The Science of Brining

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urbangriller
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The Science of Brining

Post by urbangriller » Mon Oct 06, 2008 9:00 pm

The Brine Secret to Making Foods Better

Brining foods in a saltwater mixture before you cook them adds flavour, tenderises, and reduces cooking times. If this sounds like a good thing then its time to learn the basics about brining.

The brining of meats is an age-old process of food preservation. Heavy concentrations of salt preserved meats for long ocean voyages and military campaigns before the advent of refrigeration. Now brining takes on a new purpose. By using lower concentrations of salt, mixed with other spices and herbs, brining can permeate meat with flavours, tenderise and add moisture.

The chemistry behind brining is quite intriguing. The salt water mixture behaves differently to a marinade, we should think of marinades as salad dressings, in fact the basic ingredients are similar and the purpose also, marinades only really flavour the exterior of the meat. A brine however will effect a chemical change at the cellular level.

Roughly speaking meat is composed largely of water, the problem is that down at the cellular level most of that water is trapped inside of protein structures. Imagine that each cell is completely full of protein structures that look like small balls of steel wool packed up against each other.
Some of the water contained in the cell exists in the space between these structures but most is trapped within the protein balls. When we place the piece of meat into the salty brine mixture, the first thing that happens is the water between the protein structures is drawn out of the cell and replaced with salt from the brine mixture.

In the second stage the salt starts to break down the protein structures (denaturing), tenderising the meat and releasing the fluid which is trapped within. Now we have a cell full of liquid heavily dosed with salt and denatured protein, and this brings on the third stage.
Now the process is reversed and the cell will take up moisture from the surrounding brine mixture. This last take up of moisture will bring even more salty liquid and flavour into the cell which will increase the tenderness and add saltiness to the end flavour.

If you could catch the process at the beginning of this third stage and replace the brine mixture with a less salty but more flavoursome version you would decrease the saltiness of the final product. This is a bit of a juggling act and there is no reliable method of predicting when the third stage begins my advice is simply to keep trying different batches, replacing the brine mixture until you find a timeframe that provides you with a flavour that you like.

The bottom line is quite simple, if you use a brining process you will increase the moisture content of whatever meat you choose, the process will also tenderise the protein structures within the meat at the cellular level and this will provide you with a more tender end result. The extra moisture and its flavour is trapped inside the individual cell and cannot escape till the cell walls burst ( at 66 degrees C ) from heating, but that is part of the Temperature Lesson.

The fact that you are introducing more moisture into the meat provides you with an opportunity to flavour the brine with any combination that appeals to you. Try some simple chicken wings in a brine flavoured with a teaspoon or two of a good curry paste, and you will see what I mean. If you are going to do the chicken wing test, make will you cook some that have not been brined so that you can get a comparison of the tenderness and moisture level as well.

The process of brining is easy but takes some planning. Depending on the size of what you want to brine it can take up to 24 hours of more. If you are going to be brining whole poultry you will also want an additional 6 to 12 hours between the brining and the cooking. If you want your poultry to have a golden, crispy skin, it needs to sit in the refrigerator for several hours after you remove it from the brine so that the skin can dry before cooking.

The effectiveness of the brining process can be increased by injecting some of the brine into the meat using a meat syringe or "Cajun injector".
The brining process will work on any meat you like, and there is a lot of fun to be had playing around with different flavour combinations, one of my favourite flavour additives is star anise.

The most basic process of brining is to take a minimum of 1 tablespoon of plain salt (no iodine or other additives) to 1 litre of water, experiment and find a mix that suits your taste. You will need enough brine to completely submerge the meat without any part being out of the liquid. Some items might need to be weighed down to stay under. Brine the meat for about 4 hours per kilo. Remove from the brine (don't reuse the brine), lightly rinse to remove any excess salt and cook.

You can brine over a period of days, just remember to change the brine initially after 24 hours then every 48 hours. Yuu can also marinate after brining to add a further layer of taste.

