Stop brining your meat and start pre-salting it. It's faster, it's easier, and it creates better flavor.

 

It's simple. Take any cut of meat and sprinkle a fairly liberal amount of salt over its surface. Use about 3-4 pinches of kosher salt per bone-in chicken breast, and 1 light pinch per each leg and thigh. Refrigerate it anywhere from 60 minutes to 4 days. Then cook it as you would normally.

 

You'll end up with juicy meat that has a great concentrated flavor. 

 

The next time you buy a chicken and break it down yourself, go ahead and salt some of the pieces before you toss them in the fridge. Your dinners the next few nights will be better for it.   

 

 

 

 

 

Brines dilute the flavor of meat. You're essentially pumping the protein full of water. While this add juiciness to your finished product, it partially robs the meat of its natural taste. 

 

Brines are also a pain in the ass. You have to measure your ingredients, cook them, and then cool them. 

 

Pre-salting is better and easier.

 

The amount of salt you should use is dependent upon the thickness of the meat. A thin cut like a chicken thigh doesn't need more than a light sprinkle on each side. A thicker roast, such as a whole pork shoulder, can benefit from a snow shower's worth of salt. 

 

So, what's going on during those 60 minutes after you've salted the meat? 

 

Let's take a look.

 

 

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Ham Hand Food
Ham Hand Food

Here are two pieces of beef (shank) just after they've been salted.

 

And here they are again, after 15 minutes. The surface is noticeably more wet, and several of the salt crystals have dissolved.

15 Minutes

 

 

 

After 30 minutes, more salt crystals have dissolved and the surface of the meat is even more wet. You can actually see smalls pools of liquid beginning to form.

 

After 45 minutes, the majority of the salt has dissolved and the surface of the meat is slightly dryer than it was at 30 minutes.

30 Minutes

45 Minutes

 

After 60 minutes, the surface of the meat is even dryer. Something else is also different about the meat at this point.

60 Minutes

 

The photo on the left shows the beef before it was salted. The one on the right is after 60 minutes under salt. The 60 minute beef is a much deeper red, and it's not just a product of the crappy lighting.

 

Why is that? Because the salt has dissolved some of the proteins, and that changes the way the meat scatters light.

 

Is this a good thing? Yes. The dissolved proteins have loosened the muscle fibers. Those loose muscle fibers are what have allowed the reabsorbtion of the liquid that we drew to the surface of the beef. Of course, that liquid is taking the dissolved salt along with it. This will make the beef taste beefier. The looser proteins also help the meat retain more of its natural moisture as it cooks, keeping it juicier. 

 

How is this better than a brine? A brine introduces salt and water to meat through absorbtion. The meat is able to retain more of that water during cooking, but water doesn't have flavor. It dilutes the natural flavor of the meat. By pre-salting instead, we have isolated the effects of the salt (flavor, juiciness), but have done so using only the meat's natural liquid. Don't forget, it's also faster and easier than brining.

 

If you want to get even further into the details of brining vs. pre-salting, The Food Lab has a very comprehensive analysis of their effects on turkey here over at Serious Eats.

 

 

60 Minutes

No Salt