Dry brining meat is a sure-fire way to get moist and flavorful meat. This process stops the meat from drying out thus giving it the best flavor possible. So, what is dry brining, and how can you do it?
Dry brining refers to the process of salting food and resting it before cooking. Called pre-salting by some, it results in a perfectly seasoned, juicy piece of meat with full flavor that doesn’t taste the same as meat brined in salt solutions.
The benefits of dry brining are:
- The salt brings out the delicious flavor of the food. This is because salt is a flavor enhancer and is one of the most natural flavors you can have.
- Salt denatures the proteins found in meat. This process helps the meat retain its moisture, ensuring it doesn’t dry out during the cooking process.
The difference between dry brining and wet brining, even though they have the same outcome, is that you don’t dilute the salt in a liquid. You also use less salt and it takes less space inside your fridge. Dry brining also gives a better flavor than wet brining.
You can use dry brining on all cuts of meat, whether large or small, and other protein foods, such as seafood and poultry. The process also helps you get a crispier skin and lets you achieve better Maillard browning.
Dry brining is simple and doesn’t take a lot of time to prepare. To gain a deeper understanding of the process, let’s look at the traditional brining methods and the basic rules of brining.
Traditional Brining Process
Brining is a food technique used for years. It is used to season uncooked foods and keep them firm and juicy both before cooking and long after cooking. Brining can be as long a process as you want, and some people use it as a natural preservation method. Not all foods that are brined are cooked and brining helps them stay fresh and juicy for longer periods.
A brine is a solution made out of salt and water and traditionally it was done by soaking ingredients, such as fish and meat, in the solution before cooking. Brining is beneficial for the almost bland, lean proteins such as turkey, chicken, or mass-farmed pork, or any other foods that might dry out once you introduce heat.
The dehydration takes place because muscle fibers tend to contract when exposed to heat, squeezing out moisture. Through brining, salt and water are absorbed into the meat through osmosis and diffusion. Salt has the ability to dissolve and reshape muscle proteins and the muscle fibers are loosened by the salt, which makes them contract less when exposed to heat. This is what helps the meat become juicier when cooked.
With traditional brining, however, the moisture introduced into the meat can be a dangerous thing. That is because the moisture might be too much for the meat leaving it soggy and relatively tasteless.
This is what happens when your meat absorbs too much water or liquid. The meat will be very juicy but it won’t taste good, no matter the appearance. Brining meat (especially lean meats), for a long time, results in waterlogged meat that has no flavor and tastes watery.
Some people prefer to brine their meat with delicious liquids and other ingredients such as stock, fruit juices, sugar, spices, and herbs to make it more delicious. The problem with this formula is that most flavor molecules are too big to enter the cell membranes of the meat. This means that, yes, your turkey or whatever meat you use, will be flavorful, but the roast meat itself won’t have any of the flavors.
More water, or whatever liquid you decide to use for brining, will give you a more diluted flavor while less water will give you a more concentrated flavor. The extra water also makes the roast harder to brown, meaning you will have to take a longer time to turn the meat into that rich, brown crust with the crispy skin that makes roast delicious.
There are instances, however, where wet brining is a good choice. Some of the best foods for that can include fish, especially fresh fish with juices that are almost smelly, or meat that will be served raw, such as sushi. Fish that will be cold-smoked, vegetables like asparagus and carrots, and batter-fried chicken can also benefit from wet brining.
Modern Dry Brining Process Explained
To deal with the potential water logging problem that comes with wet brining, learn how to dry brine instead. Dry brining uses the natural moisture content from the meat itself and creates a concentrated brine which will be absorbed back into the meat during the resting process. Salt draws out the moisture from the meat creating a natural brine, then reabsorbs the same moisture into the meat, so there is no danger of waterlogging or making a too-strong concentrate.
You can try this process out on a small piece of meat. Season it with kosher salt and watch osmosis work. You will see liquid from the meat bead up on the meat’s surface, because it is being drawn out by the salt. After a few minutes, you can see the liquid dissolve the salt, forming the brine. After a while, the dissolved salt and the liquid get reabsorbed through diffusion from the surface into the steak. The naturally formed brine will work as the traditional brine, whereby it dissolves and reshapes muscle proteins, letting the absorption and retention process take place.
Since you have not added any liquid, there is a balance between the salt concentration and the liquid in the meat, resulting in a well-seasoned roast that has better moisture retention and, therefore, more flavor. All you need for a successful dry brining process is a little bit of salt and a lot of patience. For this process to work perfectly, make sure you don’t buy meat that is already salted.
