Since we just released our new Game Changer® All Purpose Brine to the market, I thought it would be a good idea to provide some in-depth information about what brines are, what they're not, and how best to use them.
Brines have been around for possibly thousands of years in one form or another. However, recently they have enjoyed a renascence of sorts in the culinary community, especially in backyard and competition barbecue circles. It's no surprise, as a good brine will help greatly increase the level of moisture in cooked proteins, and if flavoring agents are added to the brine, they also pump that flavor directly into the meat.
Sometimes brines are likened to marinades, however, they are quite different. Marinades utilize an acid plus flavoring agents to actually "cook" or denature proteins, which results in meat becoming more tender and also some of the flavor found in the marinade is transferred to the meat and retained through the cooking process. However, most marinades only affect the surface of the meat and rarely penetrate any deeper than a quarter of an inch into the meat itself.
Brines on the other hand, use no acid in their formulation. Instead, they rely on the chemical processes of osmosis and diffusion to actually "pump" themselves deep into the meat protein. In doing so, they carry the flavored liquid along for the ride and the result is meat that is flavored throughout with much higher moisture content resulting in a juicy, flavorful finished product.
To illustrate this point, during a recent cooking session for an up-coming post I'm working on for competition chicken, I took 8 chicken thighs and three boneless/skinless chicken breasts and rinsed them off and dried them with paper towels. Then, I placed them into a gallon zip-top bag and weighed them on my extremely precise digital scale...
Then, I poured one half-gallon of full strength Game Changer® All Purpose Brine (mixed with plain water) into the bag and squeezed out all the air. This was placed on a sheet pan to catch any leaks and then into the fridge for 1½ hours...
After exactly 1½ hours, I pulled them from the fridge and poured off the used brine. Then I rinsed each piece under running water and dried each piece with paper towels. The brined, rinsed & dried chicken was put into a new clean zip-top bag and then reweighed on the scale...
If you do the math, the difference was 87 grams. If you're like me, I had no idea how much 87 grams of water is, so I put a measuring cup on the scale, zeroed it out and began pouring in water until I hit 87 grams...
WOW! That's over a third of a cup!
This clearly shows how powerful Game Changer® is! It literally packed over a third of a cup of water into that batch of chicken in just an hour and a half! And let me tell you, as you'll see in the up-coming post, the resulting chicken was SUPER JUICY!
Our Game Changer® All Purpose Brine is powerful, and should not be used like a rub. It may be mixed with plain water or any other non-acidic liquid like low-sodium chicken broth, apple juice, ginger ale or beer, just be sure the liquid you use is low in salt or else the proper mixture ratio will be compromised.
Always check meat package labeling for statements stating something like "Enhanced with up to a 12% solution". I try to avoid meat that has been "enhanced" by the packing company. By sticking to naturally processed , non-enhanced meats, I have much greater control over the finished product, and I don't waste my hard-earned money paying the going rate per pound for salt water. If you think about it, a product enhanced with a 15% solution means you're only getting 85% of the meat you're paying for...
FOOD SAFETY: The finished brine mixture should be chilled below 40º F prior to use. Game Changer® will easily mix into chilled water, saving you time. Or, you may mix the brine ahead of time and refrigerate for up to 5 days prior to use. Otherwise, follow our “Quick Chill” instructions for proper cooling prior to use.
For FULL STRENGTH: Mix 1 level cup (8 oz.) of dry brine mixture to ½ gallon (64 oz.) of water. One pound of brine (2 level cups) will make one gallon of finished brine at full strength.
For HALF STRENGTH: Mix ½ level cup (4 oz.) of dry brine mixture to ½ gallon (64 oz.) of water. One pound of brine (2 level cups) will make two gallons of finished brine at half strength. Use half strength recipe if extended brine times are desired or for enhanced meats.
QUICK CHILL METHOD: This method involves heating part of the mixture to 140º, then adding it to cold water and ice to reach the target temp of 40º F.
For one half-gallon: Mix dry brine with 16 oz. of water in a medium sauce pan and heat to 140º. Add heated brine mixture to 32 ounces of cold water and one pound of ice. Stir until all ice is melted. For one gallon of finished brine, double the measures from above.
Place meat to be brined into a food safe container, add chilled brine, close tightly and refrigerate. Rinse meat well after removing from brine, pat dry , apply seasoning and cook.
Note about Seasoning: Using a brine will increase the level of salt inside the meat you brine. Therefore, when choosing a seasoning for your brined meat, be sure to use a high quality seasoning that is very balanced and low in sodium, like Oakridge BBQ rubs, or else your finished product may taste overly salty.
Suggested Brine Times:
Final Thoughts on Brining Meat...
Using a brine is both an art and a science. It's a science because of the scientific principles involved. As mentioned above, in an active brine, both osmosis and diffusion are at work. The concentration gradient difference between the outside of the meat (the brine) and the inside of the meat are greatly different. The action of the brine is to try to reach an equilibrium. In doing so, flavor and moisture are physically drawn into the meat and stored there during the cooking process, resulting in a very moist and flavorful end product.
However, using a brine is also an art. This is to say that as with any art form, practice makes perfect. So, our suggested brine times above are merely a guideline to start from. Likewise, get creative and try different base liquids for your brines like apple juice, beer, low sodium chicken stock, etc. When trying to brine for the first time, always start with the shortest recommended time and then work up from there in subsequent sessions until you find the time that is perfect for your individual taste. The suggested times charted above have been thoroughly tested and will be perfect for most every application. However, it is possible for the meat to become too salty or rubbery, as these are tell-tale signs of too much time in the brine. If this happens, reduce your brine times and/or use the half-strength recipe the next time.