Chapter 1 – The “Why”
and “What” of Brining
Cures in Brines
Chapter 2 – Common
Questions and Answers about Brining
Chapter 3 – Basic Times
How Long to Brine?
Chapter 4 – Brining
Simple Brine II
Smokin’ Okie’s Holiday
Federation Brined Turkey
BBQ FAQ Brining Recipes
Shake’s Honey Brine &
Smokin Okie’s Original
Simple Brine III
Simple Pork Brine
Chapter 5 – Brining
“Tips & Tricks”
Chapter 6 – References
Chapter 1 – The “Why” and “What” of
Brine or Not to Brine – That is the Question.
We’ve all had that
chicken or turkey that really tasted dry and tough and chewy after
smoking. Ever had leftovers that were dry? Brining may be one solution
to help you with these problems.
Brining gets a lot of
questions and interest and this is my attempt to try and help you learn
about it. I’m not an expert, just someone who’s been doing it a while
and I’ve learned a lot through research and trial and error. I’ll
provide information and sources here hopefully to help you understand
why you WANT to do this for your next piece of poultry.
Give this Brining 101 a
read and try it.
Let me know what you
think. You can email me at
If you want more
information, please see my links in “references.”
If you already know
about brining, skip the “background” and go to the next chapter.
Brining is not new.
Soaking food in salt water has been used by cooks and restaurants for
many years. Lately however, with the advent of the Internet, we’re able
to share information and learn about new methods much easier and faster
and Brining has now become a “hot” topic.
According to the Food
Safety and Inspection Service1 the verb "brine" means to
treat with or steep in brine. Brine is a strong solution of water and
salt. A sweetener such as sugar, molasses, honey, or corn syrup may be
added to the solution for flavor and to improve browning.
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. Brining in a saltwater mixture before you smoke typically will
add flavor, tenderness and typically reduces cooking times. 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
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. According to David Krauss, a
professor of biology at Boston College, 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 to change and trap more
moisture. Combine Protein Modification and Salt and you get a reduced
moisture loss during smoking.
The results: juicier,
tender and more flavorful.
There are a lot of brines out there that
include “cures”. Cures are also from the old school before
refrigeration, you needed to cure the meat to store it. Bacteria LOVES
to grow in meats when they are in the temperature range of 40ºF to 140ºF
and cures help prevent this growth. If you are not sure you can
guarantee that your brine will stay below 40ºF during the brining soak,
you may want to use a brine with a cure in it. Cures go by the names of
Tenderquick, Prague Powder, and others.
According to Morton Salt2:
Brine curing is also popular for curing
meat. This method is also called a sweet pickle cure. Brine curing
involves mixing the curing salt with water to make a sweet pickle
solution. The meat is cured with this brine by injecting the brine using
a meat pump or by soaking the meat for a specific time. Curing takes
place in the refrigerator and the meat is cooked after curing. Often
larger cuts of meat and poultry such as hams and turkeys are injected
with a sweet pickle cure. Smaller products including whole chickens and
fish may be soaked in a curing brine solution.
- Brining actually provides a cushion for cooking, so you can even overcook by a few degrees and the item will remain moist
- Instead of seasoning outside – brining puts the flavor inside
- Because water is a heat conductor you will typically find that a brined item will cook faster than an non-brined item
Below are some of the
questions I’ve been asked about Brining. Do you have any? Send me
"What's the difference between brining and marinating?"
Brining involves salt and osmosis to exchange the fluid in the brine with the
water inside the meat. Marinating used acidity to break down the texture of the
meat. You can actually do both if your marinate has salt in it.
Can I adjust the amount of salt in the brine without affecting the
As long as you follow the basic and have a salty solution, Osmosis will
have the desired effect. Although if you adjust it below 1 cup or 3/4
cup, you’re just “soaking” in salt water, not brining. Just because a
brine has salt in it, however, doesn’t mean you’re going to get a salty
end product. Try two things.
One: rinse the meat really well to get the salt off
the outside (remember, Osmosis puts the salt solution inside so you’re not
washing off the flavors).
Two: add a sugar (white,
turbinado, brown) to your solution to cut the salt, try for example 2/3
cup of Kosher salt and 2/3 cup of white sugar to a gallon of water.
recommend starting with a recipe and it’s amount of salt, try these two
tricks and see if that gives you the desire effect. Remember, brining
requires a specific concentration of salt to water. Don’t cut back too
The end product, after smoking, tastes over-seasoned and looks “mushy.”
See the discussion about the
affect of acidity on a brine solution. Also, anything left in a brine
too long will taste over-seasoned. Keep good logs and what you brined,
how long it was brined and the results. Next time you’ll know how long
is “too long.”
My brine doesn’t have sugar in it and sometimes the chicken comes out so
off, uh, gray looking.
