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THE BRINING PROCESS

[All-Purpose Brine] [Brine For High-Temperature Cooking]
[Basic Turkey Brine] [High-Strength Brine] [Apple-Brined Turkey]
["Good Eats" Turkey Brine] [Pan-Roasted Brined Pork Roast]

When I first saw this on FoodTV, I thought. "They're nuts!" Well, maybe I lead a sheltered life, but all of a sudden it became the RAGE. Then I just had to try it, and believe me, it works---no matter what you brine, whether pork, chicken or turkey, the meat is so juicy, tender, and flavorful. So here's the skinny and a couple of pics to get you started. All or most of the following information is from Weber and USDA, so it must be gospel. Yes, it's a long, long discourse but very informative if you've never explored brining before.


Historically, brining has been used as a method to preserve meat. Meat 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.

The purpose of flavor brining is to improve the flavor, texture, and moisture content of lean cuts of meat. This is achieved by soaking the meat in a moderately salty solution for a few hours to a few days. Flavor brining also provides a temperature cushion during cooking--if you happen to overcook the meat a little, it will still be moist.

A flavor brine consists of water and salt. Other ingredients may include sugar, brown sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup, fruit juices, beer, liquor, bay leaves, pickling spices, cloves, garlic, onion, chilies, citrus fruits, peppercorns, and other herbs and spices. Many recipes call for bringing the ingredients to a boil to dissolve the sugars and bring out the flavor of herbs, then cooling the mixture to below 40F before use.

Sometimes a small amount of a curing agent like sodium nitrite or Morton Tender Quick (a mixture of salt, sugar, sodium nitrate, sodium nitrite and other ingredients) is added to a flavor brine. 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 140F or when smoking a large brined turkey that might not reach 140F internal temperature within the first 4 hours of cooking. Sodium nitrite and Morton Tender Quick can be purchased at butcher supply stores or from suppliers like Allied Kenco.

It's important to point out that not everyone likes the effects of brining on meat. Some people don't like the texture that results, while others complain about the flavor, saying that it makes everything taste like ham (especially if sodium nitrite or Morton Tender Quick has been added to the solution) or that the meat tastes too salty. You'll have to judge the results for yourself.

HOW IT WORKS: 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.

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.

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.

Regardless of the explanation, all sources seem to agree that a higher concentration of salt inside meat cells causes protein strands to denature. The tightly wound proteins unwind and get tangled together, and when heated, the proteins form a matrix that traps water molecules and holds onto them tightly during cooking. In the case of the first two explanations, the denatured proteins hold on to some of the water, salt, and flavorings that flowed into the meat cells; in the case of the third explanation, the denatured proteins are holding on to free water that was already inside the meat cells and would have been lost had the meat not been brined.

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.

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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
* Beef: brisket can be brined for corned beef or pastrami depending on seasonings in the brine
* 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, pork butt or shoulder 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.

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. Some people say that kosher salt tastes "cleaner" than table salt because it does not contain the anti-caking agents added to table salt. Some people prefer non-iodized table salt over iodized table salt, believing that potassium iodide creates an off-taste. However, these flavor differences melt away when salt is diluted in water

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.

Kosher Salt And Table Salt Don't Measure Equally By Volume, and they do not have the same saltiness in a flavor brine when measured by volume--but they do when measured by weight.

Table salt weighs about 10 ounces per cup, while kosher salt weighs 5-8 ounces per cup, depending on the brand. If using kosher salt in a brine, you must use more than a cup to achieve the same salt flavor you would get from a cup of table salt.

Table Salt 1 cup
Morton Kosher Salt 1-1/2 cups
Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt 2 cups

Morton Kosher Salt weighs about 7.7 ounces per cup, making it three-fourths as strong as table salt. Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt weighs about 5 ounces per cup, making it half as strong as table salt. So what if you're using something other than Morton Kosher or Diamond Crystal Kosher salt? Regardless of the type of salt--sea salt, pickling salt, and any other brand of kosher salt--just measure 10 ounces of it on a kitchen scale, and you will have the equivalent of 1 cup of table salt..

CHOOSING A CONTAINER:
You'll need a non-reactive container (do not use aluminum) large enough to hold the meat and the brine. Avoid garbage bags, used laundry detergent buckets, or other plastic containers not intended for food use. 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
* Bowls: large glass, ceramic, or stainless steel mixing bowls

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.

