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What the Heck is Brining?

Tommy_Mac's picture

I read a post from an archive about Brining, placing poultry in a salt water brine overnight. Sounds interesting, but:

What is the effect, e.g., does it make it more tender, juicier, or just saltier?

Is it for all poultry, or just chickens and turkeys? How about game birds? Does it work with beef or lamb?

Doesn't it get quite salty?

Thanks in advance!

Sandra_'s picture

(post #25889, reply #1 of 31)

Tommy, to answer your questions from my own experience, brining is an excellent way of adding flavour and tenderizing meat --espcially chicken and turkey.It also works well with pork, though I haven't tried it with beef.

According to my mother, my grandmother used to brine geese, ducks and pheasant. In my experience, it does not result in a salty taste, though I haven't stuffed the birds because (so I've been told,) the stuffing would be far too salty.

I'd suggest you try it with a couple of chicken breasts, see if you like the results before committing to anything larger, like a turkey. The proportions I use are one cup salt (sea salt or kosher,)a cup of sugar, a cup of vinegar, and whatever seasonings (i.e., chile peppers, teriyaki, ginger, whatever) to about a gallon of water -- bring salted, seasoned water to a boil, let it return to room temp. then dunk the chickie breasts in it for about two hours. (BTW, I'm repeating this from vague memory -- others may well correct my proportions; if so, pay attention to their directions. At the moment I'm just too lazy to go dig out the precise info.)

There's a good description of the process and some recipes at

Try it -- I think you'll like it. It's especially good with turkey, which otherwise tends to be too dry for my tastes.

aussiechef's picture

(post #25889, reply #2 of 31)

Brining is magic. It's a method of increasing the liquid inside the meat cells, therefore making it juicier. Only way to go with turkey.

When we are pining for fresh seafood, we always brine frozen shrimp and can nearly fool ourselves into thinking that they haven't just leapt out of the sea into the saute pan. Here's the directions if anyone's interested:

Dissolve 1 cup of Kosher salt into 1 cup of hot water. Add 2 cups of iced water and stir.
Add shrimp and allow to stand for 30 minutes (medium shrimp) to 1 hour (extra large shrimp).
Drain and rinse.

You are now ready to shell and devein the shrimp. At this point you can marinate for a little while or start cooking.

Doesn't work for those incy-wincy shrimp - they get too salty.

zally_'s picture

(post #25889, reply #3 of 31)

I used to think I was crazy (actually, some people still do!) in that I much prefer frozen boneless chicken breasts to the fresh. They are always much more tender, juicy and flavorful.
Reading here yet again about brining, I suddenly had a brain wave and ran to the freezer. SURE ENOUGH! Contents on the box list these 3 things: chicken, water and salt!

MEAN_CHEF's picture

(post #25889, reply #4 of 31)

BRINING (here is the how it works. Can be done with most any meat)

Food scientist Shirley O. Corriher, author of "Cookwise" (Morrow), is a major proponent of soaking the turkey in salt water to get the juiciest result.

As Corriher explains it, salt rubbed on the surface of the turkey draws moisture from the meat and dries it, which is how jerky is made. However, when that salt is mixed with water, the concentration outside the turkey's cell wall is less than the concentration in the meat cell.

"Water flows toward the most concentrated side of the cell wall," says Corriher. "The minute you dilute that salt, it becomes less concentrated than liquid in the cell and water flows into the cell. Brining is a way to increase the amount of liquid inside meat cells and make it juicier. That's what they've done with hams for years. They've sold us water for years."

Carolina's picture

(post #25889, reply #5 of 31)

And here I always thought it was because they were just individually glazed with a salt water solution. Maybe they are just pulled out of the brining solution and flash frozen? What we need is a spy from a chicken processing plant; sorta like
i Fine Cooking
i 60 Minutes.

zally_'s picture

(post #25889, reply #6 of 31)

Then again, maybe we don't want to know, Carolina! Once employed a summer university student who had worked her last term in a well-known candy factory -- I don't eat anything candy-coated anymore!!
You may be right about the glazing -- perhaps the thawing time becomes the brining time. I am aware that I am paying 'chicken breast price' for 'ice' but the results seem to be worth it.
On the other hand, tonight DH and I had fresh halibut steamed with lemon and fresh tarragon over braised leeks and new red potatoes -- wonderful but (in my landlocked part of the country) the price for two portions equalled that of 8 portions of chicken breast --- and without the bite.

Carolina's picture

(post #25889, reply #7 of 31)

Zally, you're making me drool...fresh halibut over braised leeks, yum. Sure wish it was available down here more often. Fresh catfish, any time. Fresh halibut, seldom. (sigh)

Sandra_'s picture

(post #25889, reply #8 of 31)

Sorry, I gave the wrong web site for more information about brining yesterday. The correct URL is
That should tell you everything you need to know about how/why/what to brine.

aussiechef's picture

(post #25889, reply #9 of 31)

Excellent idea to have a sort of FC 60 minutes Carolina. I'm intrigued with what can be in candy coating to make you not want to eat anymore, Zally. Tell us. ( We may lose weight).

