Brining A>Z! What Is It? Why It Works! How To Do It! Basic Brine Recipes!

Culinaire Logo — July 15, 2006

Brining A-to-Z! What Is It? Why It Works! How To Do It! Basic Brine Recipes! Thanksgiving Classics

Brining promotes change in meat protein structure; the same process occurs when exposed to heat, acid or alcohol. Brining improves flavor, tenderness, moisture of lean meats (chicken, turkey, pork, seafood), and reduces cooking time.

Brining A>Z!

What Is It?
Why It Works!
How To Do It!
Basic Brine Recipes!

Originally published here July 15, 2006 (4,329H on Nov. 14, 2009) (5,170H Nov. 19,2010)

Reissued November 1, 2008 (1,366H on Nov. 14, 2009) (2,990 Nov. 19 , 2010)

– Total H:8,160 To Date on 111910




Brining promotes a change in the structure of the proteins in the muscle.  The salt causes protein strands to become denatured or unwound.  This is the same process that occurs when proteins are exposed to heat, acid or alcohol.  When protein strands unwind, they get tangled up with one another, forming a matrix that traps water.  Salt is commonly used to give processed meats a better texture.  Hot dogs, made without salt, would be limp.

In most cases, we add sugar to brine.  Sugar has little if any effect on the texture of meat, but it does add flavor and promotes better browning of the skin.

We usually list both kosher and table salt (no iodized salt please) in brining recipes.  Because of the difference in crystal size, cup for cup, table salt is twice as concentrated as kosher salt.  Therefore use only half as much as kosher.
The America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook, Page 171

Do not brine Kosher birds!
Cook’s Illustrated, September-October, 2004, Page 16


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In cooking, brining is a process similar to marination, in which meat is soaked in a salt solution (the brine) before cooking.

Brining makes cooked meat moister by hydrating the cells of its muscle tissue before cooking, via the process of osmosis, and by allowing the cells to hold on to the water while they are cooked, via the process of denaturation. The brine surrounding the cells has a higher concentration of salt than the fluid within the cells, but the cell fluid has a higher concentration of other solutes. This leads salt ions to enter the cell via diffusion. The increased salinity of the cell fluid causes the cell to absorb water from the brine via osmosis. The salt introduced into the cell also denatures its proteins. The proteins coagulate, forming a matrix, which traps water molecules and holds them during cooking. This prevents the meat from drying out, or dehydrating.

In many foods the additional salt is also desirable as a preservative. Note that kosher meats are salted during the process of koshering so they should not be brined.

Some cheeses are periodically washed in a saltwater brine during their ripening. Not only does the brine carry flavors into the cheese (it might be seasoned with spices or wine), but the salty environment may nurture the growth of the Brevibacterium linens bacteria, which can impart a very pronounced odor (Limburger) and interesting flavor. The same bacteria can also have some impact on cheeses that are simply ripened in humid conditions, like Camembert. Large populations of these “smear bacteria” show up as a sticky orange-red layer on some brine-washed cheeses.




Brining is a popular method for improving the flavor, tenderness, moisture content of lean meats (chicken, turkey, pork, seafood), and reduces cooking time.

Historically, brining has been used as a method of preserving meat, which is soaked for many days in a very strong saltwater solution with the addition of sugar, spices, and other ingredients.  This curing process binds the water in the meat or removes it altogether so it’s not available for the growth of food-spoiling microorganisms.

With the advent of mechanical refrigeration, traditional brining became less popular for food preservation, but is still used today in the production of some meat products.

Brining Bucket

Choosing A Container

You’ll need a non-reactive container large enough to hold the meat and the brine. Best bets include:

* Food Service Containers: Cambro or Rubbermaid food grade containers from a restaurant supply store
* Plastic Buckets: used bulk food buckets or non-food buckets lined with a turkey oven roasting bag
* Coolers: small, medium or large insulated ice chests
* Ziploc Bags: 1- and 2-gallon sizes
* Pots: stainless steel or anodized (do not use aluminum)
* Bowls: large glass, ceramic, or stainless steel mixing bowls

Avoid garbage bags, used laundry detergent buckets, or other plastic containers not intended for food use. Tabacco: So what do I use?  For a large turkey, I use a clear garbage bag inside a pristine plastic garbage can with flip-up top, reserved specifically for brining.  And I haven’t gotten sick yet!

