Written by adam on May 23, 2007
Food Dictionary: Brine
Simply defined, a brine is a solution of water and salt. More specifically, the water is saturated or nearly saturated with salt. Historically, brines were used to preserve meat, fish, and vegetables, but that practice went out with the invention of refrigeration. Brines are also used in cheese making processes, such as feta cheese and parmigiana. I know that many hard salty cheeses are packed in dry salt to age.
For grilling and barbeque, brines are used for tenderizing and flavor enhancement. Typically, low fat meats such as chicken and pork are often soaked in brines to keep them most and juicy on the grill and to add flavor while they cook.
To understand how this works, you must remember back to your 8th grade biology class. Do you remember the word osmosis? Osmosis is a biological process by which a liquid is passed from an area of high concentration to an area of low concentration through a semi-permeable membrane. Osmosis is how plants drink from their roots and it is how red blood cells absorb oxygen. And it is how a pork tenderloin becomes juicy and moist.
When you brine meat, you are immersing the meat into a solution of water and salt. The water is the main player in a brine with the salt acting in a supporting role. Brining is all about balance. Think about the cells of the meat wanting to maintain balance of water inside and outside the cell wall. The cells then let in water to maintain that balance. At the time that the water is enter the cells, salt is let in as well. Any other added flavors in a brine enter, too.
What you end up with is a moist, plump, juicy piece of meat that will not dry out on the grill.
Common meats that are brined are whole chickens, turkeys, pork tenderloins, pork roasts, pork ribs, and chicken breasts. I like to brine chicken wings and legs in a Teriyaki brine. But that's my personal taste.