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Brining

The Secret to Making Foods Better

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Brine Rita Maas/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Brining foods in a saltwater mixture before you cook them adds flavor, tenderness, and reduces cooking times. If this sounds like a good thing then its time to learn the basics about brining.

Brining meats is an age-old process of food preservation. Heavy concentrations of salt preserved meats were taken on long ocean voyages and military campaigns before the advent of refrigeration. Today, brining has a new purpose. By using smaller quantities of salt mixed with other spices and herbs, brining can permeate meat with flavor.

The chemistry behind brining is actually pretty simple. Meat already contains salt water. By immersing meats into a liquid with a higher concentration of salt, the brine is absorbed into the meat. Any flavoring added to the brine will be carried into the meat with the saltwater mixture. Because the meat is now loaded with extra moisture it will stay that way as it cooks.

The process of brining is easy but takes some planning. Depending on the size of what you want to brine it can take up to 24 hours of more. If you are going to be brining whole bird, you will also want an additional 6 to 12 hours between the brining and the cooking. If you want your poultry to have a golden, crispy skin, it needs to sit in the refrigerator for several hours after you remove it from the brine so that the meat can absorb the moisture from the skin.

The most basic process of brining is to take approximately 1 cup of table salt (no iodine or other additives) to 1 gallon of water. Another way to measure this concentration is with a raw egg. The ideal brine has enough salt to float a raw egg. You will need enough brine to completely submerge the meat without any part being out of the liquid. Some items might need to be weighed down to stay under. Brine meat for about a hour per pound. Remove from brine (don't reuse the brine)and rinse to remove any excess salt before cooking.

So what should you brine? Just about an meat you choose. Poultry in particular benefits greatly from brining, regardless of how you plan to cook it. Large roasts, racks of ribs and anything you plan to smoke will be better for having been brined first. But this isn’t just a great barbecue tip but a good idea for meats whether you smoke, grill, roast or fry them.

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