Also, keep in mind that the bigger the container, the more brine you’ll have to make, so match the size of the container to the meat.

The meat must be completely submerged in the solution during the brining process. Place a heavy ceramic plate or bowl on top of the meat to prevent it from floating in the brine.

Flavor Brining

The purpose of “Flavor Brining” is to improve the flavor, texture and moisture content of lean cuts of meat.  Flavor brining also provides a temperature cushion during cooking (if you happen to overcook the meat, it will remain moist).  Brining also reduces cooking time.  If you are using a previously tried recipe, you should check your meat before its normal finish-time.  My paper-bag turkey technique prohibits that option.

Brining Ingredients

Essentials: liquid, salt

Aromatics: sugar, brown sugar, candied ginger, honey, molasses, maple syrup, fruit juices, beer, liquor, vegetable/beef/chicken broth, bay leaves, rosemary, sage leaves, pickling spices, allspice berries, cloves, garlic, cinnamon, onion, chilies, citrus fruits, peppercorns, fruits, hot pepper flakes, thyme, mustard seed, coriander seed, juniper berries, ginger, star anise, vanilla bean, etc.  These are options, not requisites!  Use none or use 20; it’s your call.

Many recipes call for bringing the ingredients to a boil to dissolve sugars and bring out the flavor of herbs, then cooling below 40ºF before using.

Sometimes a small amount of a curing agent like sodium nitrate or Morton Tender Quick (a mixture of salt, sugar, sodium nitrate, sodium nitrite, etc.) is added to a Flavor Brine.  Purchase these two curing agents at butcher supply stores or from suppliers like Allied Kenco.  These curing agents create a color and taste reminiscent of ham and help prevent the growth of botulism.  This is important when cold smoking brined meat at temperatures below 140ºF or when smoking a large brined turkey that might not reach 140ºF internal temperature within the first 4 hours of cooking.

Not everyone likes the effects of brining on meat.  Some don’t like the texture that results, while others complain about the flavor, saying it makes everything taste like ham (curing agents), or that meat is too salty.  Tabacco: I have never had these problems, but I have never used curing agents either.

How Brining Works

The principles of diffusion and osmosis are the bases of brining.

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines diffusion as “the process whereby particles of liquids, gases, or solids intermingle as the result of their spontaneous movement caused by thermal agitation and in dissolved substances move from a region of higher to one of lower concentration.”

Merriam-Webster defines osmosis as “movement of a solvent through a semipermeable membrane (as of a living cell) into a solution of higher solute concentration that tends to equalize the concentrations of solute on the two sides of the membrane.”

There is general agreement among food scientists and writers that the processes of diffusion and osmosis are involved in achieving equilibrium between the flavor brine solution and the meat–in other words, that these processes attempt to balance the difference between the amount of water, salt, and flavorings in the flavor brine solution and the amount of water and dissolved substances inside the meat cells. However, opinions differ as to the mechanics of this balancing act.

The most commonly offered explanation is that the flavor brine solution contains a higher concentration of water and salt than the meat, so the solution passes into the meat cells through their semi-permeable membranes, adding water and flavor to the inside of the meat cells. This explanation is offered by authorities including Cook’s Illustrated magazine and Robert L. Wolke, author of What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained.

Other experts state the opposite situation, but with the same end result: That meat cells contain a higher concentration of water and dissolved solids than the flavor brine solution, so the solution passes into the meat cells through their semi-permeable membranes, again adding water and flavor to the inside of the meat cells. Shirley O. Corriher, author of CookWise, provides this explanation in her book.

Yet another explanation is that the flavor brine solution does not actually penetrate the meat cells at all. Instead, it just flows into the spaces between cells, where it draws out some moisture through the semi-permeable membrane of meat cells, increasing the concentration of naturally occurring sodium inside the cells. Some of the flavor brine solution remains between meat cells where it flavors the meat. The California BBQ Association Web site provides this explanation in an article written by Joe O’Connell.

