Let's start with some definitions:
- A brine is defined as a "Water impregnated or highly saturated with salt". Salt water is briny (think shrimp), and water impregnated with salt is a brine.
- Brining is the action of soaking meat in a salt water solution. Spices and other flavorings can be added, but the salt is what makes it a brine.
Brining works because of diffusion (salt pulling moisture out of the meat, and then back in) and due to denaturation of proteins (cells in meat will hold onto more moisture). The end result is a juicer, firmer, more flavorful piece of meat.
There are two main methods to brine; Wet & Dry.
- Wet Brine:
This is the traditional method and involves adding salt and flavorings (aromatics, etc) to water so that the salt is dissolved into the water and then the meat is soaked in the salt water brine. (Basic Turkey Brine recipe is for your reference)
- Dry Brine:
The Dry Brining method was popularized by Chef Judy Rodgers of San Fransisco's Zuni Cafe in the 1980's. You still use salt and other flavorings (herbs and spices), but instead of soaking the meat in a salt water solution, the salt is applied directly to the meat and the meat then sits with this salt coating on it. Since a traditional "brine" is a salt water solution, technically dry brining is not really a "brine", but rather a method of using salt to pull the natural moisture from the meat you are working with. Once the moisture has been pulled to the exterior of the meat, it does now mix with the salt on the surface and the salt will dissolve into that moisture, which in turn does make a brine solution that gets pulled back into the meat. Because this method brines and seasons the meat without additional moisture it can produce a firmer, more intensely flavored product.
Either method you choose will produce excellent results, however for the purpose of this article we are going to focus on the Dry Brine method.
Why dry brine instead of wet brine?
Using a wet brine, essentially serves the same purpose of tenderizing meat and holding onto moisture as a dry brine, but the meat will absorb water and this water can dilute the meat's natural flavor. By using a dry brine, the meat will absorb the natural juices of the cut, resulting in it being juicier, with all the natural flavor of the meat itself.
I am not going to go too deep into the science side of how a brine works, but this info-graphic (click on image to zoom in) from Stella Culinary does a pretty good job of explaining it. For much more in-depth explanations please visit our friends at Stella Culinary
Most people that have heard of brining are aware that you can brine your holiday Turkey to produce a superior product, but did you know, you can also brine other meats (and seafood). Lean meats benefit the most from being in a brine, but to some extent all meats can benefit, these include:
- Pork Chops/Loin
- Lean beef cuts (IE: Sirloin)
- Poultry; Chicken and of course - Turkey!
There are a few caveats you need to be aware of when dry brining. Doing a Dry Brine will take a bit longer than a wet brine. This is because with a dry brine, you are waiting for the salt to pull the natural moisture from the cells of the meat and dissolve the salt, while in a wet brine, the salt is already dissolved in water. Also in a wet brine, the salty brine is in constant contact with the meat, while in a dry brine, the moisture that comes to the surface is not always in contact, so it takes a bit longer.
Rule of thumb is 2-3 hours hours per pound, but not more than 3 days.
Here is a fun fact: You can even Dry Brine a frozen Turkey! Yes seriously, just defrost enough to get the neck and giblets out of the center cavity and follow the Dry Brine instructions.
Here is a photo of a 6 pound whole Chicken I Dry Brined and cooked on the grill recently.
Curing vs Brining
The difference between brining and curing is when a protein's salt content rises above 2% by weight and is kept there for an extended period of time, the meat is now curing. For Dry Brine, a concentration of 1% salt (by weight) is typical.
How to Dry Brine
The recommended amount of sea salt is 1/2 Teaspoon (Tsp) salt per pound of meat and let the meat sit with the salt on it for 2-3 hours per pound.
Let's use an 18lb Turkey as an example.
- Weight of meat: 18 lbs
- Amount of sea salt: 18lbs X 1/2 Tsp = 9 Tsp.
- 9 Tsp converts to 3 Tablespoons (Tbs)
Use 3 Tbs of salt to rub all over your turkey, distributing it as evenly as possible (even under the skin). Put the turkey into a food safe bag (I use 2 gallon zip lock bags, but you can buy brining bags as well) and let rest in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours per pound (36-54 hours).
There is no need to add liquid like you would in a traditional brine, because the salt will pull the moisture from the turkey to make it's own brine.
Once the resting period is over, take it out of the bag and let it air dry in the fridge for another 1/2 day (this will help to remove any remaining moisture from the skin and help to crisp skin)
Then cook as you normally would (note you may notice a slightly quicker cooking time than normal, this is due to action of the salt.
While there are various companies manufacturing brining mixes that you mix with water, pickling salts (used for pickling & brining), and curing salts. Until now there has not been a quality Brining Salt on the market specifically formulated to be used as a Dry Brine.
Naturiffic's Harvest Brine is just that, a Sea Salt based mix that includes Apple, Maple & Sage, which will not only improve the juiciness and the texture of your next Turkey, it will make it taste fantastic as well!
Harvest Brine includes enough brining salts to Dry brine an 18lb Turkey. It is also great on chicken & pork.
(Note: Use twice as much Harvest Brine as you would sea salt in the above example, because Harvest Brine is ~50% sea salt).