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Brining Basics

Good day to all.  This week’s post is going to be a quick one.  With all the family events happening, and the annual Cat/Griz game this week, we are finding ourselves pressed for time.  But fear not!  This week’s post was designed to be a quick one.  Sadly, we will not be preparing any food for you this week.  On the plus side, we will be giving you some pointers on how to make a lot of the things you already make.  This week we are going to be going over the basics of brining.  Brining is a technique that will make most of the meats you cook moister and tastier.  If you are a regular to SPF, you should already be familiar with the process as we’ve used it in two recipes.

Brining is a process that introduces extra moisture into a meat.  You can brine any meat, although I believe that poultry and pork benefit the most from a soak.  I’ve heard of people brining beef, but I’ve never bothered with it.  Some seafood, like shrimp, takes on brine well, but I wouldn’t try it with fish.  Simply put, brining is the process of soaking meat in a brine.  All a brine is is salt water solution.  If you’re interested in the science behind it, the Wikipedia page is actually decent.  Basically, it’s a process of osmosis that introduces extra liquid to cells.  The cells hold on to this liquid after the meat is removed from the brine.  This results in a moister, juicier meat.  Brining is also a great opportunity to introduce flavor.

A standard rule for brine is one cup kosher salt per gallon of water.  This is about as simple as it gets.  I have never, ever used this for a brine.  I personally think that, aside from the moisture, all this brings to the party is salt.  I think it can end up a little too salty.  I always cut my brines with sugar.  I think the sugar balances out the extra saltiness nicely.  Also, I always add spices to my brines.  If you are going to soak meat for a while, why not introduce some extra flavor.   One nice thing about adding spices in your brine is that the spices will actually wind up in the meat’s cells, as opposed to the surface only.

I almost always brine all meats I cook overnight.  A basic rule is the larger the piece of meat, the longer it needs to brine.  For me, a whole chicken always gets the overnight treatment.  If I’m just doing some boneless skinless chicken breasts, they really only need about an hour.  Part of the reason I wanted to do this post this week is I’m assuming that some of you out there will be making turkeys this coming week.  I strongly, STRONGLY, recommend brining your bird for Thanksgiving.  If you’ve never had a brined bird before, you are in for a treat.  If you are doing a turkey, give it the overnight treatment for sure.

My favorite brine to use for everything is the one we featured in our beer-can chicken episode.  I think that it’s a great balance of moisture and flavor.  It works great on all poultry.  If you are doing a turkey, you’re going to want to double it, if not triple it.  You want to make sure that the meat is completely covered by the brine.  With smaller things, I usually just brine in a stock pot.  When you are brining something larger, like that turkey we’ve been talking about, I use a combination of things.  It’s going to depend on the amount of fridge space you have.  If your fridge space is limited, you’re going to want to use a cooler.  I don’t have a problem with fridge space, thanks to my dedicated kegerator.  Because of that, I can brine in a five gallon bucket.  Whether I find myself brining in a bucket or a cooler, I always use a garbage bag.  Bags are king when it comes to brining or marinating.  They maximize liquid to surface area contact.  When brining, always make sure that the brine is cold.  If it is room temperature, you will be promoting bacteria.  If it is hot, you will be cooking the meat.

I encourage you all to try brining.  It can really enhance the flavor and texture of the meat you are cooking.  Below, I’ve included the recipe that I used when I started brining.  It’s from Alton Brown’s turkey episode.  I really, really like this recipe, but I think it can be a little expensive for a brine.   That’s why I don’t use it all the time.  Anymore, I really find myself making up recipes for brines that work well with what I plan on doing with the meat.  Case in point, check out our hot wing post.

I hope you all have a wonderful thanksgiving.  Until next week, stay healthy and be well!

Good Eats Roast Turkey  (The brine is the first half of the recipe.  I don’t know why I felt the need to say that.  You are smart.  You would’ve figured it out.)

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