Advantages of Dry Brining
There are many advantages to dry brining aside from the natural brine method. Some of these benefits include:
1. Easy to Prepare
With traditional brining, you have to spend a lot of time trying to get the correct measurements and spend more time whisking the liquid and the salt in order to get the perfect dissolved state. You also have to factor in what kind of water and the displacement that will occur when you put the meat in the container. Dry brining takes all this hassle out of the process; all you need is some salt, a wire rack, and some space in the fridge.
The wire rack is important because it doesn’t just let the meat sit in its juices, it lets air circulate fully around it, giving it the perfect balance.
2. Saves Space
Wet brining a full turkey can be hard since you have to find a container big enough to hold it. You need to factor in how much brining solution you will require and whether the container you have is big enough to hold both the meat and the solution. You also have to find space in your fridge to let the turkey rest.
Even if you decide to use a cooler, you will have to spend time sanitizing it to avoid potential infections like salmonella.
With dry brining, all you need is a little space in your fridge or cooler for a wire rack.
3. Full Flavor
Dry brining meat lets it taste like what it is naturally supposed to taste, but with the natural flavors enhanced. The meat doesn’t hold on to a lot of water which dilutes the flavor.
4. Better Seasoned Food
Salt is the only seasoning that gives the best flavor penetration, no matter what brining method you use. Salt on your meat gives it the time and freedom to spread more evenly. This process results in a deeply seasoned steak that has its flavor right into the center of the food, which beats the almost bland taste you’d get from salting immediately before cooking. On the other hand, wet brining uses a lot of flavors with great smells with their downside being that they don’t transmit into the meat.
5. Crispier Skin and Better Browning
Dry brining brings out better color and a crunchier or crispier crust on the meat. After the moisture that beads up on the meat’s surface is reabsorbed into the meat, the surface left over is drier than it was before. It remains that way, even during cooking, since the moisture doesn’t escape from the meat due to the relaxation of the muscle fibers.
Dry surfaces brown better than wet ones so you won’t have to spend a lot of time getting the meat to turn brown, whether you sear or roast the meat. With chicken and turkey, dry brine results in a crispy skin. To get extra crispy skin, you can mix baking powder with kosher salt and sprinkle the mixture on top of the meat. Wet brining, on the other hand, mostly results in pale, flabby, and soggy skin.
6. Juicy Results
Dry brined meat and fish results in a juicy and firm dish that you can’t get from traditional brining. The salt you use will dissolve the protein in the meat, letting it hold its natural moisture during cooking with the passage of time. Salting can also help make softly-fleshed meat, like mackerel, firm which makes it easy to deal with when cooking and even more pleasant to eat.
Can Any Type of Meat be Dry Brined?
Most types of meat can be dry brined, including meats like pork, beef, lamb, and white meats like turkey, fish, and chicken. Although some don’t believe in dry brining red meat, you can try it for yourself and see if it works for you. Remember to only use the brining process on meat that isn’t already salted, otherwise, it can result in meat with too much salt. Different cuts of meats take different processes such as:
• Small Cuts: Steaks and Chops
The small size of these kinds of meat allows for a short resting period of around 45 minutes before you cook; giving it enough time to let the surface dry. Depending on how soon you want to cook the meat, you can either rest it at room temperature if you’re cooking right after the resting process or rest it in the fridge if you want to give it time. The best salt to use is kosher salt.
• Large roasts: Pork Shoulder, Prime Rib
Dry brining big hunks of meat will give you juicy, well-seasoned meat with perfect Maillard browning. You should season large roasts around a day ahead and let the roast rest overnight in the fridge. The brine type for this meat is kosher salt for roast without skin and a mixture of kosher salt and baking powder for a roast with skin, to get crunchy, crackling skin.
• Birds: chicken, turkey
When dry brining turkey or chicken, sprinkle the salt over the whole surface of the bird, including inside cavities or on the other side. You can also season under the skin using a kosher salt brine and when seasoning the skin, use a kosher salt and baking powder mixture to get maximum browning and crispy skin. You can rest birds in a fridge for 12 hours to 3 days.
To get a thick, firm-fleshed fish fillet, sprinkle the fillet with a kosher salt and sugar mixture, in the ratio of 2:1, and let it rest for around 45 to 90 minutes in the fridge. You can get a more cured texture if you rest the fish longer. The benefit of dry brining to the fish is that it firms it up, gives it the best seasoning, and helps keep it juicy with the sugar helping to balance the saltiness. You can also use Sho’s Japanese-style salted salmon for a more cured and saltier fish. You can rest this fish for up to 36 hours.
