Brining 101: Everything You Need to Know and 2 Ways to Do It

If you’ve never explored the glory of brining meat, you’re missing out. Lucky for you, we’re here to help! Brining gets a juicier, more tender protein and, some swear, a better crust or skin.

There are two kinds of brining – wet and dry. In both cases, it’s about salt being a foodie superhero. Brining is probably why you’ve loved other people’s Thanksgiving turkey more than you’ve liked your own. It’s the chef’s best-kept secret for saving dry, lean cuts of meat being cooked by dry heat. So, if you’re poaching or braising, this is a step you don’t need.

If you buy packaged meats, check the package to ensure salt isn’t listed as an ingredient. If so, it’s brined already.

Think wet brine for chicken, turkey, and pork, and dry brining for red meat and pork. Either way, what a difference it can make.

Wet Brining

After 18hours of brining ??vsco #vscocam #thebird #thanksgiving2015 #sinfullyspicy #turkeyday

A photo posted by Tanvi Srivastava (@sinfullyspicy) on

This is a salt bath, basically. Some will add sugar, which you’d think would sweeten the meat, but not really. Those who use it swear it gets a crispier skin on a roasted bird. If you web-search, you’ll find complex brines using many ingredients, but chill, Winston – you can keep it simple and use only salt and water if money and time are a hassle for you. Here’s a simple basic brining method for you.

If, however, you feel fancy and want to go big, you can use brining ingredients that complement the meal you’re making. Personally? I agree with those who believe all that fussing just makes brine expensive and doesn’t do much for your bird. Still, others do love it, and here are some suggestions if you’d like to try that method.

Doing a Thai stir fry? Bruise some lime leaves, lemongrass, slice some ginger, and toss in a chunked-up onion for an aromatic brine that’ll put subtle flavor in that chicken.

Making ribs? Brine works for that, too! This is one time I add to my brine. I’ve always brined my ribs for a full day before dry-rubbing overnight, and then grilling them. I add some molasses or brown sugar to that salt water, maybe a bunch of crushed garlic cloves. Is it helping? I don’t know, but everyone loves my ribs.

For seasonal turkeys, it’s not uncommon for people to add onion, brown sugar, oranges, and cloves to a brine.

If using thinner cuts, put them in brine before you leave for work and take them out when you get home, get them dry before you cook with them. For whole roasts and birds, you’ll want to brine for as much as 18 to 24 hours.

It’s critical that meat be fully submerged in the brining liquid and refrigerated for the duration. Because it tends to be a longer process, bacteria can pose a hazard. Follow the procedures, and it’ll be fine.

Dry Brining

Pre-salted chicken, with cumin and black pepper, for tonight's dinner. #drybrine #catskills #homecooking

A photo posted by Michael Bailey (@michaelbailey) on

This is essentially about salting your meats, or what they considered “curing” in the older days. The salt will initially remove moisture but when you leave it long enough, it will redistribute the juices and infuse flavor deep in the meat.

The quantity of salt is something people differ on. The general take is about ½ teaspoon crushed kosher salt per pound, but that’d be non-existent on most steaks and chops. So, you know, take that quantity suggestion with, um, a grain of salt. I use more. It’s open for discussion.

For dry brining, there are two options again, go plain with salt. This is trusty. Unlike with wet brining, though, anything you add to a dry brine will definitely season your meat. So, mix salt with pinches of sugar and dried herbs, and crush them in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

Rub this all over your meat, stick it in a plastic bag, and let it rest for up to a couple days in the fridge. It’s essentially the art of “dry rubbing.”

Get Cooking

There’s no need to rinse your brined meats. From turkey to steaks, all you want to do is pat them dry with paper towel and proceed as you normally would with your chosen recipes.

Once you’ve tasted the difference, you’ll never go un-brined again.

Read More: 16 Thanksgiving Side Dishes So Good, You Might Forget About the Turkey