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 40F at all times.

HOW MUCH BRINE TO MAKE:
Place the meat in the container and cover with plain water. Remove the meat and measure the remaining water to determine the amount of flavor brine you'll need to make.

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. 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.

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

Brine Cannot Be Reused. Discard the brine solution after use. The brine will contain proteins, blood, and other stuff from the meat that soaked in it. From a food safety standpoint, it is not advisable to reuse brine, even if it is boiled first.

TO RINSE OR NOT TO RINSE:
Some recipes suggest that you rinse meat after brining, while others skip this step. Do whatever the recipe calls for. Rinsing is common in recipes with a very high salt concentration or recipes that contain sugar, since sugar can burn on the surface of meat during cooking. Regardless of whether you rinse or not, make sure to pat the meat dry with paper towels before cooking.

COOKING:
Cooking brined poultry at "low & slow" temperatures of 225-250F can result in soft and rubbery skin. One solution is to place brined poultry on a rack over a rimmed baking sheet, pat it dry with paper towels, and let it sit uncovered in the refrigerator for several hours. This allows some moisture to evaporate from the skin so it browns better. Try 4-6 hours for chicken and 8-12 hours for turkey. Probably the best way to get better skin on brined poultry is to cook in the 325-350F range. The higher temperature gets the fat under the skin hot enough so that it browns the skin.

Brined meat tends to cook faster than unbrined meat. Some people believe that the water added to meat through the brining process conducts more heat, resulting in a faster cooking time. The more likely cause is that the denatured meat proteins are partially "cooked" by the brining process, so the heat has less work to do and the meat cooks faster. So, if you're used to cooking an unbrined chicken or turkey for a certain length of time, start checking the internal temp about 2/3 of the way into the normal cooking time

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RECIPES
ALL-PURPOSE BRINE
Here's an all-purpose recipe from Cook's Illustrated magazine that works well with chicken and pork.
1 quart cool water
1/2 cup Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt
1/2 cup sugar

Mix in a non-reactive container until dissolved. Substitute 1/4 cup + 2 TBSP Morton Kosher Salt or 1/4 cup table salt for Diamond Crystal.

Make 1 quart of brine for each pound of meat, not to exceed 8 quarts (2 gallons). Soak meat for 1 hour per pound, but not less than 30 minutes or longer than 8 hours. If brining multiple pieces, base the brining time on the weight of an individual piece

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BRINE FOR HIGH-TEMPERATURE COOKING
Here's another recipe from Cook's Illustrated for high-temperature roasting, broiling or grilling. The lower sugar content results in less burning during cooking. The salt content has also been reduced.
1 quart cool water
1/4 cup Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt
2 tablespoons sugar

Mix in a non-reactive container until dissolved. Substitute 3 TBSP Morton Kosher Salt or 2 TBSP table salt for Diamond Crystal.

Make 1 quart of brine for each pound of meat, not to exceed 8 quarts (2 gallons). Soak meat for 1 hour per pound, but not less than 30 minutes or longer than 8 hours. If brining multiple pieces, base the brining time on the weight of an individual piece.

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BASIC TURKEY BRINE
Due to its bland flavor, turkey really benefits from flavor brining. Here's a basic brine that will work well for a turkey in the Weber Bullet or in the oven. (8-12 Hour Brining Time)
2 gallons cool water
2 cup Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt

Mix in a non-reactive container until dissolved. Substitute 1-1/2 cups Morton Kosher Salt or 1 cup table salt for Diamond Crystal. Optional: 1/2 cup sugar (white or brown) can be added for each gallon of water. Brine for 8-12 hours. Pat turkey dry with paper towels before cooking.

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HIGH-STRENGTH BRINE
Here's a high-strength brine recipe from Cook's Illustrated that cuts brining time to just 4-6 hours.
2 gallon cool water
4 cups Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt

Mix in a non-reactive container until dissolved. Substitute 3 cups Morton Kosher Salt or 2 cups table salt for Diamond Crystal. Brine for 4-6 hours. Rinse turkey thoroughly inside and out, and pat dry with paper towels before cooking.

