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GrillinFool 10-07-2011 12:32 PM

To Brine or not to Brine? That is the question...
This is a blog post that I put up today, but thought I would bring it here, in its entirety to get some discussion going.

Brining is becoming more and more popular, particularly with poultry. There is little debate as to whether or not to brine a chicken or a turkey. Most people agree that it improves the flavor of the bird. But what about other meats? Pork or even beef? I recently did side by side, blind taste tests on both but will focus on the pork here, and in this case ribs

First a little about brining. What is a brine? In the simplest term itís salt water. But doesnít salt dry things out? Normally it does, but in this case it does the exact opposite. See, the salt forces water out of the salt water solution and in a situation when that solution surrounds a piece of meat, the only place for the liquid to go is into the meat. So it makes meat juicier. Salt water also breaks down connective tissue and thus makes meat more tender. If you stopped there you would be ahead of most people. But thereís one more step to take to another level. What if that fluid moving from the salt solution into the meat wasnít water but something like root beer, pumpkin ale, or apple cider? Then it also adds flavor.

To summarize, brining moisturizes, tenderizes and flavorizes the meat. Itís hard to argue with this as these are facts, but still itís something that is hotly debated. Many argue that there is no need to brine as the rub is all one needs to add flavor to meat. I agree that rub adds a lot of flavor. But that doesnít preclude a brine from adding flavor. Adding granulated garlic to ribs adds a lot of flavor, doesnít mean I shouldnít also add brown sugar or paprika or pepper or all three to add even more.

If you still donít believe me, then keep reading about the somewhat scientific experiment I did where I had 7 guys each taste two ribs, cooked identically except for one detail, one was brined. I didnít tell them until after they sampled which rib was brined.

First the brine

1 quart apple cider
2 tbsp minced garlic
1/4 cup table salt
10 turns black pepper
10 turns white pepper

The basic idea here is 1 gallon of fluid per cup of salt. This is plenty for 2-3 slabs of ribs. If you plan on doing more or less than that, just remember to keep the ratio of 1 gallon of water to 1 cup of salt. Get creative with the fluid. Iíve used pomegranate, apple juice, sprite, root beer, and plain old water.

You can use whatever rub you want for this experiment as long as the rubs are identical. In this case I used my pumpkin rub.

1 tbsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tbsp granulated garlic
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tbsp paprika
5 turns black pepper
5 turns white pepper

This is enough for a slab of ribs, if you want to make more, keep the ratio the same: 1 part each of pumpkin pie spice, granulated garlic and brown sugar to a half part paprika. No salt is listed in this rub as I will get to that later.

I had 7 guys coming over for this massive home tailgating session I did for the opening of the NFL season so I cut off the last few bones off a slab to make it only 8 ribs (one for each of my guests and one for me). You can see the small remainder of the slab on the left and me pointing to the 8 bone slab on the right:

I did the same thing with another similar slab of ribs for the brined slab.
For the 8 bone slab above, I applied the rub liberally the night before to both sides, always bone side first so the rub doesnít stick to the cutting board when I flip them over to rub the other side:

The natural concave of the ribs allows the rub to be elevated over the cutting board and not stick to it.

I placed the ribs in a ziplock bag.

I combined the brine ingredients and put the 8 bone slab and a couple other half slabs into the brine:

Hereís a closeup of the rubbed ribs in the bag:

The next day, I removed the brined ribs from the bag and rinsed the brine off and patted them dry with a paper towel and applied the rub:

I added no salt to the ribs above as the brine handled that for me. For the ribs I rubbed the night before, I gave them a liberal coating of coarse salt before going on the grill manufacturer that shall not be named:

I went with the high heat method which is indirect grilling of the baby back ribs at 275-300 for two hours with pear wood.

Here are the ribs on the grill, the arrows indicating which two are part of the experiment:

After two hours I pulled the ribs, let them rest for about five minutes and sliced:

And then these guys tried one of each:

From left to right thatís Brian, Arthur, David and Shane. The other three were Scott, Erik, and Roy (not pictured) as well as myself. Of the blind taste testers, the brined rib got all 7 votes as well as one from me, but I knew which was which.