One of those "expose" programs revealed how lobsters are fished near Mexico - they dynamite a huge area and the fishermen go in and retrieve the stunned lobsters. But they can only sell about 20% of the fish - the rest are just wasted. Outrageous. Biggest customer: Red Lobster.

Long ago I worked in a tuna processing plant- first job as a teenager. A section of it was canned pet food. Ever since, our dogs eat only beef bones, meat and stuff I make.
Makes one wonder about all the stuff we don't know.

Sandra this website was very interesting - Gerard features in it too! But I was curious about the dry brine at the end of the article. It didn't have any water - it was like a salty rub prior to smoking. Is this a true brine?

kai_'s picture

(post #25889, reply #10 of 31)

Hi Aussie,

In re your remark:

"Long ago I worked in a tuna processing plant- first job as a teenager. A section of it was canned pet food. Ever since, our dogs eat only beef bones, meat and stuff I make. Makes one wonder about all the stuff we don't know."

Well, it's still going on. The main "meat" ingredient in pet food is the 3d's: dead, dying, disabled. Add to that the other stuff (cat food collars, etc.) that is too costly to remove, and you have a recipe for pet food that will never be as nutritious as what you are feeding. Good chef and pet caretaker!

And fish is not a natural food for most cats (except the fishing cat--I forget its true name). Especially tuna (and "people" tuna), because it has such a strong smell and taste--they get addicted and don't want bland (raw beef and poultry).

As for bones, we all know raw meaty bones are good for dogs (and still good for them after they bury them and dig them up all nasty with stuff). Same goes for cats (except the burying part). It's cooked bones that are dangerous--can cause punctures. (Raw meat is not dangerous to them as it is to humans' digestive systems.) It's the chewing on raw bones that keeps their teeth and gums healthy. Don't let any vet tell you that dry (pet) food is good for the teeth and gums. It is not. Many vets' education is partially financed by, e.g., Science Diet folks.

And, the first time you introduce cats to say, raw chicken necks, or breasts (w/bone in), or liver, etc., expect them to either growl and pounce on it like prey, or look at you like "Man, I didn't know you could hunt!" or be totally disinterested.

Now, I know this is off topic so I will shut up. Anyone want more info, contact me off list.

And, Aussie, most folks I know who have worked in a processing plant of any kind will never eat that (processed) food again! (Maybe that's a way to get back to whole, wholesome foods: force youngins to see how their food is treated before and after killing. Ever seen a goose explode being force-fed to fatten up their liver for pate?)

(And yes, I eat meat and don't belong to PETA.)


FlavourGirl_'s picture

(post #25889, reply #11 of 31)


"Man, I didn't know you could hunt!" - LOL - Great mental image.

Carolina's picture

(post #25889, reply #12 of 31)

Kai: Unfortunately, everything you have said is true. Sad, isn't it? One small point: the two cats that I have had, who thought that raw meat was wonderful, were the "wildest" of all my adopted strays. All the others looked at me with that, "Excuse me, old lady, but where is my Fancy Feast!" look.

I also eat meat, but have been a card carrying member of PETA for as long as I can remember. Cruelty of animals is one thing, but raising animals, humanely, for food is another. Think I'll get off my soapbox now...almost lost a friend once over the fact that I put dog chow out every night for the raccoons. Don't want to go throught that again.

aussiechef's picture

(post #25889, reply #13 of 31)

My goodness Kai - geese exploding. What an education. What is PETA?

PMace_'s picture

(post #25889, reply #14 of 31)

I always thought brining was akin to Koshering and that both were used to remove the blood left in the carcass, reducing the bloody or wild taste. I use it on poultry and game birds. Never thought to try it on anything without a carcass or bones (fish or boneless poultry) or beef/pork.

Carolina's picture

(post #25889, reply #15 of 31)

Aussie: PETA stands for "People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals".

Ol'_Pro's picture

(post #25889, reply #16 of 31)

Perhaps it is what one becomes used to but I find the texture of the frozen, marinated chicken rather squishy and unpleasant. I would like to be able to buy chicken that hasn't been frozen but it's not available in my area. The so-called "never frozen" brand has been "chilled" to 28'F. Now let's see, as I recall my grade school science, water freezes at 32'F so.........................

Juli's picture

(post #25889, reply #17 of 31)

You're absolutely right about the difference brining makes to shrimp. I do the same thing -- except I add ice cubes instead of iced water. It really is magic. We cook the shrimp on the grill and they're still tender and plump.

kai_'s picture

(post #25889, reply #18 of 31)

Hi Carolina,

I used to belong to PETA, but let my subscription lapse. I'll probably renew someday, as I really do believe in their cause.