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APPLE-BRINED TURKEY
Here's a more complex turkey brine that's very popular with members of The Virtual Weber Bulletin Board.
1 12-14 pound turkey
2 quarts apple juice
16 ounces brown sugar
1 cup Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt
3 quarts water
3 oranges, quartered
4 ounces fresh ginger, sliced thin
15 whole cloves
6 bay leaves
6 large garlic cloves, crushed
Vegetable oil or melted, unsalted butter

Substitute 3/4 cup Morton Kosher Salt or 1/2 cup table salt for Diamond Crystal.

Combine apple juice, brown sugar, and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve. Boil for one minute, remove from heat, let mixture come to room temperature, then refrigerate to 40F.

In a large non-reactive container, combine the apple juice mixture with the other ingredients and stir. Place rinsed, drained whole turkey into the brine. Use a heavy weight to keep the bird submerged, if necessary. Refrigerate for 24 hours.

Remove turkey from brine and pat dry. Apply a thin coat of vegetable oil or melted butter before cooking.

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"GOOD EATS" TURKEY BRINE
Here's a brine recipe from Alton Brown of "Good Eats" on Food Network.
1 gallon vegetable broth
1 gallon heavily iced water
1 cup Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon peppercorns
1/2 tablespoon allspice berries
1/2 tablespoon candied ginger

Use regular vegetable broth, not low- or no-sodium varieties. Substitute 3/4 cup Morton Kosher Salt or 1/2 cup table salt for Diamond Crystal.

Combine all ingredients except ice water in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve. Remove from heat, let mixture come to room temperature, then refrigerate to 40F.

In a large non-reactive container, combine the mixture with 1 gallon heavily iced water and stir. Place rinsed, drained whole turkey into the brine. Use a heavy weight to keep the bird submerged, if necessary. Refrigerate for 6-8 hours. Turn the bird over once during brining.

Remove turkey from brine, rinse, and pat dry. Apply a thin coat of canola oil before cooking.

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PAN-ROASTED BRINED PORK LOIN ROAST
Finally, here is the only brining recipe I've used so far. The recipe is Tyler Florence's but the brine recipe itself resembles many others I've seen. The pork roast is really delicious, tender and juicy...and yummy to boot!
Serves: 4

BRINE:
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
6 sprigs fresh thyme
8 cups water
1 boneless pork loin roast, 1-1/2 to 2 lbs.
SEASONING MIXTURE:
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1 teaspoon hot Hungarian paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch cayenne, or to taste

Kitchen twine for tying
Extra virgin olive oil for searing
1 cup dry white wine or chicken broth -- for sauce
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

BRINE: In a large pitcher or bowl, combine all the brine ingredients except the pork. Mix well until the salt and brown sugar is dissolved. Place the pork roast into a gallon-size ZipLoc bag or large bowl. Pour brine mixture over the roast. Seal or cover tightly and refrigerate 6 hours.

SEASONING MIXTURE: In a small dish, combine all the seasoning ingredients and mix well. Set aside.

ROAST: Remove pork from the brine, rinse under cold running water, and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Discard the brine mixture.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. (350 degrees F. for convection oven). Cut 2 pieces of kitchen twine about 12" long and tie crosswise around the roast. Cut 2 piece of twine about 18" and tie lengthwise around the roast. This helps to hold the shape of the roast during cooking. Trim off excess twine.

Coat a medium-size (about 10") oven-proof skillet with about 1-1/2 to 2 tablespoons olive oil and set on the stove over high heat until almost smoking.

Meanwhile, thoroughly season the roast on both sides with the seasoning mixture. Sear the pork, fat side down, about 3-4 minutes, or until caramelized. Turn the pork and remove the pan from the heat. Place the pan into the oven and roast without disturbing 30-40 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 145 degrees F. on an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the roast.

Remove the roast to a platter and cover with foil. The meat will continue to cook internally to about 155 degrees.

To flavor the pork drippings, place the roasting pan back on the stove over medium heat. Add any other flavors desired (garlic, onion, chopped fresh herbs, etc.) and stir into the drippings, cooking 1 minute. Add the wine or chicken broth and bring to a boil, scraping up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Simmer a few minutes to reduce mixture slightly. Stir in butter and serve on the side with sliced roast.

QUESTIONS? Try me----e-mail me at shaboom@shentel.net!

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