by Cat, Sept 2007, updated Dec 2014 for salt amounts in brine (photo, right, by Cat)
This post was formerly titled “Brining Chicken,” but most references to brining chicken have been moved to Brining Poultry.
Brining meats helps the meat to retain moisture; this is especially important with cuts that tend to dry out when cooked, such as poultry breast meat. It also lends a wonderful, slightly salty flavor, so that you won’t need to season with salt when cooking the meat. It can also be used to add herbal and other flavors to the meat, such as for smoking. You can brine any meat, but read on for a list of the most commonly brined meats, from eGullet (6), and general instructions.
- Includes: 1. Most commonly brined meats; 2. Don’t wash the meat before brining; 3. General info on brining (includes equipment, determining amount of water and salt for brine, sugar/herbs, and how long to brine)
- See also: 1. Salt (about); 2. Brining Poultry; 3. Brining Pork; 4. Brine Chart (printable pdf)
Most commonly brined meats
This list is from eGullet (6)
- Chicken or turkey, especially breasts. Caution, don’t wash chicken before brining; see my post on brining poultry for more
- Cornish game hens
- Domesticated rabbit
- Duck (Yes, it has lots of fat, but almost all of it is subcutaneous rather than intramuscular. The meat itself is relatively dry.)
- Salmon (especially for smoking)
- Pork chops, roasts, shoulders, bellies and ribs
- Dry or tough beef or lamb for grilling
Don’t wash the meat before brining
Washing/rinsing meat before brining is not recommended; if is far safer to rinse the meat after brining, because the salt in the brine kills the bad bacteria.
The following is updated from my post on The EssentiaList (8):
Clarification: I think Americans are taking their fear of microbes to the extreme, and this, in the end, will be our downfall. Exposure to different microbes – especially among children and young adults – helps to build a strong immune system. However, it is also wise to pick our exposure.
Poultry and livestock raised in CAFOs (Confinement Animal Feeding Operations) are fed the wrong kind of diet, get no exposure to the healing elements of the sun, and are raised in stressful situations. This breeds the really bad bacteria like salmonella and listeria in poultry, or infectious e-coli in red meats.
So, if you use poutry or livestock raised by you or a local farmer you trust, your risk of exposure to the really bad bacteria is significantly reduced; if you use commercial brands from the grocer, whose chickens/livestock come from CAFOs, you would be wise to take precautions as described here.
Many people wash or at least rinse raw chicken before preparing it, thinking they are making it safer to consume. However this practice is not only messy, but also dangerous. The force of the water from the faucet actually causes bacteria, etc. on the surface of the chicken to get sprayed onto your counter, your clothing and anything else within range.
Instead, rely on the heat of cooking to destroy any bacteria on the meat’s surface and also embedded in the meat. If you brine your meat, the salt will also kill, or at least slow the growth of the bacteria. See my post on brining poultry, You Tube Video (10); or article in Prevention: Don’t Wash Your Chicken (9). for more.
General Info on Brining
Notes about equipment for brining
- A glass bowl is the preferred option for brining;
- A stainless steel stock pot or bowl can also be used, especially if brining a large whole chicken or turkey;
- Never use plastic bucket or bowl for brining;
- Never use aluminum stock post or bowl for brining; aluminum is a toxic heavy metal. It will leach into the brine and be taken up into the meat of the bird.
- It is best to use a scale set to grams to measure the salt; otherwise, use only glass or stainless steel measuring cup or spoons.
- A scale can also be used to measure water, but you need a glass or stainless steel container to hold the water, and don’t forget to measure the empty container to set the tare on the scale (or subtract weight of the container from total weight).
About the salt
Salt is the main component of brine. It is taken up by the meat, where it seasons and helps the meat to retain moisture when being cooked. A specific ratio of salt to water is needed for a good brine (see below).
> > > Never use iodized salt for brining.< < <
Different types of salt differ in size of grind, which affects the amount of salt needed for a given amount of water. The larger the grind, the more volume of salt you will need if you measure in cups. See salt substitution chart, right.
However, if you measure by weight/mass of salt (oz or grams), it is not affected by the type of salt or size of the grind, and is more accurate. Additionally, weighing in grams (g) is better than ounces (oz) because gram amount doesn’t change with altitude, who ounce amount does. See Amount of Salt, below for more details and a handy chart.
I recommend using Kosher salt; although it is a refined salt (sodium chloride), it has no added ingredients, unlike table salt. Real Salt is a brand of unrefined sea salt, so it contains other minerals besides sodium.
