Brining has become synonymous with Thanksgiving turkey, but it's such a great technique that we've started using it all year round for all sorts of different meats! We like to throw pork chops and chicken breasts in a quick brine for extra oomph before continuing on with the rest of the recipe.
Brining is the process of submerging a cut of meat in a brine solution, which is simply salt dissolved in water. The meat absorbs extra liquid and salt, resulting in a juicier and more flavorful final dish. This technique is particularly great for lean cuts of meat that tend to dry out during cooking!
Basic brine ratio: The basic ratio of salt to water for a brine is 4 tablespoons of salt per 1 quart (4 cups) of water.
In a container large enough to hold your meat (and preferably with a lid to avoid sloshing), dissolve the salt in the water. Add your meat. If there's not quite enough liquid to cover, add a solution of 1 cup of water and 1 tablespoon of salt until the meat is completely submerged. Cover the container and refrigerate.
Since it's so large, a turkey ideally needs to be brined overnight—for about 12 hours. Smaller cuts like pork chops or chicken breast for weeknight dinners take far less time and are typically ready to be cooked in 1/2 hour to an hour.
To infuse your meat with extra flavor, throw some extra spices and aromatics into your brine that will complement the finished dish. Making our Pork Stir-fry with Asparagus and Sugar Snap Peas? Try adding a few slivers of ginger into the brine. For roasted chickens, add lemon rind and a few sprigs of rosemary or thyme. Some folks also like adding sugar (about 2 tablespoons per quart) into the brine to lightly sweeten the meat.
One quick note: brining is really more of a technique for dry heat preparations like roasting and grilling. The flavor and texture difference isn't as great when braising and poaching in liquid.
Do you brine your meat? What's your favorite recipe?
(Image credits: Emma Christensen)