So what should you brine? Practically anything you want. Poultry in particular benefits greatly from brining regardless of how you plan to cook it. Large roasts, racks of ribs and anything you plan to smoke will be better for having been brined first. But this isn’t just a great barbecue tip but a good idea for meats whether you smoke, grill, roast or fry them.
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Post by Davo » Sat Jan 03, 2009 9:17 am

Chris, thanks for the explaination on brining which is something I've been wanting to try for a while now but I have one small obstacle...A wife that is sensitive to salt and is bordering on diabetic.

The question I wish to ask about brining, is there a minimum level of salt to use in a litre of brine before it becomes a waste of time or is the 1 tablespoon a minimum?

SWMBO often complains to me because I tend to make foods salty to the point that she won't eat it but I don't find it too salty at all.

Also, with the 1 TSP of salt to 1 litre mixture, what would be the minimum time in the brine to make a difference say with about 8-10 chicken drumsticks? (hope this isn't a dumb question). I was thinking of doing them in a ziplock bag.

Cheers

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urbangriller
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Post by urbangriller » Sat Jan 03, 2009 1:34 pm

You'll get a noticable result after two hours and ziplock bags are fine.

You could use less salt, perhaps half a tablespoon and still get a reasonable result. I would try the normal salt mix for say 4 hours then change the liquid for plain water with the flavouring. This will be a bit Hit and Miss, but worth experimenting with.

Remember this paragraph from the Fact Sheet:

If you could catch the process at the beginning of this third stage and replace the brine mixture with a less salty but more flavoursome version you would decrease the saltiness of the final product. This is a bit of a juggling act and there is no reliable method of predicting when the third stage begins my advice is simply to keep trying different batches, replacing the brine mixture until you find a timeframe that provides you with a flavour that you like.

Cheers
Chris
Common Sense is so rare these days it should be a Super Power!

SmokinOkie

Post by SmokinOkie » Wed Jun 17, 2009 12:59 am

On the subject of less salt.

The problem will be that without salt, brining won't work. The less salt there is the more likely the brine won't work.

Brining works by Osmosis, so the less saltier solution outside tries to create equilibrium with the liquid outside (brine). Too little salt and there won't be an equilibrium to achieve.

I wrote a pretty good article on brining, so any questions, just let me know

Brining 101

Russ

MrBrown
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Re: The Science of Brining

Post by MrBrown » Sun Sep 05, 2010 8:36 pm

after cutting the loins off the bone for bacon I had a couple of standing racks of ribs left which I planned to smoke. Unfortunately, it was raining and the wind would blow a dog off a chain so I decided it was oven and brining time.

A couple of hours in brine, a bit of rub, four hours in the oven at 105c and they were the best, juiciest ribs possible. Even wifey was impressed.

I'm a convert :D
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markr
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Re: The Science of Brining

Post by markr » Wed Oct 13, 2010 9:55 pm

Chris

Wondering if you have a recipe for brining salmon in the Hark.

Thanks, Mark

urbangriller
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Re: The Science of Brining

Post by urbangriller » Wed Oct 13, 2010 10:08 pm

Hi Mark,

The same rules work: 1 TBS Salt to 1 Litre of liquid. With Salmon you can add some allspice, pepper and dill.....or you could add some mustard, sugar and a little lemon rind. I think it works nice using a stout for the liquid.

Cheers
Chris
Common Sense is so rare these days it should be a Super Power!

sosman
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Re: The Science of Brining

Post by sosman » Wed Dec 08, 2010 9:44 pm

Hey Mr Griller - great article, I'm waiting for my kamado to arrive and checking out techniques and recipes before the family Christmas gig.

My question is, people have told me that sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) tenderises meat - is this the same effect as brining? If people don't like so much salty taste, could you combine table salt and bicarb? Just throwing it out there ...
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urbangriller
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Re: The Science of Brining

Post by urbangriller » Wed Dec 08, 2010 10:21 pm

Hey Sosman,

Bicarb is a different thing to brine, it is more like enzyme tenderising.

You won't find brine too salty, try the chicken wing test:

Put some simple chicken wings in a brine (1 tab salt to 1 Litre of water) flavoured with a half teaspoon of garlic, and you will see what I mean. If you are going to do the chicken wing test, make will you cook some that have not been brined and some that have been brined with no garlic, so that you can get a comparison of the tenderness and moisture level as well.

You'll love it!