Unless noted otherwise, the brining salt called for in my recipes before Nov 2015 is Morton Kosher salt, a coarse-grained salt. Recipes added after Nov 2015 use Diamond Crystal Kosher salt because my local grocer changed brand. Another reason to measure in grams!
About sugar and herbs in brine
Sugar is a common addition to brines, especially if the meat will be smoked. I recommend using unrefined or minimally-refined types of sugar, such as raw local honey, maple syrup or Rapadura sugar (minimally refined dehydrated juice of sugar cane).
Herbs and spices can also be added to the brine to distribute the flavors through the meat. Experiment! For example, if your recipe includes any herbs, consider adding them to the brine.
Determine amount of salt & water for brine
- First, determine how much water is required to cover the bird (or pieces) in the bowl (see below for details)
- Then calculate the amount of salt based on the amount of water needed, and the type of salt used if you measure in cups. (See below for details)
Amount of water
You should use filtered water, preferably reverse-osmosis (RO) filtered water, to avoid toxins and also salts that may be in your water, as would throw off the total amount of salt in the brine.
To determine volume of water needed, place the meat in the brining vessel (typically a glass, ceramic or stainless steel bowl). Add filtered water until the meat is covered, keeping track of the amount of water added. Remove the meat; note that some blood may have leaked into the water; this is perfectly OK.
Amount of salt
To be most accurate, salt should be measured in grams; then you don’t need to be concerned with different types of salt. Ounces are also independent of type of salt grind, but varies with altitude above sea level.
Refer to the table, below, of generally accepted amounts of salt per cup/quart/gallon of water in the brine; I prefer to use grams rather than ounces or Tbsp or cup measurements for the salt. The following chart is also available as a printable pdf: Brine Chart (pdf).
[From eGullet: Use 2.5 ounces (70 grams) salt per quart of water. 70 grams salt is equivalent to 1/4 cup table; 6 tablespoons Morton’s kosher; 1/2 cup Diamond Crystal kosher salt)]
Egg test for saltiness of brine
Test for the correct amount of salt and adjust accordingly (see Egg Test sidebar, right). The above amounts are general; the humidity and level of minerals in your water will affect the amount of salt.
Dec 2014 update: Testing my brines several times always indicate I need more salt – almost double the recommended amount of salt – before the egg will float. The resulting brined product is way too salty for my taste. Instead I will rely on the general recommendations for amount of salt for a brine, as presented above.
How does brining work?
I refer you to eGullet Culinary Institute’s article on brining (6) for an excellent description of the three processes involved: osmosis, diffusion and denaturing.
Determine how long to brine
Here’s a list of commonly brined meats, and how long to brine them, from eGullet Culinary Institute forum(6):
- Shrimp: 30 minutes (eGullet recommends: “I really wouldn’t go longer than this, unless you’ve got mondo U-10 or U-8 shrimp”)
- Chicken, whole or spatchcocked (3- to 4-pounds), or duck, whole (5-pound): 2 to 3 hours
- Chicken parts (bone-in):1-1/2 hour
- Chicken breasts (boneless): 1 hour
- Cornish game hens: 1 hour
- Turkey, whole (12- 14-pounds): 12 to 18 hours
- Pork spare ribs or back ribs: 2 hours
- Pork chops (1-inch thick): 4 to 6 hours
- Pork, whole loins: 12 to 18 hours
- Pork shoulder: 24 to 36 hours
See also Brining Poultry for a chart on brining time for various types of poultry.
After brining, remove meat from brine, rinse well and pat dry. It’s especially important to rinse off all surface sugar (if it was included in the brine) if you intend to grill or roast your bird over high heat, to avoid burning the sugar.
Brining Chicken Breasts
Moved to Brining Poultry.
- Cooks Illustrated magazine or online, The Basics of Brining; If the link below doesn’t work, I’ve saved their pdf file as: The Basics of Brining (cooksillustrated.com/images/document/howto/ND01_ISBriningbasics.pdf)
- Morton Kosher Salt’s Guide to Brining (mortonsalt.com/content/PDFs/Morton_Ultimate_Guide_Brining.pdf)
- eGullet Culinary Institute forum (forums.egullet.org/topic/28308-brining)
- Chowhound discussion comment by Andrew_Cookbooker, Nov 24, 2009 (chowhound.chow.com/topics/669507)
- The EssentiaList: The harm of washing chicken, essentialstuff.org/index.php/2015/05/30/Cat/harm-of-washing-chicken
- Prevention: Don’t wash your chicken, prevention.com/food/healthy-eating-tips/dont-wash-your-chicken
- YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=10&v=xN9ZvYKqjM4