The brining of meats is an old process used for food preservation. Before refrigeration, heavy amounts of salt were used to preserve meats for long periods of time. Now, we use much smaller quantities of salt, mixed with other spices and herbs, achieving increased flavor in the meat as well as other benefits. Our poultry and pork have much less fat than they used to, which means they tend to dry out more quickly when cooked and to be less flavorful than in the past.
Brining is chemistry in action. 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 liquid is absorbed into the meat. Any flavoring added to the brine will be carried into the meat with the saltwater mixture. And because the meat is now loaded with extra moisture it will stay that way longer while it cooks.
Brining alters the chemical structure of proteins by breaking some of the bonds that give proteins their shape. The salt denatures the meat proteins, causing them to unwind and form a matrix that traps the water. Those bonds are sensitive to changes in temperature, acidity and salinity, causing the proteins themselves to break down a bit in brines and allowing the salt, sugar, and other flavoring agents to permeate the food’s flesh.
Salt has a couple of efforts for poultry, it dissolves protein in muscle causing the tissue to change and trap more moisture. Combine Protein Modification and Salt and you get a reduced moisture loss during smoking.
Basic Poultry Brine
1 gallon cold water
3/4 cup kosher salt
2/3 cup light brown sugar
For added flavor:
My “Go To” additions to this basic brine recipe would be:
1/3 cup flavored vinegar- I prefer a garlic infused rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup of your favorite BBQ rub
You can add so much flavor from a variety of sources once your basic brine is made. Fresh herbs, spices, onions, garlic, just about anything will seep into the meat during the brining process.