Cheers
Chris
Common Sense is so rare these days it should be a Super Power!

sosman
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Re: The Science of Brining

Post by sosman » Wed Dec 08, 2010 10:44 pm

Ok will give it a go. Still leaves me wondering (I don't mind salt myself) but would the addition of bicarb to the brine add any value? Or is this an experiment I should try and report back?
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urbangriller
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Re: The Science of Brining

Post by urbangriller » Wed Dec 08, 2010 10:50 pm

You could experiment, but the brine transports liquid and flavour into the meat and I'm not convinced I would want bicarb in there!

Trust me, you won't need to "tenderise" if you Brine.

Chris
Common Sense is so rare these days it should be a Super Power!

Paul-G
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Re: The Science of Brining

Post by Paul-G » Mon Jan 10, 2011 5:19 pm

Great posts on brining, thanks for the information, everyone.

I do, however, have something of a challenge. My partner has Meniere's disease, which means that she isn't allowed more than 120mg of sodium per 100g of food. Brining, unfortunately, increases the amount of sodium to far higher levels than allowable on her diet.

I wondered if anyone had thoughts on alternative substances that could be used instead. I know that in baking potassium bicarbonate is substituted for sodium bicarbonate, so I wondered if a potassium product would achieve similar results. Otherwise, would a vinegar/water mixture have results at all?

urbangriller
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Re: The Science of Brining

Post by urbangriller » Mon Jan 10, 2011 7:23 pm

What you are wanting is a particulate mixture which is either acid or alkaline.

The initial phase of the brining concept works because the salt dissolves and forms a particulate liquid. Osmosis takes over and the Ph of the particulate fluid in the cell changes, the proteins unwind, etc etc.

Most salt substitutes contain potassium chloride, and all potassium contains the radioactive beta-gamma emitter potassium-40 and is measurably radioactive.

An amino-acid-based salt substitute is L-lysine. L-lysine is an essential amino acid that is necessary for a person’s health but cannot be made in the body. In a salt substitute, L-lysine is blended with potassium to mask the bitter aftertaste common with potassium chloride. L-lysine is not going to be cheap, mostly it comes in tablets (and is great if you have a cold sore!).

The first things I would try would be Calcium Citrate and its cousin Citric Acid (calcium citrate is converted to citric acid using dilute sulfuric acid). As far as dilutions, I’d do it by taste, brine is roughly as salty as sea water, so you want something that has “bite” but is not an instant spit!

I have to say that this is new territory and I’d be interested in the results.

Also remember that a number of things are particulate liquids, just not with the concentrations we want, beer and wine immediately spring to mind (as they would). You could increase the particulate concentration of a tasty liquid by reducing it.

Cheers
Chris
Common Sense is so rare these days it should be a Super Power!

Paul-G
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Re: The Science of Brining

Post by Paul-G » Tue Jan 11, 2011 1:53 pm

Thanks so much for the advice, UG.

I'm not 100% sure where to procure calcium citrate, so I'll probably try and get some citric acid from the supermarket and give it a go at some point soon.

Thanks again,

P

titch
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Re: The Science of Brining

Post by titch » Thu Dec 01, 2011 6:59 am

Question to Chris as presidnt of the ABBQA.
Can I copy this bit.

The Brine Secret to Making Foods Better

Brining foods in a saltwater mixture before you cook them adds flavour, tenderises, and reduces cooking times. If this sounds like a good thing then its time to learn the basics about brining.

The brining of meats is an age-old process of food preservation. Heavy concentrations of salt preserved meats for long ocean voyages and military campaigns before the advent of refrigeration. Now brining takes on a new purpose. By using lower concentrations of salt, mixed with other spices and herbs, brining can permeate meat with flavours, tenderise and add moisture.

The chemistry behind brining is quite intriguing. The salt water mixture behaves differently to a marinade, we should think of marinades as salad dressings, in fact the basic ingredients are similar and the purpose also, marinades only really flavour the exterior of the meat. A brine however will effect a chemical change at the cellular level

Post it elsware with a link to this complete thread please.
Its on a caravanning forum,
http://caravanersforum.com/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=21978
Pineapple eaters. :shock:
Cheers.
Titch
Cheers
Titch


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