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Our Mason-Dixon style of cooking relies on simple ingredients. Therefore, this Simple Guide To Brining Meats is a great way for you to start brining foods using common ingredients. Because most of the things that go into this brine are probably already in your cupboards, you can make this brine tonight. Let’s get started!
Enhancing the flavor of any recipe or cooking method is simple with a great brine. Because meats like pork, chicken, fish, and turkey benefit the most from brining, that is where we will focus . When making a brine, the kosher sea salt provides most of the flavor. However, a great brine should also have other flavor profiles present to compliment the sea salt.
Kosher Sea Salt
As we said before, Kosher Sea Salt is the workhorse of the brine. This is due to the fact that is very effective at penetrating deep into the meat. Because the salt penetrates into the meat, it breaks down some of the fibers. As a result, the meat is more tender. We can all agree that tender meat is juicer, as well. Because everyone likes juicy cuts of flavorful meat! However, if you don’t have Coarse Kosher Sea Salt, any salt that you have available can be used for your brine. Above all, make sure to cook the brine until the salt is completely dissolved. Finally, As a general rule you should use 1 tablespoon of salt for every cup of water.
Any great brine recipe will also contain some form of sugar. Because of their versatility around the kitchen, we prefer to use honey or brown sugar in our family’s brine recipes. For example, we prefer the bold, sweet flavor of brown sugar in our pork recipes. Because it has a slightly stronger flavor, it pairs well with the strong flavor of the meat. On the other hand, we add honey to recipes for fish, chicken or turkey. You really can’t go wrong with either choice, so experiment with different combinations and find out what your family likes best.
The recipe in the link below calls for honey because it is intended to brine a roaster chicken. However, you could easily substitute1/2 Cup of brown sugar for the 1/2 Cup of honey and get great results.
As we said before, a brine should have a host of different flavors. So, we would be crazy not to add spices to the brine. Therefore, we will infuse the meat with lovely aromatic flavors by adding some of our favorite spices.
Bay leaves are commonly used in soups and stews to keep them from tasting too heavy. In addition, Bay Leaves add a subtle and complex bitterness that contributes to the wonderful flavor component of brines.
Spices and Herbs
In addition, peppercorns can be described as having a spicy, fresh and earthy taste, so use them generously if you and your family enjoy these flavor profiles. Whole Black Peppercorns are definitely the best way to season your brines. That said, you do not have to use whole black peppercorns. In a pinch, ground black pepper, white pepper, or even paprika can be substituted. The flavor profiles will change slightly as a result, but that is OK. Also, we bunch together flavorful garlic, thyme, rosemary and parsley to simmer in the brine mixture. However, any roasting herbs could flavor the brine perfectly.
Lastly, your garlic should be smashed – not diced or chopped. By smashing the garlic under a knife blade you will damage the cell structure differently than chopping or mincing. As a result, it infuses a different flavor into the brine.
Lemons are generally added to chicken, fish and turkey brines. However, pork brines will usually call for apple cider or apple cider vinegar in place of the lemons. Because pork is generally considered tougher than poultry, the vinegar is more effective at breaking down the meat and making it more tender. However, the citrus flavor of the lemons compliments the earthy herbs and salty flavors perfectly for poultry dishes. Because every family is different, feel free to experiment with different combinations until you find your perfect mix.
Cooking Your Brine
Before we start cooking, we would like to cover the basics in our Simple Guide To Brining Meats. First, make sure to cook your brine in a pot large enough to hold the cut of meat that you plan to brine plus your liquid brine. Because your pots and pans may be different sizes, it may take a bit of experimentation to get the amount of liquid just right. Above all, you will want to ensure that your meat is fully submerged in brine. To avoid the issue of not having enough brine, always simmer more liquid than you think you will need. Because you can always drain off any excess liquid, there is no risk to making a larger batch.
Brining a chicken is simple, but you may just be starting out. If that is the case, and you don’t have a pot large enough, this 12-Quart pot is what we normally use for our roaster chickens. This pot is perfect because it leaves plenty of space for the brine to cover the entire bird without having to worry about sloshing / overflowing of liquids.
Brining a turkey may require significantly larger pot, so you may want to consider this 60-Quart Brew Kettle. Because it is designed to fit on a propane turkey fryer, and will hold birds up to 30 pounds.
Plan for one hour of cook time for your brine, but also plan for an hour of cooldown time. Above all, make sure you bring your water up to temperature because simmering is important to ensure that all of the flavors develop fully and mix well. Once your brine is full of flavor, it will need to cool for approximately an hour prior to adding your meat. It is very important that you take the time to allow your brine to cool to room temperature, so plan accordingly. By placing your meat in hot brine will start the cooking process, therefore boiling the meat. No one wants boiled turkey – Trust me!!
Brine Time Guidelines
It is possible to over-infuse or over-brine your meat, so make sure to consult the chart below for suggested brine times. Over-brining can also occur if there is too much salt in the mixture, so make sure you use one tablespoon of salt for every cup of water. Also, if you are concerned with the flavor of your meat you can cut off a small piece of meat and cook it. Once cooled, sample the meat to determine the flavor and saltiness of the brine.
|Meat Type||Cut||Brine Time|
|Chicken||Boneless Breast||2 Hours|
|Chicken||2 Lb. Roaster||4-6 Hours|
|Chicken||3-4 Lb. Roaster||8-12 Hours|
|Pork||4 Lb. Loin||12 Hours|
|Turkey||Boneless Breast||12-18 Hours|
|Turkey||10-15 Lb. Roaster||24 Hours|
|Turkey||15-30 Lb. Roaster||36 Hours|
Our Simple Guide To Brining Meats would not be complete without a bonus recipe!
Sweet & Savory Poultry Brine
Our Sweet & Savory Poultry Brine is a simple but delicious staple in our kitchen. This brine is perfect for chicken, turkey, or even pheasant. The fresh citrus flavor enhances the natural flavors of the meat without overpowering. In addition, the ingredients are simple and fresh! If you would like more information on brining, check out our Simple Guide to Brining Meats.
- 4 Quartered Lemons – Divided*
- Rosemary Bunch (Fresh) – Divided*
- Thyme Bunch (Fresh) – Divided*
- Parsley Bunch (Fresh) – Divided*
- 4-5 Garlic Cloves – Peeled & Smashed
- 1 TBSP Whole Black Peppercorn
- 4 Bay Leaves
- ½ Cup Honey
- 10 TBSP Coarse Kosher Sea Salt
- 10 Cups Water
*Split the lemons and the herb bunches in half. Use 2 lemons and half the herbs in the brine and the other half during cooking.
Because you need to allow the brine to cool after simmering, you should plan for this recipe to take two hours total. Also, it is very important that you allow the brine to cool down to room temperature before adding your meat to the brine.
- Select a pot large enough to hold ingredients and allows for meat to be fully submerged without overflowing.
- In a large pot, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil.
- Simmer for 15 minutes.
- Remove from heat source and let the brine cool to room temperature.
Once your brine has cooled to room temperature, you can add meat directly to your pot. Brine meat according to guidelines above. Larger cuts of meat will need to soak in brine longer because the flavors will need to penetrate further within the meat.
Because it is so simple and fresh, we make this brine all the time. This brine is also the used as the flavor base for our Mason-Dixon Smoked Chicken recipe! We hope you enjoyed our Simple Guide To Brining Meats.
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