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All About Brining

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What is Brining?

Brining, or soaking in salt water, is an easy way to make moister chicken or pork (it does not work on beef). Typically a ratio of 16 parts water to 1 part salt is used (e.g. 1 quart water to 1/4 cup salt). Brining  makes the meat moist through osmosis which draws water out of cells.

Brining increases the temperature (from 140 to 160 degrees) at which meat dries out (i.e. the cells burst and lose their water) due to cooking.

Brining was originally used to preserve food (strong salt solution); now it is used to flavor meat (medium salt solution).

The meat absorbs about 10% to 15% of the salt in the brine.

How does Brining Work?

The meat's cells have a concentration of salt in them. Brine has a higher concentration of salt than the meat. The osmosis process will balance the concentration of salt between the cell and the brine so in order to increase the concentration of salt (note salt is not adding to the meat) in the cells, the water in the cell moves from the cell (passes through the cell's wall) to the space surrounding the cell.

The law of diffusion states that the salt and sugar will naturally flow from the area of greater concentration (the brine) to lesser concentration (the cells).

The temperature that causes the cell to burst (and dry out the meat) has been raised from 140 deg to 160 degrees (due to higher concentration of salt in the cell).

Sugar adds a little to the brining action, if included. It is normally used for flavor.

Maximum Brine Time

If meat is kept past the maximum brine time, it will taste salty and perhaps turn mushy. Start out at the low end of the range. The table below shows suggested brine times for the corresponding meat.

Suggested Brining Times
Meat Brine Time
Whole chicken (4 pounds) 4-8 hours
Chicken parts 1 1/2 hours
Chicken breasts 1 hour
Whole turkey 12-24 hours
Pork chops 2-8 hours
Whole pork loins 1-3 days
Pork Tenderloin 2-12 hours
Shrimp 1/2 hour
Cornish game hens 1-2 hours

Salt Choice

Table salt, sea salt, and kosher salt provide the same saltiness if they weigh the same. It is not true for volume. A cup of table salt weighs about 10 oz while kosher salt weighs 5-8 oz per cup, depending on the brand.

Professional cooks use kosher salt since it is pure. Sea salt is too expensive to use on a regular basis and table salt contains additives such as anti-caking agents (prevents caking in humid weather) and iodine (prevents thyroid disease).

Do not use lite salt since it contains other substances besides salt (sodium chloride). Pure salt must be used for brining.

Sea salt has the same granularity as table salt.

The table below shows the different types of salt and their corresponding volume and weight.

Brining Salts
Type of Salt Volume Weight Volume Weight
Table salt (or sea salt) 1 cup 10 oz 1 tbsp 0.625 oz
Morton kosher salt 1 1/2 cups 7.7 oz    
Diamond Crystal kosher salt 2 cups 5 oz 1 tbsp  

 What Container to Use

Since brine is very salty, a nonreactive container must be used such as:

Use a heavy ceramic bowl or plate to weigh down the meat so it is completely submerged in brine.

Basic Brine Recipes

Brine solutions work best when they are 40 degrees which is the expected temperature of a refrigerator. Salt dissolves quickest in hot water but be sure the brine solution is cooled before placing meat in it. After brining, thoroughly rinse the meat.

Basic Brine

Basic Chicken or Pork Brine

Dissolve salt and sugar in hot water then chill in refrigerator (40 deg). Immerse chicken breasts and keep immersed in refrigerator or in an ice chest for 1 to 4 hours. Remove chicken breasts and rinse thoroughly.

High Temperature Chicken or Pork Brine

For grilling, broiling, and roasting chicken or pork.

Dissolve salt and sugar in hot water then chill in refrigerator. Immerse chicken breasts and keep immersed in refrigerator or in an ice chest for 1 to 4 hours. Remove chicken breasts and rinse thoroughly.

Basic Turkey Brine

Brine turkey 8 to 12 hours at 40 degrees.


Here is the recipe for Alice Waters' turkey brine:
Note this brine recipe uses half the amount of salt than that called for in most standard brines, but is in line with that of Reynolds (see above comments)

In a large stockpot (16 quart or more) bring 2 gallons of water to a boil.

Add salt and sugar and stir until dissolved.Turn off heat and add veggies, then herbs and spices. Refrigerate till cold. Remove giblets from turkey. Add turkey to stock pot. Weigh down with a plate if neccessary to keep turkey below the brine's surface. Refrigerate 72 hours, then remove from brine and allow turkey to come to foom temperature. The recipe calls for 12-14 lb turkey.

Brine Tips

Use these helpful tips to maximize your brining experience.

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