How is the brined rib different? It has a certain sweetness that is not in the unbrined rib. Itís got a couple more levels of flavor and is juicier. If you still have doubts, all you have to do is try this experiment yourself. You donít need to have a bunch of people do it blind. All you need is taste them yourself and you will never go back to rub only. This is the third time Iíve done this blind experiment on others and have yet to have a single person prefer the unbrined rib.

JMSetzler 10-07-2011 12:41 PM

I have never tried brining anything yet but it's on my agenda. I will try it first with a chicken. As for beef and pork, I'm not as likely to try it because I think it, as with marinades (which is basically the same thing as a brine) tends to change the flavor of those meats. In my humble and uneducated opinion, I believe that pork and beef stand well on their own without much help where chicken and turkey seem to benefit from some added flavor.

GrillinFool 10-07-2011 04:03 PM

I expected more discussion on this. :shrug:

Ah well...

HeSmellsLikeSmoke 10-07-2011 04:13 PM

OK, I will take a stab at getting more discussion going.

Not to put to fine a point on it but brine is salt suspended in water. Marinade is a flavored liquid, which may or may not contain salt.

Brining makes the meat juicier. Marinade makes the meat more flavorful.

I think what you are describing is marinade.

sullysQ 10-07-2011 04:32 PM

Don't forget fish, brine them suckers too! especially salmon.

Copied from somewhere, probably here or someone's blog from here :-)

Brine For Oily Or Strong Tasting Fish

1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 Tbs garlic powder
1 Tbs onion powder
2 quarts water

1 Fill a large container with 1/2 quart of warm water. Add ingredients. Mix thoroughly until well dissolved. Add the remaining 1 1/2 quarts of water.
2 Immerse prepared fish chunks, filets or small whole fish completely in brine solution. Refrigerate fish in brine solution. Brine chunks of fish of fish 1" thick for about 5 up to 8 hours, 1/2" thick for about 4 hours, and for thinner filets or pieces 2-3 hours.
3 After brining, always rinse your fish with plenty of fresh water. Pat the fish dry, and allow them to air dry for about 1 hour. This will cause a "pellicle" (a tacky glaze on the fish) to form indicating that it is ready for the drying and smoking process

NATIONSM30 10-07-2011 08:00 PM

I brine almost everything I smoke, and a lot of what I grill. Especially all wild game, I just don't like a strong wild game flavor, and it truly helps it out. But I also brine all pork, chicken, turkey.....never tried it with beef though, never thought beef needed any help. But I agree, it makes a big difference.

Dallas Dan 10-07-2011 09:34 PM

Very interesting. I've never considered brining ribs. I've only brined chicken and turkey. I will def have to give this a try. Thank you for the post! :thumb:

ianjoe 10-07-2011 09:53 PM

Great post. Glad to see someone try a side by side comparison. I am definitely in camp brine when it comes to poultry and lean cuts of pork. I'll have to try brining ribs sometime. A lot of times though its nice to keep prep to a minimum. I have done pork butts as well, but I usually don't feel the extra work pays off.

Hoosier1960 10-07-2011 10:16 PM

I do think brining makes a big difference. I have not tried brining beef as everything I have read and the chefs I have discussed it with do not recommend it.

blues_n_cues 10-08-2011 06:11 AM

to me, brining beef is a waste- you want some blood in the muscle it makes a lot of the flavor.that's why you never find "enhanced" beef in a store unless possibly a packer brisket or corned brisket.

brining ribs & then rubbing overnight definitely makes for a "hammy" rib in my experiences.

if you buy your avg. "enhanced in 12% solution" meats then they are in effect already brined.

when it comes to most poultry or pork, if all i can find is "enhanced in solution" products i give them a fresh water soak & change the water a couple times-just like you would w/ a regular brine.

disclaimer-these are just my personal experiences.

southernstyle 10-08-2011 06:28 AM

i have done this also, and the ribs do have a hammy taste and texture unless your brine is flavored like the above recipe. this is a good way to impart flavor and moisture into the cells not like a marinade that flavors the surface of the meat. i have done ribs numerous times. a good example is kosmo q pork soak mix with peach necter or aj. if you foil your ribs for texture and tenderness you really dont have to with brinned ribs. it does speed up the tenderness process because the ribs are steaming their self from the inside out. if you try this please start checking them earlier than your normal times. if you cook them low and slow you might not even have to spritz them. you will notice they have moisture on the surface most of the cook. experimenting is the key

Wampus 10-08-2011 07:31 AM

GREAT post. It's kind of hard to argue whether brining helps or not, when you've had a blind taste test and 100% of the testers voted for the brined ribs! Not that I intended to argue the point. I think it's just plain science, brining that is. It's osmosis at work.