Which of these explanations is correct? I’m not sure, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter. The bottom line is that flavor brining results in meat that is more moist and flavorful than unbrined meat, regardless of which explanation you choose to believe.

Meats That Benefit From Brining

Lean cuts of meat with mild flavor tend to benefit most from flavor brining. The usual suspects include:


* Chicken: whole, butterflied, or pieces* Cornish Hens: whole or butterflied

* Turkey: whole, butterflied, or pieces

* Pork: chops, loin, tenderloin, fresh ham

* Seafood: salmon, trout, shrimp

Poultry is probably the most commonly flavor brined meat because it is naturally lean and gets quite dry if overcooked. Lean cuts of pork are also good candidates for the same reasons as poultry, except that in the case of pork, much of the fat (and thus flavor) has been intentionally bred out of the animal by an industry intent on providing meat that appeals to health-conscious consumers.

Beef, lamb, duck, and other meats with high fat content and bold flavors do not benefit from brining–they’re naturally moist and flavorful. They also tend to be cooked to lower internal temperatures and thus don’t lose as much of their natural moisture.

Pork butt is not a good candidate for brining because of its high fat content. Brisket can be brined to become corned beef or pastrami depending on the seasonings used in the brine.

Enhanced meat is injected by the producer with a solution of water, salt, and other ingredients to enhance the moisture content and flavor of the meat. Examples include Butterball self-basted turkey and Swift Premium Guaranteed Tender Pork.

Tabacco: Brining Enhanced meat seems unnecessary to me; it has already been brined once.  I avoid enhanced meats unless I’m lazy that day.

Which Salt To Use

Kosher salt and table salt are the most common salts used in flavor brining. I use kosher salt most of the time because it dissolves quickly and it’s what most professional cooks use in their kitchens, but I also use table salt on occasion.

Sea salt can be used for flavor brining, but it tends to be quite expensive. If you have a cheap supply available, go for it; otherwise, stick to kosher salt or table salt.  Just remember “Low Salt Brining Doesn’t Work”!

Refrigeration Is Required

Flavor brining does not preserve meat. The meat and brine solution must be kept below 40° at all times.

If storing the meat in the refrigerator during brining, check to make sure that the container will fit in your refrigerator! A container large enough to hold a whole turkey might be too big for your fridge.

If storing the meat in a cooler during brining, you must keep the meat and brine cold without diluting the mixture. Put the meat and brine directly in the cooler, then place Ziploc bags filled with ice or reusable gel packs into the brine solution. Another approach is to put the meat and brine into a turkey oven-roasting bag inside the cooler, then pack ice or gel packs around the bag. Monitor the temp of the cooler to make sure it stays below 40°F at all times.

Tabacco: Since I usually only do turkey in November, I place my garbage-can turkey in the garage, which is cool in November, to guard against turkey thieves.  If your backyard is secure, you can place it there.  If you place your brined turkey “out front”, give me your address and I will come by your house to “guard your bird”!

How Long To Brine

The length of time meat soaks in a flavor brine depends on the type of meat and its size, as well as the amount of salt used in the brine–the saltier the brine mixture, the shorter the soaking time. Here are common brining times found in recipes:

Whole Chicken     3-8 hrs
Chicken Pieces    1-2 hrs
Whole Turkey       12 hrs-2 days
Turkey Breast       4-8 hrs
Cornish Game Hens     1-2 hrs
Pork Chops          2-6 hrs
Pork Tenderloin   2-8 hrs
Whole Pork Loin  1-3 days

It is possible to end up with meat that’s too salty for your taste, so you may want to brine on the low end of the time range to see how it turns out. You can always brine longer next time, but there’s no way to salvage a piece of meat that’s been brined too long.

Brine must be discarded after use, not saved for the next time.
I always rinse my meats after brining them and pat dry with paper towels.