Some ignorant peeps on cooking boards slam dunk you for "caring for animals"--they, of course, probably rarely raise and slaughter their own meat. I'd dare them to enjoy veal if they visit those animals in the crates "where they live."

And LOL I know that Fancy Feast look!

I stopped leaving cat food outdoors when my stray population reached 20! It also helped that I learned we are encouraging wildlife too close to our homes (I live on a huge canyon in the middle of a big city) where they can become dependent on handouts and possibly endanger our pets. I'll never forget the first time I saw a(n) oppossum on my porch. Biggest rat I'd ever seen--size of a huge cat or small dog! The babies are kinda cute. I love the skunks, however, with their feathery tails. Those babies are darn near kissable!

Jean_'s picture

(post #25889, reply #19 of 31)

OK you guys. I want to stay friends with you so lets not get into discussions about politics, religion, vegans or PETA. :-)

Carolina's picture

(post #25889, reply #20 of 31)

Kai: You must be my child. We sound so very much alike. The only reason I feed the raccoons is because I have the only natural area (1.3 acres) left in the inner city.

The same family of raccoons has been here for all the 22 years we have lived on this property. They have nowhere else to go for food or shelter. Of course, it's only a matter of time before they will be killed by a neighbor's dog or run over by a car, but at least I feel like I'm giving them a chance to live as long as they can and be as healthy as possible while they are alive.

kai_'s picture

(post #25889, reply #21 of 31)

Oops! I thought I had italics down!

Front_of_the_House's picture

(post #25889, reply #22 of 31)

I am curious about different ways to create Polenta, I've had it grilled and sauteed and would like any insight on this subject from any of you qualified chefs!

Sandra_'s picture

(post #25889, reply #23 of 31)

Hi -- you might want to move your question about polenta to a new topic -- it's gotten lost in this thread about brining.

SherriN_CA's picture

(post #25889, reply #24 of 31)

Martha Stewart had a guest chef who had the "best way to fry chicken" recipe on her morning show.

He soaked chicken pieces in a bowl of salted water overnight. Basically, it seals in the juices and keeps the pieces from bleeding while cooking.

He also use a three step approach of dripping the dried pieces in buttermilk, then egg, then flour--can't remember exactly what order. I have the recipe in my "MS Living" magazine. I wanted to try it, it looks great!

Jean_'s picture

(post #25889, reply #25 of 31)

Brining was discussed at length and some URL's given on the subject a while back. Do a search on the archives.

Lemon*'s picture

(post #25889, reply #26 of 31)

Spy in a chicken-processing plant? No, you really, really, really don't want to know. You DON'T want to know. No, no, no. I did it, in a very well-known, high-end brand plant, for a college summer. Bad stuff -- just about unbelievable. I'm not talking about minor ickies. However, we eat commercially-processed chicken and survive, even thrive. As long as we don't know.

Chiffonade_'s picture

(post #25889, reply #27 of 31)

S.O. visited a pork processing plant and it was
i years
before he could eat sausage again.

Jean_'s picture

(post #25889, reply #28 of 31)

We've come so far from the farm that the sight or even the thought of blood and entrails makes us squeamish, and that's not even taking into account the wonderful aromas of the barnyard! We think that our meat comes from the grocers, all neatly packaged in plastic wrap!! WRONG! What a bunch of wimps, just be glad
b you
don't have to do the butchering anymore like Grandma and Grandpa did!

zally_'s picture

(post #25889, reply #29 of 31)

Oh Jean, there is nothing more evocative than the sense of smell and your post has just brought a flood of memories. I grew up on my grandparents' farm in the Canadian mid-west in the early '40's and butchering days are not easily forgotten. The nastiest smell; however, wasn't at all gruesome: the pungent aroma of singed chicken pinfeathers. If anyone had asked "Are you enjoying this process?" of course we know the answer but it was a fact of life: necessary if you were to continue to eat and so you thought about weeding the pansy bed as you gutted the ducks and chickens or carved up the pig on the big kitchen table. I often wonder, when I read decorator magazines gushing over an antique 'harvest' table, if they would be quite so thrilled if they had any idea what often took place around it.

Wolverine's picture

(post #25889, reply #30 of 31)

Hey guys - it's soooo bad that I gave up commercially made ketchup ( catsup ) years ago. We visited a very famous maker's facility in Ohio during junior high and the things I saw there literally made me throw up. So even vegetables are in trouble! I have visited meat "factory" places, too. My dad taught me how to butcher animals, and I must say it is much healthier. I don't live on enough acreage nowadays to do it, but I go in halves on a steer and pig, we have it butchered and go on from there. Chix I do break down and get at the store occassionally, but I try to go to one of the local farms. I always go to the local farms for fresh turkey.