of the brining liquid, infusing it with a bit of salt and spice, and changing the cellular structure of the meat so it can absorb more liquid than if it weren't brined. This cellular process also makes the meat extra tender.

What Meats to Brine

You can brine any type of meat, but the technique is used most frequently for meats that have a tendency to become dry after cooking, like poultry. White turkey meat, for example, gets dry extremely quickly even with just a slight bit of overcooking, which most people who cook turkey on Thanksgiving end up doing. Brining is a great way to give yourself a little extra margin of error, and ensure the meat stays juicy whether you get the cooking time perfect or go just slightly over.

Another great cut of meat for brining is beef brisket. Brisket comes from the cattle's breast muscles, and are responsible for holding up 60% of the animal's weight. All that work means the meat is pretty fibrous with a lot of connective tissue, so it needs to be cooked in a way that helps tenderize the meat. Which brings us back to brining! Brined brisket is the starting point for corned beef - which is then typically boiled or roasted, depending on how you're preparing the meat.

How to Brine Meats

The two key ingredients to start with are water and salt. The typical brine solution calls for 1 cup of salt to a gallon of water. You'll need enough liquid to fully immerse the meat. You may need to heat the water or liquid to get all the salt dissolved, but if you do just chill the liquid back to refrigerate temperature before starting the brine. Depending on the size of what you're brining, you can use a sealed plastic bag or large stainless steel bowl.

The amount of time in the brine will vary depending on the size and type of meat, but a good rule of thumb is 1 hour for every pound of meat. Add a bit more time for heavy meats like pork or beef. You can also get creative with the flavorings in the brine, such as using cider or dark beer for part of the liquid, or adding spices like peppercorns or whole garlic cloves.

Tip: if you're brining something really big like your Thanksgiving turkey, it gets a bit more challenging finding a container and keeping it chilled. We actually put it in a big plastic cooler in the bathtub, and add a couple bags of ice to the brining liquid. Just make sure to wash that cooler well!

How to Cook Meat that's Brined

Meat that's been brined can be cooked in basically any method: roasted, fried, grilled, boiled, smoked - and doesn't require a lot of special handling. The only things to keep in mind are that you don't need to add any extra salt, so if you're following a recipe that calls for that or a lot of spices you can leave those off. Also, if you're using a dry cooking method after brining, let the meat sit for a few hours in the fridge out of the brown before cooking it. This will ensure you get the right meat texture and the outside can still get good and brown.

Easy Food & Wine Recipes Using Brined Meat

Grilled Rachel Sandwiches with Homemade Corned Beef
Corned Beef Hash with Sweet Potatoes & Cabbage


Do you think brining meat is a 'do' or a 'don't'? Tell us at amyandmike@easyfoodandwine.com.


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