The process of brining is easy but takes some planning. Depending on the size of what you want to brine it can take up to 24 hours of more. If you are going to be brining whole poultry you will also want an additional 6 to 12 hours between the brining and the cooking. If you want your poultry to have a golden, crispy skin, it needs to sit in the refrigerator for several hours after you remove it from the brine so that the meat can absorb the moisture from the skin.

The most basic process of brining is to take approximately 1 cup of kosher salt (no iodine or other additives) to 1 gallon of water. Another way to measure this concentration is with a raw egg. The ideal brine has enough salt to float a raw egg. You will need enough brine to completely submerge the meat without any part being out of the liquid. Some items might need to be weighed down to stay under. Brine meat for about 2 hours per pound. Remove from brine (don’t reuse the brine); lightly rinse to remove any excess salt and cook.

So what should you brine? Practically anything you want. Poultry in particular benefits greatly from brining regardless of how you plan to cook it. Large roasts, racks of ribs and anything you plan to smoke will be better for having been brined first. But this isn’t just a great barbecue tip but a good idea for meats whether you smoke, grill, roast or fry them.


The typical brine consists of 1 cup of salt for each gallon of water (or other liquids). Start by determining the amount of liquid you are going to need. To do this take the meat you plan to brine and place it in the container you are going to use. The container can be most anything that will easily fit the meat but isn’t so big that you have to prepare far more brine that you need. Plastic containers, crocks, stainless steel bowls, sealable bags or any non-corrosive material will work.

Once you know how much liquid is needed start by boiling 2 cups of water for each cup of salt you will need. Once it boils add the salt (and sugar if you are going to be using sugar) and stir until dissolved. Add other spices and herbs. Combine with the remaining liquid (should be cold). The brine should always be cold before you add the meat so you should refrigerate it before you add the meat.

You don’t want the brine cooking the meat.

At this point you can add other brine ingredients like juices or cut up fruit. Submerge the meat into the brine. You can use a plate or other heavy object to keep it down. It is important that no part of the meat be exposed to the air. Saltwater brine will kill bacteria and keep the meat from spoiling but it doesn’t work if part of the meat is sticking out.

Lighter meats like poultry or seafood do not need to be brined as long as denser meats like pork tenderloins. Use the following chart to give you an idea of how long to brine. Remember that the longer you brine the stronger the flavor will be. If you over brine you could end up with some very salt and strong meat. <P>Once the meat is properly brined remove it. You do not need to rinse unless you were using a high salt concentration in the brine or if there is a layer of visible salt on the surface. Otherwise you can take cuts of meat straight to the grill, smoker, or oven. Whole poultry is the exception however. To get a crispy, brown skin, whole birds should be removed from the brine, wrapped in foil or plastic and put in the refrigerator overnight or for at least 12 hours.


Special Ingredients

Now that you know how to brine, it’s time to turn on the imagination. First of all you don’t need water. What? That’s right the water is optional. Any liquid will do for brining. You can substitute some or all of the water with whatever you heart desires. Wine, beer, fruit juices (especially good is apple), or vinegars all make a good liquid base for your brine. Of course you might not want to spend the money on a gallon or two of beer or wine for a brine that will just get thrown out when you are done. This is why most people use water for the majority of the brine but add a small quantity of another liquid for flavor.

One thing to remember, when putting together a brine, is the chemical state of the liquid. By adding an acidic liquid like citrus juices or vinegar you will make the brine acidic.

This will tenderize meat but if it is too strong it can turn the meat to mush. If you do plan on using this kind of brine, reduce the brining time accordingly.

As for spices, imagine that you are going to be using a spice rub, but instead of applying the rub directly to the meat you simply add it to the brine. The brining process works better at pulling the flavors into the meat than applying a rub will.

Once you have the liquid chosen and added the cup of kosher salt per gallon, it’s time to add the flavor. Any herb, spice, sweetener, fruit, vegetable will work. Some chefs make brines much the way you would a soup, by adding cut up vegetables along with whole peppercorns, garlic cloves, diced onion and whatever else works well with the meat you are using.

Another trick used by chefs is to add 1 tablespoon of saltpeter per gallon of liquid. Saltpeter is available at pharmacies and will preserve the color of meat, especially beef and pork that will turn gray during the brining. If the color is important to you, consider the saltpeter.

