Brining Really Is Better

May 26, 2006 11 Comments

Why Brining Is Better

Why Brine Before Cooking

Do you happen to notice that every year one or two culinary ideas or cooking ingredients become all the rage and every cooking magazine writes about them as if they were the greatest concept since sliced bread?

I remember years ago it was pesto. Every time I turned around I was reading about pesto and all the restaurants were serving some dish with pesto. Before that, were sun-dried tomatoes. It seems to me sherry vinegar is now replacing the once popular balsamic vinegar that showed up everywhere.

Another popular idea that’s been around a while is brining foods before cooking them. I’ve been reading about brining for years and even tried it several years ago with a Thanksgiving turkey. Yeah, the bird was good and maybe even a little moister than if I didn’t brine it but then maybe I just didn’t overcook it that year.

The problem I had with brining the turkey was finding a container big enough to hold it and still fit into my refrigerator. Never again. Instead, I prefer to buy kosher turkeys that are already brined as part of the processing.

I have read how great brining is for making meats & poultry more juicy but just never found the time to learn how to do it right, take the time to make a brine nor take the time to actually brine something. Well, that is all going to change now.

I received a brand new cookbook from Jim Tarantino called Marinades, Rubs, Brines, Cures & Glazes. I met Jim at my oldest daughters friend’s house. He happened to be there preparing a meal with her friend’s dad, also a very good cook. They told me about his new upcoming book and I asked if he could send a copy so I could review it for my web site. I hope to write much more about this subject as I try some of Jim’s recipes and talk to him about grilling and barbecue.

According to the press release that came with his book, Jim is a confirmed serial griller and a five-string banjo player. He learned to cook as a kid in his uncle’s restaurants and has written many articles on grilling and marinades. I hope he has some time to teach me some grilling and barbecue tricks.

Where am I going with all this? I purchased some beautiful bone-in pork chops at the Farmer’s market and brined them in Jim’s All-Purpose Basic Brine on page 46 of Marinades, Rubs, Brines, Cures & Glazes. I cut the recipe in half since I only had three chops and brined them for his recommended 6 to 8 hours.

I then grilled the chops on my gas grill since I started preparing dinner later than I would have liked and had to get something on the table in a hurry. My wife was at a business meeting so it was just me and the girls.

My oldest will try just about anything but my 6 year old avoids everything. They both like pork but depending on how it’s prepared, you just never know. The chops didn’t take long to cook, and besides the grill marks, were much whiter than I expected. I don’t know if it was the quality of the meat from the farmer’s market or the brine. I’ll have to ask Jim about that.

I seasoned them with a little salt and pepper and then placed them onto the grill that was hot so they cooked about 3 to 4 minutes per side and were medium. I cut one up for the girls, served it with some rice pilaf and peas and they love the meat. Both of them asked for seconds, a rarity in our house.

I found the chops to be moist, juicy, with a hint of saltiness and lots of flavor. Next time I will try one of Jim’s rubs for some additional flavor. I tasted the difference and the fact that my kids enjoyed them so much has me thinking I will take the added time to brine next time around. I may even try brining some chicken or fish but first I need to read more of Jim’s book.

All Purpose Basic Brine Recipe

Yield: 2 quarts

Ingredients

2 quarts water

½ cup kosher salt or other coarse-grain salt

1/3 to ½ cup firmly packed light or dark brown sugar

How To Prepare At Home

In a large pan over medium high heat, add the water, salt and brown sugar. Give a stir to mix together. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Remove from heat and let the liquid cook down to room temperature.

After the liquid cools down, I put the brine into one of those plastic containers with a tight fitting lid and cool down to 40°F in the refrigerator. You want the meat and the brine to be close to the same temperature while brining. This helps with the infusion of flavor.

Add your meat or poultry to the container and brine together in the refrigerator for the allotted time. Simple. You just have to plan to do it before hand.

Last modified on Fri 15 January 2016 1:26 pm

Comments (11)

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  1. Sunny says:

    I’m sure the book probably covers this, but I like putting spices in my brines. For pork (and I usually do whole tenderloins,) we favor a sweet brine (apple cider vinegar, honey, and sliced ginger in addition to the salt & brown sugar.) My family enjoys lots of hot dishes, so I’ve also added minced scotch bonnet peppers to a more basic brine (although I still use cider vinegar) and find that the heat, though subtle, permeates nicely and ups the ante on dishes that are made with other, external sources of hotness!