Add some sugar to your brine. The same reason that you use sugar for
carmelization in regular cooking will work here. But be careful, if you
add too much sugar to a brine and use it on pork – you’ll get a hammy
taste. A sugar brine is what is used by many companies to create their
hams. Now you know!
Can you change flavors with brine? Can you add additional flavors to the
brine easily (herbs, spices, etc.)?
Once you’ve tried a brine,
experiment. Just like any recipe, feel free to modify the other
flavorings and spices, but the salt/water mixture/ratio shouldn’t be
you can keep your brined fowl down below 38ºF the entire time, and are
always cooking to an internal of 160ºF+, is TenderQuick necessary?
Possibly. The purpose of
TenderQuick is food safety. If you keep your brine below 40ºF, you’re
not in the Food Safety DANGER ZONE of 40ºF to 140ºF.
Why do I have to let the solution cool before I add the meat?
See answer above about temperature. Remember, remember,
remember the DANGER ZONE for 40ºF to 140ºF. Avoid at all cost! If you
add a hot solution and create a brine that’s in this range (mix a hot
solution and cold water and it WILL be in this range) you’re asking for
trouble. And, NO, you can’t add it to a really hot brine – then you’re
Why Kosher Salt? Can’t I use table or regular sea salt?
There are some very significant differences in the amount of salt, by
weight in kosher salt vs. regular salt. You can’t substitute them one
for one. I suggest the larger, coarser Kosher so that you get a more
consistent brine. If you MUST use regular salt, I would recommend
decreasing salt by ½ the amount to start with.
can't find Tenderquick or Kosher Salt at the local grocery store's. I
found some Morton's Pickling & Canning Salt, Will this work? What does
TenderQuick do, are there replaceable products? Do I need a “cure” in
there or just use salt?
Cures are NOT required in
brines. I always used them early in my brining trials because that is
what the recipe called for. But in doing a lot of research, it’s not
required. It is a cure and as such, is typically used in places where
you’re worried about the Food Safety DANGER ZONE of 40°F to
140°F. You don’t have to have the cure if you’re sure of your
temperatures. Keep it below 40°F. Pickling Salt will work. Don’t
use other salts than Kosher (keep reading, there is more info below).
You can find it, believe me, it’s in every store.
is the cook's reason to brine, anyway?
See the section on Brining Background and you’ll understand why it is
something you should try.
long to brine and is there too long? Can you brine too long? Does the
weight of the bird matter?
See the brine time section for recommended times. As far as the bird
just follow the directions in the basic brine times and adjust if your
bird is bigger. You can brine too long, so follow the recommended times,
or less, never add more time.
Does the strength of the brine matter (dilution factor)?
if you don’t have a high enough solution of salt to liquid, you’re just
soaking. I haven’t seen a specified percentage, but the minimum I
usually see is 3/4 cup of Kosher salt to 1 gal or water. The scientist
out there can tell us if that’s 20% solution or not.
Can you brine a frozen bird?
No. The brine and osmosis won’t be able to work on a frozen product and
if you let the bird since in a salty solution longer than recommended,
you’ll have a less than good quality bird – mushy and over-seasoned.
Should I use a rub if I brined my bird?
don’t have too. It will depend on the flavorings of the brine. A lot of
times I do, so that the outside gets a nice flavor from the rub and the
insides gets more flavors from the brine.
How scared should I be brining & cooking a bird for a party of 15 if
I've never brined before? In other words, how hard is it? And, is it
easy to screw up?
I’ve seen you cook and you should be real scared. No, really. Okay, I’m
teasing. I always recommend practicing before any large party. You may
not like the particular herbs/seasonings in a particular rub. Get to
know the effects and flavors of brining before your party. Remember the
first time you smoked a brisket – would you feed that to your friends?
Practice, but don’t tell them when you do it and see if they notice –
Can you brine and inject?
You don’t need to, if you’re going to inject the brine. Osmosis works
for you – so you don’t have to. Now, if you want to inject your own
flavorings after the brine, feel free.
you pay attention to lowering the salt in your rub, if you use a
traditional salt brine?
Question. Many cooks don’t realize how much salt is in everything
they’re using. By using a brine, you’re adding more. As I always
recommend, you’ll have to be the judge, so if you’re worried about being
too “salty”, cut back the salt somewhere. Most of my rub recipes have
little to no salt in them for this reason, so I can add salt as needed.
nutritionists say honey breaks down at 160ºF,so should you wait till
after you boil the brine and it cools some to add the honey?
not a food nutritionist, but I haven’t notice a lack of honey taste in
my Honey Brine because I put the honey in when it was too hot. I mix my
brines by putting the salts and sugars into solution and bring it to a
rolling boil. Then I take it off the heat and add the honey. If you
want, wait until you solution cools below 160ºF before adding your
Can the brine be used for a second time for the same food type?
