Brining Poultry

by Cat, Jan 2009 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

Domesticated Turkey

Domesticated Turkey

This article, excerpted from my original article on Roasting a Bird (About), is for all types of poultry, including chicken. The bird can be whole, butterflied or cut into pieces.

  • Includes: 1. Notes about brining a bird; 2. Don’t wash the bird before brining; 3. Basics, including a summary of brining steps, and details for each step; 4. Instructions for Brine; 5. Brining Chicken Breasts; 6. References
  • See also: 1. Salt (about); 2. Brining (About); 3. Brine Chart (printable pdf)

Notes about brining a bird

  • If using a self-basting or Kosher bird, they have already been brined/injected with a salty solution, so DO NOT BRINE such a bird as the result would be way too salty. Otherwise, read on.
  • Brining a whole bird takes a lot of space in your fridge, and also more time.
  • Fatty birds such as duck, goose and squab, may not benefit from brining unless you want to use introduce certain flavors via the brine.  Alton Brown on the Food Network website recommends cutting the fatty birds into quarters before brining.

See also Cooks Illustrated: Brining Basics (pdf), for more information.

Don’t wash the bird before brining

From my post on The EssentiaList (7):

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.

However, if you brine your bird, the salt will minimize the bacteria so that you can gently rinse the bird after brining.

And of course, the heat of cooking will destroy any bacteria on the chicken’s surface and also embedded in the meat.

You Tube Video link (9); See also Prevention: Don’t wash your chicken (8).

Brining basics:

This includes water, salt, sugar, herbs, equipment, timing, and refrigeration.

My method for determining amount of water for brine:

  1. Put the chicken/hen into the brining bowl/pot;
  2. Fill a quart measuring cup with the approximate amount of water and pour just enough of it over the chicken to just cover.
  3. Take note of the amount of water, then remove the chicken but retain the water which will now also include the delicious juices of the chicken.

Brining steps:

  1. Using amount of water determined above, determine amount of salt needed for that amount of water using the table, below;
  2. Weigh/measure the salt and mix it into the measured amount of water in the brining bowl or other container, along with any other ingredients such as sugar, herbs and/or spices.
  3. If you added herbs/spices, bring the brine mixture to a boil and simmer for 1 – 2 minutes, covered. Then transfer to brining bowl and let cool to room temperature. This step is important if you want the bird/pieces to take up the flavors of the herbs/spices.
  4. Add bird/pieces to the (cooled, if added herbs/spices) brine; cover the container and place in the fridge for desired amount of time
  5. Remove bird/pieces from the brine and rinse gently, if desired. I transfer the bird/pieces to a bowl of just water and gently move them around in the water, then remove them pat them dry with paper towel.

Water

You should use filtered water, preferably reverse-osmosis (RO) filtered water, to avoid toxins and also salts that may be in your water, asthey  would throw off the total amount of salt in the brine.

To determine volume of water needed, place the bird: whole, butterflied, or pieces in the brining vessel (typically a glass, ceramic or stainless steel bowl). Add water until the meat is covered, keeping track of the amount of water added. Drain off the water.

I measure out half the amount as warmed water to dissolve the salt and sugar; then add the remaining water as cold water, plus any desired herbs/spices.

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).

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 of salt (oz or grams), it is not affected by the size of the grind.

> > Never use iodized salt for brining!

Amount of salt: this depends on amount of water needed to cover the meat, and the type of salt used if you measure in cups. 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 it varies with altitude above sea level. [Technically, grams are a measure of mass, while ounces are a measure of weight, which is dependent upon altitude.]

However, American cooks are more used to volume measurements (which are not as accurate), so I have added volume measurements to the chart, below (also available as a printable pdf: Brine Chart), of generally accepted amounts of salt per cup/quart/gallon of water in the brine.

Sugar

This is an optional ingredient.  Use any type of sugar (white, brown, molasses, maple syrup or honey); I prefer to use Organic, minimally processed sugar such as Rapadura or Sucanat.

Use no more than 1 cup white sugar per gallon of water (per the about.com site).  Testing 1/29/09:  testing a brine for a whole chicken weighing 3.5 pounds: I used 1 gallon of water, 1 1/2 cups Morton Kosher salt, and 3 Tbsp Rapadura sugar.  I added several sprigs of fresh thyme.  Brined for 3.5 hours. Tasty! (after cooking the chicken)

Herbs

You can add herbs and spices to your brine to improve the flavor of the bird.  Experiment! For example, if your recipe includes any herbs, consider adding them to the brine.

Just remember to bring the brine mixture to a boil, then cool to room temp, before adding the bird/pieces.

Timing:

Refer to the following chart (also available as a printable pdf: (Poultry Brine-Time Chart, V4) :

NOTE regarding brining duck: I’ve not yet brined duck and note there is a considerable difference in amount of time to brine a whole duck vs just the breast, as you can see in the table below. Why would it take longer to brine just a breast, than the whole duck? I will update brine times for duck when I do a test.


NOTE: I don’t have a ceramic bowl big enough for a whole chicken, that will also fit in my fridge. So I butterfly the chicken (cut it into left and right halves), then arrange them in a large oblong casserole to brine. I don’t know whether to consider this a whole chicken (4 – 12 hours of brine time), or bone-in chicken parts (1 – 1.5 hours brine time). So I brine them for 3 hours, check for stiffness (a sign they’ve been too long in the brine). If beginning to get stiff, I drain off the brine, then rinse gently with pure water and then let them soak in pure water until they soften. But generally, 3 hours seems good for most chicken.