    Of course, the real test of this book is going to be his barbecue rub. 😉

  2. Greg Soares says:

    I gave this brine recipe a try, and my Chicken turned out amazingly moist… i think i would lessen the salt in the mixture a little, because my meat did end up tasting a little too salty.

  3. Dennis says:

    I can’t see why you’d want to brine fish. If you’re cooking your fish to the point where you might consider brining it the next time then you’re simply cooking your fish too long.

  4. Eddie says:

    Well, Just add some crushed garlic to the basic….. and the sky is the limit…yummmmmyyyy

  5. Tom Conner says:

    Sorry, but I found the brining of pork chops to be underwhelming. I followed the directions exactly, including the salt adjustments for kind of salt. The result was very disappointing. The chops tasted watery and salty. The problem, I believe, is a confusion about what constitutes “moistness”. Moistness comes from fat, not from water. The same is true of turkey. I can cook a turkey that is moist and flavorful and rivals anything brined by simply browning the breast at higher heat at the beginning and cooking at low heat with the breast down for the remainder of the time. Pork chops are also easy to cook so they are not dry but still flavorful without brining. I do not understand any need for brining for anything.

    • Hi Tom, thanks for your comments. The first time I brined a pork loin I had the same problem. It was way too salty for my tastes. I asked a professional chef friend and he asked me if I rinsed the brine off before cooking which I didn’t. Next time the pork was delicious. I’m not sure I agree that “moistness comes from fat”. I think it has more to do with not overcooking. You can cook a chicken breast or pork tenderloin with very little fat that is wonderfully moist if done properly. I will do a little research and write a post on why some experts say brining is a good method for keeping foods moist and adding flavor. – RG

  6. Tom Conner says:

    I will be interested in what you find out. I think it is important to keep separate the various ideas. They seem at least to be tough-tender, dry-moist, flavorful-not flavorful. If I marinate a pork loin in a simple combination of soy sauce, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic I get a grilled loin that is tender, “moist”, and flavorful. I agree that the salt in the soy sauce is important, but probably more for tenderness than anything else. The salt in brining would have the same effect but unfortunately brine also creates wateryness. I am not sure where that falls within my distinctions but I know it is not a good consequence and has nothing to do with rinsing the meat. I also know that when I brown a turkey breast and then cook the bird upside down for most of the cooking time I get white meat that is tender and tasty. It may be a mistake to also call it it moist as that may be the same as watery. But I am not sure. Just trying to figure things out as best I can.

  7. Lisa C. says:

    A great brine recipe can be found at epicurious. The name of the recipe is “Honey Brined Turkey with Giblet Cream Gravy.” I have used this brine recipe every year since it came out in the magazine (Nov. ’99) and it is foolproof and fantastic. We have cooked the turkey both in the oven and on the rotisserie and it’s perfect every time. I line an Igloo Playmate Cooler with a garbage bag, mix the brine and add the turkey as the directions say. We have an extra fridge in the pantry, so we’ve got plenty of room. One year at a relative’s house (who doesn’t have an extra fridge) it was in the 30s overnight so we just left the turkey on the back porch!!

    • Hi Lisa, thanks for the tip and recipe suggestion. I have always been a fan of brining turkey as well as pork chops and chicken but I just listened to Harold McGee on NPR yesterday and will be writing about it today. He is not a fan of brining because although it makes the turkey moister, it also makes it saltier, especially the gravy. Have you found this to be true?

  8. Lisa C. says:

    I am very sensitive to saltiness, and I find the meat to be seasoned perfectly. I can’t vouch for the drippings, however. We usually cook our turkey on a rotisserie and most of the juice evaporates in the catch pan, so I just use chicken stock for my gravy. The above mentioned brine recipe is only 1 part salt to 4 parts water and most of the brining recipes I see use 1 part salt to 2 parts water. Everyone who dines with us on T’giving always wants “our” turkey recipe!!

    • Hi Lisa, thank you for your comments. Everyone has their own way of preparing the bird on Thanksgiving and I think that is great. I would love to try a rotisserie some time for my turkey. Happy Thanksgiving

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