There have been a couple of comments about marinades, even that what you've used in your experiment was a marinade. I wholly disagree with this. Just to make sure I'm not crazy, I looked up both brine and marinade.

According to Webster's:

MARINADE: Mixtures of vinegar or wine and oil with various spices and seasonings; used for soaking foods before cooking.
BRINE: Water containing salts.

This reinforced what I thought I already knew about marinades....that they contain oil and vinegar. Now, I'm not sure about the science or reasoning for this, but what you have used was definitely NOT a marinade, but a brine since it contained no vinegar or oil.

IN MY OPINION marinades only really work for small cuts (steak, chops, chicken parts, etc). A marinade typically has very strong, intense flavors that only require a relatively short time to work, typically less than an hour. In fact, there are many 10 minute maridades out there. A brine, however, requires much more time to do it's magic. As I understand it, the salt literally does extract the moisture from the meat and THEN, by the basic law of equilibrium (sp?), since there is an absence of liquid in the meat, but it is completely surrounded by the brine, the liquid (containing salt and whatever other flavors are in it) is then forced back into the fibers of the meat, not only replacing the amount of liquid in the meat, but putting MORE moisture into it than was originally present. THEN, when cooked, the moisture remains in the meat.

Now, the only thing (IN MY OPINION) that is really up for debate, is whether the salt flavor is too intense. I propose that it has to do with not only personal taste and preference, but also the amount of salt in the brine. Most everyone will agree that the reason salt has been used for centuries in cooking is that it enhances the already present flavor of whatever it is added to. TOO MUCH salt, in any circumstance, just makes the food taste salty, so to me, it's about balance. Let's face it....many brine recipes even offer a sort of disclaimer. They say, "Don't brine for too long or the meat will be too salty or hammy."

There have been many comments made in past threads about brining that it makes a red meat taste "hammy". Personal preference aside, of course, I would propose that there was too much salt in the brine used or the meat was brined for too long. The perfect balance, then, can only really come from lots of practice and trial/error, which kind of sucks.

Others will argue that there's no need to brine meats with a lot of marbled fat, such as ribs or pork shoulder. They'll say that brining, while working well with lean meats such as chicken and pork loin, is just a waste on a pork shoulder roast that uses rendered fat as a flavor and moisture enhancer. While I personally think that brining can only help, I also understand this argument. The benefit may be negligible. To me, I like brining chickens and turkeys because it's really easy to overcook and dry out the birds. It's pretty tough to dry out and ruin a pork butt. Most every butt I've done turn out real juicy and flavorful.

Bottom line? For me.....given time and planning, I will ALWAYS brine poultry. Period. I have yet to try a pork shoulder or other red meat, but I cannot see why it wouldn't enhance the flavor if done properly.

Still, I appreciate your efforts here and posting the results. Again....a blind side-by-side taste test is pretty much the definitive contest on an issue like this.

That's my 2 cents.

......OK....I guess that was more like 3 or 4 cents...:roll::becky:

42BBQ 10-08-2011 07:56 AM

great post, very thorough test given your available resources. After reading this post I WILL TRY BRINING RIBS. Of course with the caveat that I will give it a try and if I like it, I'll keep doing it, and if I don't, I won't :) The beauty of cooking for ones self! Everyone has their own preferences with taste so everyone will have a slightly different experience. Just ask the comp cooks if they normally get identical feedback from six different judges sitting at a table lol. But again, excellent post.

NS Mike D 10-08-2011 10:01 AM

To me, I only brine to help keep moisture in or very low fat meats (ie poultry and pork chops).

So it never dawned on me to use it on ribs.

I find a lot of the commerical rubs already too salty, so I would hesitate on brining ribs.

And yet, this thread has me rethinking and I have yet another experiment to try.

I like the idea of another subtle layer of flavor. And I have the feeling that the extra moisture might help achieve that elusive balance between having bite that will leave teeth marks, and yet will pull off the bone cleanly.

K-Barbecue 10-08-2011 10:26 AM

Just gives me another excuse to experiment

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