Wet Brining Lean Meats

Wet Brining

Why do I call this wet brining when most people call it just plain brining? Mostly because a different type of brining, Dry Brining, is becoming popular now. I will cover dry brining in another article.

Wet brining is when lean meats like turkey, chicken, or pork chops get soaked in a refrigerated container of heavily salted water. Most brines are in the 5 to 8% salt range and about the same amount of sweetener as salt will be added. The sweetener such as sugar, molasses, honey, or corn syrup may be added for flavor and to improve the browning. The soaking time will vary depending on the type and amount of meat being brined, see table below.

How Brining Works

During the brining period the meat absorbs some of that water and that water stays put even after the meat is cooked. By brining meat, you can decrease the amount of total moisture loss by 30 to 40%. This happens because brining alters the chemical structure of proteins by breaking some of the bonds that give proteins their shape. Without bringing, as the lean meat cooks, the proteins that make up these bonds will contract and squeeze the moisture out of the meat. Heat them to much above 150°F or so, and you end up with dry, stringy meat. The salt denatures the meat proteins, causing them to unwind and form a matrix that traps the water and more importantly, they don’t contract as much when they cook. Moisture is then pulled into the meat along with the salt and sugar. I like to rinse the meat after brining and then add additional spices. Most often I use Chef David Gourmet Dust, but if you don’t my the dust then you can use a dry chicken rub,, or a dry pork rub or some other spices you may like.

Many people believe that osmosis is how the process works. However, that is bunk, because if you add additional flavorings to the brine they will not penetrate any further than barely into the surface of the meat whereas the salt and sugar penetrate almost to the bone. So when the meat is cooked, less water is released and the meat is moister than it would have been.

Problems with Wet Brining

There are four major problems with wet brining.

Problem 1 – It takes a lot of room to brine a turkey or large piece of meat. The meat needs to be completely covered by the brining solution and it needs to be refrigerated. Taking up this much room in a typical refrigerator makes things very difficult typically at a time when refrigerator space is at a premium.

Problem 2 – It takes a lot of time and planning to brine meat. You have to begin with the process well ahead of time to make sure you have enough time to cook the meat. This takes time and preparation. It may be a couple of days depending on the type and size of meat being brined.

Problem 3 – The meat comes out of the brine very soggy. The skin will not brown unless the meat is dried out before cooking. Putting the meat back in the refrigerator for another long period (can be another day or so of time) to dry the meat out, can address the soggy problem. However, this exacerbates Problem 2 and Problem 1.

Problem 4 – Wet brining robs the meat of flavor. Meat that is wet brined for a long period of time has a much blander flavor than that of meat that has not been brined.

Finish with Chef David Gourmet Dust

Once the meat has finished in the brining solution it should be rinsed to get the excess salt off of it. It should be dried for a period of time to get the sogginess out of it. You then need to season the meat. Many people use a dry rub for chicken or a dry rub for pork. Of course I recommend using Chef David’s Gourmet Pork Dust for your brined pork products and Chef David’s Gourmet Chicken Dust for brined chicken. We are promising to come out with a Turkey Dust soon.

Brining Times

Item Brine Time
Whole Chicken (4-5 Pounds) 8 to 12 hours
Chicken Parts 1 1/2 hours
Chicken Breasts 1 hour
Whole Turkey 24 – 48 hours
Turkey Breast 5 – 10 hours
Cornish game hens 2 hours
Shrimp 10 minutes
Pork chops 12 – 24 hours
Pork Tenderloin (whole) 12 – 24 hours
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