The only limit on brining is your imagination. Experimentation is the key so open up the refrigerator and the spice cabinet and start mixing.



TIPical Mary Ellen: Episode TIP-809 — More Projects »

Meats to Brine
Brining is a great way to add flavor to a wide
variety of meats, from pork to poultry to seafood.

Roast Brined Chicken
Soaking a chicken in brine before roasting
results in a juicy bird with a delicious crispy skin.

TIPical Mary Ellen host Mary Ellen Pinkham explains how to use brine to add flavor to meats.

Brine Mixture


1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 qt. water
capful of vanilla extract


Dissolve salt and sugar in water. Place the meat to be brined in a plastic container, then pour the liquid over the top. Add about a capful of vanilla to the brining water to add extra flavor. Place in the refrigerator. If you don’t have room in your refrigerator, place in a cooler with some freezer packs.

Brine the meat for one hour for each pound of meat. However, never let meat soak for more than eight hours no matter how much it weighs. Remove the meat and you’re ready for the grill or oven.


If you are doing a whole chicken, be sure to get as much moisture out of the skin as you can. After soaking, remove the chicken from the brine and dry with a towel. Place on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and let it sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours so excess moisture drips out.,1801,HGTV_3210_1398770,00.html



For my Turkey Recipe, go to:
Search For Perfect Thanksgiving Bird Ends Here: Turkey In A Sac With Bread Stuffing


The Perfect Thanksgiving Bird: “Turkey In A Sac” Recipe With Bread Stuffing
published October 10-11, 2005


Master Recipe For Brined Shrimp
Cook’s Illustrated, July-August 1994, Page 19

2 cups kosher salt
2 pounds frozen shrimp

Pour 2-cups boiling water into a large bowl; add salt and stir until almost dissolved.  Add 3.5-quarts ice-cold water; stir to dissolve salt completely.  Add shrimp and let stand 45 minutes.

Alternately, brine in 50% stronger solution (3 cups kosher salt) for 20-25 minutes only, if you are in a hurry; the difference in taste is almost nil.

Now drain and rinse shrimp thoroughly under cold running water.  Proceed with cooking process.

I am not republishing the ‘Seared Shrimp With Lemon’ or their ‘Grilled Shrimp With Spicy Garlic Paste’ recipes here.  You may have your own shrimp recipes.  This Post is about Technique, not Recipes.

Beef and Lamb do NOT benefit from brining.  Unlike poultry and pork, these meats are generally eaten rare or medium-rare and are therefore cooked to a relatively low internal temperature.  As a consequence, they do not lose as much of their natural moisture as poultry or pork.  Beef and Lamb also contain more fat, which makes them more flavorful and helps keep them moist.  For the same reasons, gamier fattier birds (duck and squab) don’t benefit from brining.
Cook’s Illustrated, November-December, 2001, Page 16

For a 5-minute video “Soy-Brined Turkey”, go to:,1,6185823.story
Click on “Technique: Brining and Stuffing” below turkey picture.

Non-Brining Salt Your Meat Tip!

Coincidentally, Judy Rodgers of San Francisco’s Zuni Cafe tried her first brined turkey this year. Rodgers is a big fan of salt and uses what she describes as a “dry brine” on most of the meat dishes at her restaurant, including her famous roast chicken. She salts the meats the normal way; only she does it hours (or even a day) before cooking.

“Most of the salt that goes on food in this restaurant goes on before you wake up in the morning,” she says. “It’s something I learned from a restaurant I worked at in Paris. The matriarch would always say, ‘Put a little salt on it and let it rest.’ It makes the meat more succulent. I don’t know exactly how it does it, but it changes it–and it changes it in a way that I like.”,1,7212806.story?page=2&cset=true&ctrack=1&coll=la-util-features-food

In 1981’s ‘Body Heat’, Kathleen Turner said, “Knowledge is power”.

Tabacco Wise Old Owl

T.A.B.A.C.C.O.  (Truth About Business And Congressional Crimes Organization)

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