Safety 101 – Don’t every reuse a brine once it’s had food in it. I’m
sure the food scientists out there can tell us how and when and why you
might be able to, but I don’t recommend doing it. The whole issue is
cross-contamination, do you want to get food poisoning? Nope, not me. If
you feel you can accomplish food safety and reuse a brine, it’s all up
of water, can I use something else, like Coca-Cola, Orange Juice, Apple
Juice, Beer, Etc?
Trick question, but a good one. Yes you can substitute other liquids for
the water that is the base for a brine – BUT – and this is a big but,
don’t make the solution acidic. Remember that a brine uses osmosis and
marinades use acid. If you make your solution acidic (like using a
orange/citrus juice) you’ll actually get a mushy exterior on the
meat. The reason is the length of time your brine works vs. the length
of time for a marinade. You can use a little acid, but if you add too
much, watch out for the effect that acid has on your meat. If you do
add acid, reduce your brining time accordingly.
refrigerator isn’t big enough to hold the brine in a big bucket, what do
another refrigerator! (Sorry, bad humor). Be creative, but remember two
things: temperature and air are your enemies. Keep the temperature below
40Fº and the meat completely covered by brine. Once the solution is
made, you can break it up into smaller quantities. For example, take a
zip lock back, put 4 to 6 chicken breast in there and add brine to
cover, close it after squeezing out the air and you’ll do fine. For
turkey, I’ve see people add the brine to a larger garbage bag (clean one
of course) add the turkey, seal it. Then place this inside a larger bag,
incase the first one leaks. Just keep temperature and air in mind.
I brine pork?
Answer: Since the worm that
causes Trichinosis is no longer present in American pork, it is now safe
enough that it doesn't have to be cooked well done. However, Jim
McKinney, chef-owner of Club Grotto in Louisville, KY, couldn't convince
his customers of that. "If they see pink in a pork chop, they think
they're going to get sick," he says. By brining his 12-ounce pork chop
for 24 hours in a mixture of kosher salt, brown sugar, fresh rosemary
and juniper berries, some of the blood is drawn out and McKinney can
cook it to just 140ºF degrees without hearing any complaints. "And the
flavor it packs is incredible," he says. His brine is 28 percent salt
and 10 percent brown sugar3.
Chapter 3 – Basic Times for
It all depends (don’t
you love that answer)? The size of the item your brining, the relative
strength of the brine and your individual preferences will all make a
difference. I highly recommend you experiment, keep good notes and
you’ll determine your own answer. Before you experiment, read the
Questions and Answers chapter for some ideas and concerns about changing
times and solutions.
These are “sample”
times. Feel free to adjust –SLIGHTY- but remember:
If you’re worried about
your first brine, go with a time in the middle of the range. If that
was too salty, try lowering your time. After than, you can adjust your
solution if you still think it’s too salty (see the Q&A section for
8 to 12 hours
1 1/2 hours
24 - 48 hours
5 - 10 hours
12 - 24 hours
12 - 24 hours
If you’re new to brining, read all the
information in the Q&A section for some of the common mistakes and
To prepare your
solution, there are two methods. Remember that whatever your mixing
needs to be thoroughly into solution before using.
Method 1: Cold. Dissolve salt in a cold or room
temperature water, add other ingredients and mix thoroughly. All
solution to set overnight. Then use.
Method 2: Heated. Mix salt, sugar and water in a
pot and bring to a low/rolling boil. Take off the heat and add other
flavorings. Let cool.
When brining, always use
stainless steel, glass or food-grade plastic containers.
Totally submerge in
solution and store in a refrigerator for the recommended time.
As a general starting
point, take one gallon of water and add 3/4 cup (preferable - but you
can use up to a cup) of salt (Kosher is best), 1/2 cup of sugar and then
the rest is up to you. Sliced onions are nice, a few cloves of crushed
garlic add a nice flavor and then there's the spices and herbs.
Simple Brine II:
- ½ cup Kosher salt
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 gallon water
Smokin’ Okie’s Holiday Turkey Brine:
- 3/4 cup Kosher salt
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 gallon water
- 1/4 cup coarse black pepper
- 1 gallon water
- 1 cup coarse Kosher salt
- 3/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 4 tablespoons black pepper
- 3 - 4 tablespoons chopped garlic
- 1 teaspoon Allspice
- 1 oz. Morton’s Tenderquick (optional)
much is an Ounce?”
2 tablespoons =
6 teaspoons = ounce
to rolling boil. Take off burner, add other ingredients. Allow mixture
to cool before placing meat into solution.
Place 10 - 12 lb. turkey
in non-reactive container and cover with brine. Refrigerate for minimum
of 24 hours, preferably 48 hours.
Load smoker’s wood box
with 4 oz. hickory wood.
