Why and How to Brine Meat Before Smoking
If you haven’t already, try a brine before you smoke that chicken. Brine is, simply, a salt and water solution used to enhance texture, flavor, and moisture.
Brining is best for poultry and fish since these meats contain very little fat which in make meats richer and juicier.
What does brining do to meat?
Meat is soaked in a salt and water solution for several hours, allowing the salt to permeate the proteins. Though debated, through a process called diffusion, the salt forces the molecules in the protein to distribute throughout the meat. Simply put, soaking in a salt bath makes meat softer.
Brine contains a much higher sodium content that you would actually want your food to contain, don’t worry, if done correctly the meat will not taste overly salted.
how to brine
The rule for preparing a brine is 1 cup of salt (Kosher or Sea) per 1 gallon of water.
A helpful tip to combining the two is to add the salt to hot water first to dissolve it. Trying to dissolve salt in cold water is like trying to churn your own butter. If you dissolve the salt in warm water first, you can add additional cold water until you have reached the required amount. Make enough to completely cover your meat completely.
Make sure the brine is at room temperature or colder before placing in the meat, never place meat in a warm/hot brine.
Adding flavor to the brine
Once your brine is mixed you can add additional ingredients. Many smokers like to add sweeteners to help balance the salt, common sweeteners are sugar and honey. If you want to enhance the texture, consider using vinegar, wines, or citrus, but the most common ingredients are seasonings such as garlic, paprika and thyme.
A classic brine we love for chicken includes about 2 tablespoons each of garlic, onion, pepper, thyme (all ground) and paprika and 1 cup of vinegar per gallon of brine. This is great for whole chicken.
Soaking the Meat
Meat flavored with a brine usually requires several hours of soaking. A general rule of thumb is to soak the meat in the salt bath, covered completely, for 1 hour per pound. Place the meat in the refrigerator during this time. Once the soak time is over, remove the meat from the brine, rinse it and pat it dry. It’s important to rinse the meat to remove the excess salt, if you forget this step, you may find your meat may taste salty.
Time to smoke
Finally, your hard work is about to pay off, once you have rinsed the excess salt off the meat it’s ready for the smoker.
Alternative Ideas to Brining
A good alternative to a wet brine is a dry brine or dry rub which produces similar results. A dry rub requires a ½ teaspoon of salt, per pound of meat, plus any dry seasoning or spice you want. Ground it all together until you have a sandy texture then rub it on your meat. Place it in a ziplock bag in the refrigerator for 1-2 days. If you are short on time, just leave it for as long as you can before cooking.
Other Brining resources
Video: How to brine a turkey breast
Chef Patrick Long shares with us how to brine a turkey breast before smoking.