There’s no better way to spend late summer than with a backyard cookout. It’s not so hot, you can invite all of your friends, plus, it’s a good excuse to show off your grilling skills. When grilling, you usually lose a lot of juiciness from the meat, but there is a way to get the juiciest, most tender meat that you’ve ever tasted with as little as two ingredients; its name is brining.
What is Brining?
We talked about brining briefly in our marinating post earlier this month, but it’s such a game-changer in the grilling world that we wanted to bring it back for a deeper look.
Brining is using a little bit of science to get the most out of your meat because what brining does is capture moisture within your proteins. The most simple brine can be made by mixing salt and water, and Center of the Plate explains that when meat is kept in the mixture for a few hours, the salt starts to break through the meat cells. This process loosens the muscles, which allows more of the water and seasonings deep into the meat, where salt reacts with the protein to hold in more moisture while cooking. This works best with lean meats like chicken, pork, turkey, and seafood, but any meat can be brined.
Now that you’ve had your science lesson for the day, let’s get cookin’!
How to Brine
What You’ll Need
Before you brine, you will need to make sure you have the following:
- Your choice of lean meat
- Salt (later measurements are based on the use of kosher salt)
- Container large enough to cover your meat entirely with the brine (preferably with a lid)
- Spot in the fridge or iced cooler to keep your brine for a few hours (brine and meat will need to stay below 40°F while brining)
- And…a few extra hours of prep time
- (optional) Extra seasonings, aromatics, or liquids like beer or apple-cider vinegar
The most important ingredient in a brine is salt, and the type of salt you choose will dictate the amount of salt you need to add. Kosher salt is most frequently used among the brining community because it dissolves quickly and has no additives, but cooking is all about your own taste so if you can use any kind you want.
The salt simply needs to weigh out around 10 ounces per gallon (16 cups) of water, but if you don’t have a kitchen scale you can simply use the table below as a close estimate.
Table Salt 1 cup
Kosher Salt 1 1/2 – 2 cups
Sea Salt 2 cups
The amount of salt you use is also dependent on if you are taking the full time to make sure your meat is nice and brined. If you aren’t going to let the meat sit for the full brining time, you will need to use more salt. You should use a bit less salt if you are planning to brine overnight, which is the longest recommended time for any meat.
Speaking of which, the amount of time your meat needs to soak in the brine is based on what you’re brining, the weight, and if it is whole or pieces. According to many experienced foodies, you should brine for one hour per pound of meat, so for example, if you are going to cook a whole, 5lb chicken, you should brine for about 5 hours. However, if you are just brining 5 lbs of chicken legs, a good rule-of-thumb is just a couple of hours overall.
- In a large pot, add in your water and salt. For every 4 cups of water, you will need to mix in 1/4 cup of salt.
- Bring the mixture to a boil and stir until the salt has fully dissolved.
- Cool the brine down to 40°F or below and add your meat.
- If your meat is sticking out of the brine, you can use a lid or a plate to weigh down the meat and keep it under the brine the entire time.
- Put your brining container in the fridge or cooler (making sure it stays under 40°F) for the full brining time of 1lb per hour for whole meat.
- Pieces of meat such as chicken legs or breasts should brine for about 2-3 hours no matter how many pounds since there is less meat to penetrate with the brine.
- After the necessary amount of time, pull your meat out of the brine and dab dry with a paper towel.
- Finally, season, bread, and cook however you like. The brining process is complete!
Now that you know the basics, it’s time to show off your amateur chef skills. The section below shows a couple of brining recipes to try out, but we would love to hear about your experiences. If you make something particularly tasty, leave a comment and tell us what you did. We might add your recipe to our “Time to Brine” list!
Time to Brine: Recipes
Beer-Brined Pork Chops [Serves 4]
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups dark lager beer
2 Tbsp molasses
2 Tbsp light brown sugar
2 Tbsp salt (kosher)
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt (kosher)
1/4 tsp black pepper
- Mix all of the brine ingredients into a large container and mix well until salt and brown sugar is completely dissolved.
- Add pork chops to the container, making sure they stay completely submerged. Seal the container and place it your refrigerator or iced cooler (Be sure temperature stays at 40°F or below) for 4 hours or overnight.
- When ready to cook, preheat your grill to medium, remove pork chops from your brine, and pat dry. Discard the brine.
- In a small bowl, mix the dry rub ingredients. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over both sides of your pork chops.
- Grill pork chops 8-10 minutes per side, or until desired doneness.
Based on a recipe from Mr. Food.
Brined Rosemary and Lemon Chicken [Serves 4]
1/2 cup salt (kosher)
1/4 cup brown sugar
5 cups cold water
8 garlic cloves (diced and peeled)
1 bay leaf
2 cups orange juice
8 cups ice water
2 lemons, halved
4-6 sprigs rosemary
1 (3-4lb) chicken
- Place salt, sugar, 2 cups of cold water, garlic and bay leaf in a sauce pan.
- Bring ingredients to a boil and be sure sugar and salt are dissolved. Turn off the heat.
- Add onion, orange juice, and other 3 cups of cold water.
- Remove from stove, and add the ice water.
- Mix well, and cool until the brine reaches 40 degrees or under.
- Place chicken in a container large enough to hold brine and chicken (a small cooler or stock pot). Pour the brine over the chicken and let sit for 2-12 hours.
- Preheat your oven to 350-400 degrees.
- Remove chicken, and discard the brine. Dry chicken thoroughly.
- Place lemons and rosemary in cavity of the chicken.
- Roast the chicken in the oven for 15 minutes per pound until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
- Remove chicken from the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes.
Based on a recipe from Plain Chicken.
Brining is a very simple way to take your meat to the next level, and the flavors are completely limitless. After researching brining, I even tried my own baked, breaded-chicken recipe (top left) with some of my favorite flavors, and I’m not lying when I say it was some of the best chicken I had ever made.
If you have some brining recipes or try some of ours, please leave a comment letting us know how it turned out.