• Vegetables: Sauerkraut and Other Lactose-Fermented Vegetables
Some vegetables can also benefit from dry-brining, good examples being sauerkraut or shredded cabbage. Brining these vegetables helps draw out the moisture from them, for example, shredded cabbage’s brine from the dry brining process can result in funky, fermented kraut.
How to Dry Brine a Chicken or Turkey Step by Step
Chicken and turkey are some of the best meats to dry brine because they have a high tendency to dry when cook. Here is an easy step-by-step guide you can follow to brine them before roasting.
1. Dry the Bird Using Kitchen Paper
Use a paper towel to pat the bird dry, as you ensure to get all the crevices. It isn’t advisable to wash the meat before drying it as this might increase the risk of cross-contamination. The only way to remove harmful bacteria from meat is by cooking it at the correct temperature.
2. Sprinkle Salt on the Bird
Season your steak with a generous amount of kosher salt, but make sure not to overdo it. Using around ½ a teaspoon of salt per pound of meat is the best measure to start with. It is important to note that, using less salt to season your meat doesn’t give the full benefits of dry brining.
Work the salt into the bird’s skin and ensure you cover the surface completely. Also, ensure you get inside all the nooks and crannies to spread the salt evenly and provide full coverage. A medium grit, kosher, or sea salt is the best type of salt to use, although you can use any other.
3. Its Fridge Time
Once you have covered your bird, put it in the fridge anywhere from 2 to 24 hours. It would be best if you leave it uncovered to promote full circulation of air, let the skin dry out properly, and get the moisture to absorb into the meat. Leaving the bird uncovered will result in a crispy outside with a moist and tender inside.
4. Cook the Bird
After you give the bird enough time to rest, you are now ready to cook it using your favorite method. You can smoke dry-brined chicken or turkey to get the juiciest, moist meat with crispy skin. You can add flavor by rubbing a spice or sauce on the meat just before cooking. Don’t use ingredients that contain salt to avoid over-salting the meat.
A Few Things You Might Want to Ask
Q: Does dry brining make the meat too salty?
A: Depending on the amount of salt you use, you can make the meat too salty. You can avoid over-salting the food by using the required amount; following the ½ teaspoon per pound of meat is the general rule. You can adjust this amount to suit your taste. Be free and experiment to get your perfect balance.
Q: Which kind of salt is recommended
A: Kosher salt or sea salt are the best salts to use. Their large grains and structure make it easy for you to control the saltiness of the dish. Using finer salts, such as table salt, might result in over-salting it. If you have no alternative, reduce the amount of salt you should use, and always remember to check if the meat is already salted before dry brining.
Q: What’s the right amount of salt?
A: Use the general rule of ½ teaspoon per pound of meat to get the best results. Your personal preference also takes a part in how much salt to use. Try different amounts of salt, reducing or increasing to the general rule to see what the correct amount is for you. Do not add a salty rub after brining as this might lead to over-salting. You can also make a salt-free rub to reduce the saltiness.
Q: What is the recommended duration of dry brining?
A: When brining a bird, either chicken or turkey, give it at least 45 minutes to an hour for resting time. You want to give it enough time to get the most benefits out of the process. You can leave chicken resting for up to 24 hours and with turkey, you can let it rest for up to 3 days in a refrigerator.
Be careful not to let your meat brine for too long as it may start to dry out the fat under the skin, resulting in a dry dish.
Q: Should you rinse after brining?
A: No! Don’t rinse the bird after resting. This could result in a softer, paler skin instead of the brown, crispy one you need. If you fear you have over salted it, try dusting some of it off. Don’t use paper towels to lessen the salt. Just remember to use less salt next time you dry brine your bird.
Dry brining is an easy process that doesn’t take up much time or space and results in juicy meat, full of flavor. With dry brining, moderation is key.
Remember not to over-salt your cut of meat or leave it to rest for longer periods. Next time you want to make your beef, chicken, or turkey, set some time aside to let the meat brine for a little while.
There are multiple benefits to dry brining your food among them being the browning and moisture retention of the meat.
If you want to get the most flavorful and juiciest meat, use the correct amount of salt and let it rest for a moderate amount of time. Check the salt content of any rub you will use or make your own to get the perfect steak, every time.