Have you ever wondered how restaurants keep meat from drying out?
Or how to season meat properly for the ultimate flavor impact?
It’s all about how they brine it! There are two types of brining, wet and dry.
But you might be wondering which one to use and when?
Today is the battle of the brines!
Who will come out on top?
Table of contents
What Is Brining?
Do you know what the actual process of brining is?
A brine is treating food with a salt concentration which in our case will be meat.
As a rule of thumb, the two main types of brining are wet and dry which we will be discovering together through this article.
I want to help explain their differences, similarities, and why brining meat is favored among professional chefs and pitmasters alike.
Oh, and did I also mention it’s incredibly easy to do at home?
Fun Fact: You can also use a brine solution on vegetables, fish, and even cheese.
What Role Does Salt Play When Brining Meat?
Put your glasses on everyone! We’re about to go full science mode.
When meat is brined and exposed to salt it penetrates on a cellular level into the muscle fibers and protein structure. This is called denaturation.
The denaturation effect creates swelling and a water-holding absorption capacity improvement of up to 10% in the meat protein.
The absorption of water into the meat protein cell is called osmosis.
This all means the meat can hold and absorb more liquid. The result is juicer cuts of meat from the natural moisture retained when heating.
This then gives extra moisture after the cooking process when you go to eat and enjoy your favorite piece of meat.
Fun Fact: Humans have been using salt in culinary adventures for millenniums. The Romans used salt as currency as it also has preservation qualities and was used before refrigeration.
Should You Brine Brisket?
Yes, you should brine brisket. Here is an extensive guide to brining brisket the correct way.
Does The Type Of Salt Matter?
Point of order, does the type of salt matter?
Yes and no.
The salt does not change the osmosis process but it can affect when measuring the quantity and salt concentration.
If you’re dissolving the salt in water for a wet brine then it is recommended to use a finer grain like table salt.
If you’re using a dry brine then maybe it’s easier to use a larger crystal-like kosher salt or pink.
It is that simple.
What Are The Results When You Brine Meat?
The science lesson has finished. Are you shaking your head?
Don’t worry, I am too but let us get into what the fuss is about on what matters…
Should You Brine Turkey?
When smoking a turkey you should brine it. Both dry and wet brines add a lot of flavor. However, a dry brine is easier.
Should You Brine Chicken Wings?
Yes you should brine chiclken wings. Wings can get dry in the oven or fryer.
Flavor In Brined Meat
Sodium is one of the most and top basic flavor compounds our brains love.
It has sensory enhancing properties on the food that we enjoy and I for one can’t get enough.
Brining essentially is a form of seasoning like adding salt to your fish and chips or on a hot pretzel.
I almost forgot to say that you can add other ingredients in the brine to infuse other flavors.
What about some lemon zest on that lean meat or a bay leaf with a little soy?
Be careful not to stray too much though because your salty brine could turn into a marinade which is a little bit different.
Fun Fact: The difference between a marinade and the brining process is the amount of salt and oil. Marinades have more concentration of aromatic ingredients and oil. Whereas brines have more salt.
Moisture In Brined Meat
Meat with salt affects moisture retention as we covered earlier as it disrupts the proteins.
Applying a brine before cooking will ultimately lead to higher water concentration and those beautiful moist meat juices
White meat like chicken breast, turkey or pork is the usual suspect for dryness.
So be sure to read further for the entire process for noticeable differences next time you are cooking.
Texture In Brined Meat
If you are someone that focuses on the texture of a type of meat when eating you know how important it can be.
I have friends who love the taste of foods but can’t deal with the usual overly dry or slimy texture so they don’t eat them.
I always laugh at them for missing out but I do understand.
A salty solution (get it) to this is… Brining.
In the same way, the salt penetrates the meat proteins, it also breaks them down which is the difference between a tender, juicy chicken and a dry plain one.
The salt also helps stop muscle contraction when cooking which has the same effect.
What is a Wet Brining?
What is a wet brine? I’m sure you’ve already guessed it!