Remove turkey from the
refrigerator and discard brine. Rinse turkey three times, pat dry and
lightly rub skin with mayonnaise. Apply light coating of Cookshack Spicy
Chicken Rub. Place turkey in smoker and smoke cook at 200ºF for one hour
per lb. I like cherry or apple wood for my turkey. Smoke until internal
temperature of breast reaches 160ºF to 165ºF. Remove from smoker and
allow to sit for 30 minutes before slicing.
Note: About the
If you smoke a turkey at temperatures of 180º to 225º F., you might want
to consider using the Tenderquick. The turkey will be spending a lot of
time in the DANGER ZONE of 40ºF to 140ºF, so just be aware of this. If
in doubt, use the Tenderquick.
Shake’s Honey Brine & Fried turkey
Smokin Okie’s Original Brine
1/2 gallon will do 2
turkeys; 2 oz each leg, 2 oz each thigh, 4 oz each breast.
- 1 gallon water
- 1 cup pickling salt
- 1 oz tender quick (2 tbsp)
- 1 cup honey
- 3 bay leaves
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp pickle spice
- 1 gallon water
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1 ounce Tenderquick
- 1 cup honey
- 3 bay leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon pickling spices
1 cup Kosher salt
- 1/2 cup molasses
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 cup cracked black pepper
- 1/4 cup crushed red peppers
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
Try this with pork
chops. Brine for eight hours, using the largest pork chops you can find
(reduce for smaller pork chops). After brining, sprinkle the pork chops
with the rub and let sit for one hour. Smoke or grill to an internal
temperature of 130ºF to 135ºF.
Use a piece of flattened
out tenderloin (or even chicken tenderloin). Since you’re using a
smaller piece of meat, brine for 2 hours. Bread and cook as you would a
normal tenderloin –delicious.
Add ¼ of Bourbon to your
National Turkey Federation Brined Turkey
Because water is a heat conductor you will typically find
that a brined item will cook faster than an non-brined item
If you want your poultry to have a golden and crispy skin it needs to
sit in the refrigerator for several hours after you remove it from the
brine so that the meat can absorb the moisture from the skin. Whole
poultry is the exception however. To get a crispy, brown skin whole
birds should be removed from the brine, wrapped in foil or plastic and
put in the refrigerator overnight or for at least 12 hours.
The saltier the brine, the shorter time is required. And the brine will
penetrate a chicken breast or pork chop much faster than a large thick
muscle like a whole pork loin or turkey.
Water is optional. Any liquid will do for brining; just keep in mind my
discussion about being too acid. You can substitute some or all of the
water with whatever you heart desires. Wine, beer, fruit juices
(especially good is apple), or vinegars all make a good liquid base for
your brine. Just remember our discussion about making the brine to
acidic. If you add more acid to your mixture, I would decrease the
Any herb, spice, sweetener, fruit, vegetable will work; let your
imaginations run wild. Think of a brine as a soup, there can be a lot of
complexity in soup or just simple ones.
You need enough brine to completely submerge the meat without
any part being out of the liquid. Some items might need to be weighted
down to stay under.
How much liquid will you need? Take the meat you plan to brine and place
it in the container. Cover with liquid. Now you know! Measure the amount
and you’ll know how much brine to make.
Almost any container will work as long as it’s non-reactive to salt.
You don't want the brine cooking the meat, always add your meat to a
cold brine, not a hot one.
You don’t need to boil the entire gallon of liquid to create your
brine. Start with a quart, add your salts and sugars and create a super
saturated solution. After boiling, mix your remaining liquid,
thoroughly; this way you don’t have to use a really big pot to boil
with. If you need to cool this super solution down quickly, mix with ice
Lighter more tender meats needs less brining time.
Denser meats like pork, need longer times.
Remember that the longer you brine the stronger the flavor will be.
Tip: You do not need to rinse unless you were
using a high salt concentration in the brine.
Want to preserve the color of the meat? Add 1 tablespoon of Cure
(Saltpeter, Tenderquick, Prague Powder) per gallon of liquid This will
help. Another trick used by chefs is to add 1 tablespoon of Saltpeter
per gallon of liquid. If the color is important to you, consider the
There are so many people
throughout the Internet that have “helped” in the production of this, by
asking me questions and providing information. I’d like to thank them
all, but I can’t. I have tried to credit those who have provided
Special thanks to the
Members of the Cookshack Forum for all their questions and help!
A Great resource for
Brining, and the original inspiration for this “update” on brining, is
the BBQ FAQ Brining article. See this information, by Mikey Lulejian at
Special Thanks to Shake
for my very first brine was
Shake’s Honey Brine
Chronicle Staff Writer n article:
“ READY FOR BRINE TIME”
contact the author, SmokinOkie, if you have any questions or