Refrigeration 

This is very important because the bird and brine must be kept below 40°F while brining.  Clear enough space in your refrigerator for your brining container.  You may need to reposition or remove shelves to accommodate a large bird like a turkey. You may also need to rotate the bird if only a portion is immersed in the brine at a time; or you may choose to brine only the breast portion of the bird.

If you don’t have room in the refrigerator, try a cooler; you won’t need a separate container.  Put it outside if it’s cold (below 400) but not freezing.  Your root cellar or a cold basement is another great option, but if not below 400, you will need to add one or more non-leaking ziploc bags of ice to the cooler with the turkey and brine.  Then monitor the temperature of the brine several times to ensure it stays below 400.

Instructions for Brine:

Egg Test for Correct Amount of Salt in Brine

  1. Prepare brine with predetermined amounts of water & salt.  Use the egg test (see sidebar) to ensure the correct amount of salt in the brine.  Make sure the salt is fully dissolved before adding optional flavorings.  Don’t add any flavorings that contain salt!   The salt will dissolve faster if you start with half the quantity of warm water, then add remaining cold water and chill the brine before adding to the bird.
  2. Pour brine over bird in brining container to cover fully with an inch to spare, to ensure the bird is totally submerged. Push down on the bird/pieces if they float. Place in refrigerator for about 1 hour or less per pound.  Pay attention to the time; brining too long is worse than not brining.*
  3. After the allotted time, remove bird and rinse it well with cold water, until all traces of salt have been rinsed away.
  4. Discard brine – consider pouring it on your compost pile.
  5. Do not salt bird during cooking/roasting; the brine provides enough salt.

‘* NOTE: if you leave it in the brine too long, it will become stiff as well as too salty. Remove bird/pieces from the brine and place in a container of plain filtered water. This will cause the salt to escape into the plain water (the salt moves from where it is more concentrated to where it is less concentrated. However, it is difficult to know how long to leave it in the plain water.

Brining Chicken Breasts

These instructions are for 1 or 2 bone-in half-breasts (8 – 10 oz each; the breasts of one chicken).

Modify salt and water proportionally for larger quantity of chicken pieces, or for a whole bird; it may also take longer in the brine.  See Brining Basics, above, for more.

  • Filtered water: 1 – 2 cups per half-breast
  • Salt, use the following per cup of water: 17.5 grams or 0.6 oz salt per cup water (or if using tablespoons to measure the salt (Or see the table above for grams/ounces of salt per cup, quart or gallon of water):
    • 4 – 5 Tbsp table salt (not iodized)
    • 6 – 7.5 Tbsp Morton Kosher salt;
    • 8 – 10 Tbsp (½ – ⅝ cup) Diamond Kosher salt;
  • Sugar (optional): Add ⅛ to ½ cup (2 – 8 Tbsp) to salt brine, to taste

Do the egg test (see sidebar above) to be sure it’s the right mix, but as I mentioned in update above, the meat gets too salty for my test, if the brine passes the egg test.

Remember: amount of salt needed depends on volume of water needed to cover the meat. Always test the amount by pouring water over the meat in the container you plan to use, and keep track of the amount of water required to cover the meat.

Method

  1. Place chicken pieces in a glass, ceramic or stainless steel bowl (do not use plastic),  large enough to hold the breasts covered in brine. Add water 1 cup at a time until meat is covered, keeping track of amount of water needed. Then determine amount of salt or salt & sugar. Remove meat.
  2. Dissolve salt/sugar in the water in the bowl.  Work the grains of salt with your fingers to get it to dissolve more quickly; the finer the grind, the faster it dissolves. Make sure it is fully dissolved.
  3. Optional: Do the egg test (above), and adjust amount of salt/sugar as needed.
  4. Add any flavor elements (herbs, spices, citrus peel/zest, etc.)
  5. Place chicken pieces in brine, arranging them so they are covered with the brine.  Cover and chill in refrigerator for 60 minutes (or 60 – 90 minutes for sugar & salt brine).
  6. Remove chicken pieces from the brine promptly; rinse well (to remove salt that clings to the meat), and dry.
  7. The meat can now be used in any recipe. If you return the meat to the fridge for later use, put it in a sealed container so that any bacteria will not contaminate other items in the fridge.

References:

  1. Cooks Illustrated magazine or online: The Basics of Brining (www.cooksillustrated.com/images/document/howto/ND01_ISBriningbasics.pdf)
  2. virtualweberbullet.com/brining.html
  3. ehow.com/how_8257547_brine-boneless-skinless-chicken-breast.html
  4. busycooks.about.com/od/chickenrecipes/a/howtocookchixbr_2.htm
  5. Hunter Angler Gardener Cook blog: foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/mighty-duck-recipe/index.html
  6. Alton Brown on the Food Network: www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/mighty-duck-recipe/index.html
  7. The EssentiaList: The harm of washing chicken, essentialstuff.org/index.php/2015/05/30/Cat/harm-of-washing-chicken
  8. Prevention: Don’t wash your chicken, prevention.com/food/healthy-eating-tips/dont-wash-your-chicken
  9. You Tube video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=10&v=xN9ZvYKqjM4
  10. eGullet Culinary Institute forum (forums.egullet.org/topic/28308-brining)
  11. Ducks Unlimited (ducks.org/hunting/waterfowl-recipes-wild-game-cooking/where-theres-smoke-theres-flavor)
  12. eHow (ehow.com/how_8277968_brine-duck.html)

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