A wet brine is created by adding sodium into cold water which in turn creates a water and salt solution.
This salt-to-water solution can then be used as a brine to submerge and leave before cooking a flavorful turkey or moist chicken breast.
The Ratio Of Salt When Brining?
Are you familiar with the actual percentage of salt in the water?
It might all be well and good to just add a cup of salt to some water but like in other techniques, we need to measure so it doesn’t result in excess salt levels.
The standard volume of water to a level of salt is 1 tablespoon (14 grams) for every cup (230ml). This ratio will be fine for any meat you wish to wet brine.
Dissolving Salt In The Water
So once you have a container ready and large enough to fit in your meat, the water, and in the refrigerator, go ahead and fill the desired water in a saucepan with the salt.
Regular tap water is fine and you want to gently bring it to a boil until all the salt is dissolved and then let it cool to room temperature.
Flavoring The Wet Brine
So you’ve got your brine cooling after dissolving the salt?
Now is the time time to add any desired flavors but remember, we are not marinating!
TIP: Cooking pork? Why not add a few white peppercorns and a bay leaf.
How Long Do You Wet Brine Meat?
So now that we’ve covered how to prepare a wet brine, how long are we waiting?
The bottom line is that if I don’t leave my meat in long enough the salt brine will not penetrate the meat and then it’s just soggy…
How long you wet brine depends on a variety of factors, but the most important is the size of the meat.
The general method is 1 hour per pound of meat.
What is a Dry Brining?
What is dry brining? Well, again, I’m sure you’ve already guessed it!
A dry brine is applying a concentration of salt on the meat before cooking but without water.
This is liberally covering every area with a crust and then leaving for the magic to happen.
The salt molecules permeate the meat in the same way by extracting moisture to stop the muscle contractions, adding flavor, and tenderizing.
The Ratio Of Salt When Dry Brining
So how much salt should you add when dry brining?
There aren’t any specific ratio measurements when it comes to dry brine. Take the meat and cover completely and leave it in the refrigerator.
Simple. As. That.
Flavoring The Dry Brine
So like with a wet brine, we can incorporate other flavors. Why not try roughly chopping some rosemary and fusing before you salt some lamb?
How Long Do You Dry Brine Meat?
So how long do we dry brine meat?
It’s sometimes hard to be specific with these types of things as so many factors present themselves.
The standard golden rule is not to go over 48 hours unless you are specifically wanting to dry age a piece of meat and have the correct conditions to do so.
Similarities of Dry Brines & Wet Brines
The key similarities between a dry brine and wet brine are the following:
– They are both using salt to change the proteins of the meat.
– They both take on other flavors.
– They both safeguard against overcooking.
– They both make the meat tender, flavorsome and succulent.
Dry Vs Wet Brines: The Differences and Summary
Well like Sweden. I never really want to pick a side and preference and freedom to experiment comes first.
I will quickly make these points though!
- Dry brines are better for dark meat.
- Wet brines are better for white meat or whole animals.
- Dry brines take longer.
- Wet brines are quicker.
- Dry brines tend to give a more intense surface-level aromatic flavor and salt concentration.
- Wet brines tend to give a weaker flavor infusion but steady salt concentration.
- Dry brines still tenderize the meat but have weaker moisture content.
- Wet brines add a higher moisture content.
- Dry brines are great for pieces of meat with the skin still intact.
- Wet brines are better for pieces of meat without the skin intact.
So there we have it, such as life – the winner always depends on the rules and they are always changing depending on what you’re cooking.
Author: Charlie Reeves
Hi, I’m Charlie, I am head taste tester at Simply Meat Smoking! I love it grilling, smoking, and getting out in the yard with the kids! The family also love to test all my recipes (especially my EXTRA CRISPY pulled pork, smoky pork loin, and ANY SEAFOOD I grill)
You will usually find me playing with the kids, perfecting my brisket bark, or sipping beers with boys around the fire. Can’t wait to share all my delicious smoking and grilling adventures with you!
You can read more on our About Us page.
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