What is Brine and How Does It Transform Your Meat? A Complete Guide

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  May 27, 2022

Always the latest smoking tips & tricks?

Subscribe to THE ESSENTIAL newsletter for aspiring pitmasters

We'll only use your email address for our newsletter and respect your privacy

I love creating free content full of tips for my readers, you. I don't accept paid sponsorships, my opinion is my own, but if you find my recommendations helpful and you end up buying something you like through one of my links, I could earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more

Brine is a solution of salt in water that’s used to add flavor and tenderness to meat. This wet method of brining involves completely submerging the meat in the solution. It’s a popular technique for holiday turkeys and various cuts of meat. Brining is a simple process that anyone can do to make their meat more tender and flavorful.

In this article, I’ll explain what brine is and how it works.

What is brine

In this post we'll cover:

Brining: The Science and Art of Tenderizing and Flavoring Meat

Brining is a traditional cooking method that involves soaking meat in a solution of salt and water (or other liquid) to add flavor, seasoning, and tenderness. The process changes the meat’s physical nature by denaturing its proteins, which allows the cells to retain more moisture. This results in juicy, tender meat that is full of flavor.

Why Brine?

Brining is a popular method for people who want to add extra flavor and tenderness to their meat. It is especially important for lean cuts of meat, such as turkey, that tend to dry out during cooking. Brining helps to keep the meat hydrated and encourages the absorption of added flavorings. The key benefits of brining include:

  • Tenderizing the meat: The salt in the brine breaks down the meat’s proteins, resulting in a more tender end product.
  • Adding flavor: The brine solution coats the meat and adds flavor from the inside out.
  • Retaining moisture: The brine solution helps the meat cells retain more moisture, resulting in juicy, flavorful meat.

How to Brine?

Brining is a simpler process than many people think. Here are the basic steps:

  • Choose the meat: Brining works best with wholeheartedly fresh meat, so make sure to buy the best quality you can afford.
  • Make the brine: The brine solution is a mixture of water, salt, and any additional flavorings you want to add. The ratio of salt to water is usually around 1:16, but you can adjust it to your taste.
  • Submerge the meat: Place the meat in a large container or brining bag and pour the brine solution over it. Make sure the meat is fully submerged.
  • Hold in the fridge: Brining time varies depending on the type and size of the meat, but a good rule of thumb is to brine for one hour per pound of meat. Make sure to hold the meat in the fridge during the brining period.
  • Rinse and dry: After the brining period ends, rinse the meat under cold water and pat it dry with paper towels. This will remove any excess salt and ensure a crispy exterior when cooking.

Wet Brining vs. Dry Brining

There are two main methods of brining: wet brining and dry brining. Wet brining involves submerging the meat in a liquid solution, while dry brining involves rubbing the meat with a salt mixture. Both methods have their benefits, but wet brining is the more popular and convenient method for most people.

Important Notes

  • When purchasing brine solution, make sure to read the ingredient label carefully. Some pre-made solutions may contain added flavorings or high levels of sodium.
  • Brining can increase the moisture content of the meat, which can make it cook faster. Make sure to adjust your cooking time accordingly.
  • Brining is a heavy process, so make sure to choose a container or bag that can hold the meat and the brine solution without leaking.
  • Brining is a popular method for holiday turkeys, but it can also be used for lots of different cuts of meat.

What Happens to Meat When You Brine It?

Brining is a traditional wet process that involves soaking meat in a solution of water, salt, and other ingredients. This technique is popular among chefs and home cooks alike, as it allows for the creation of super moist and flavorful meat dishes. But what exactly does brining do to meat? Let’s take a closer look.

The Science Behind Brining

When meat is soaked in a brine solution, the salt and sugar in the liquid work to dissolve the proteins in the meat. This allows the meat to absorb more water, which in turn makes it more moist and tender. Additionally, the salt in the brine helps to break down tough muscle fibers in the meat, making it easier to chew and digest.

The Key to Brining Success

To get the most out of brining, it’s important to note a few key tips:

  • Use the right salt to water ratio: A basic brine recipe calls for 1 cup of salt per gallon of water, but certain types of meat may require a higher or lower salt content.
  • Brine for the right amount of time: Brining times can vary depending on the type and size of the meat being brined, but a couple of hours is usually sufficient.
  • Remove excess brine before cooking: Excess brine can make meat too salty or sticky, so be sure to pat it dry with a paper towel before cooking.
  • Allow for changes in cooking time: Brined meat may cook faster or slower than unbrined meat, so be sure to adjust your cooking time accordingly.

Brining: The Secret to Perfectly Moist and Tender Meat

Brining is a process that involves soaking meat in a saltwater solution for a certain period of time. This technique is particularly useful for lean cuts of meat, such as chicken breasts, pork chops, and pork tenderloin, which tend to dry out quickly when cooked. By brining these types of meat, you can benefit from the following:

  • Increased moisture retention
  • Improved tenderness
  • Enhanced flavor

Where to Find Brined Meat

If you’re not up for the task of brining your own meat, you can still enjoy the benefits of this technique by purchasing pre-brined meat. Many Canadian butchers and retail stores offer brined meat products, and some even have online locators to help you find them. Keep in mind that pre-brined meat may come with a higher price tag, but the convenience may be worth it. Just be sure to check the terms and conditions for shipping and accessibility, and inquire about any refund policies before making a purchase.

The Natural Formation of Brine

Brine is a solution of salt in water, and it is found naturally in various forms. Here are some ways brine is produced in nature:

  • Seawater: The ocean is the most common source of brine. Seawater contains dissolved salts, including sodium chloride, which gives it its salty taste. The concentration of salt in seawater is typically around 3.5%, but it can vary depending on location and time.
  • Salt Lakes: Some lakes have high concentrations of salt, making them saline. These lakes are often found in arid regions where the rate of evaporation is greater than the rate of water supply. As water evaporates, the concentration of salt in the remaining water increases, eventually forming brine.
  • Groundwater: Brine can also occur in groundwater. When water flows through rocks containing salt, it can dissolve some of the salt and produce brine. This process is typical in geologic formations such as salt domes and overlying sediment.
  • Cryogenic Brines: At extreme times, brine can be formed by the freezing of saltwater. This process is called cryogenic brine formation and is a feature of saltwater ice.

Brine Concentration and Components

The concentration of salt in brine can vary depending on the source and the process that formed it. Some brines have a high salt content, while others have a lower concentration. Here are some specific components of brine:

  • Sodium Chloride: This is the main component of most brines, including seawater and saline lakes.
  • Chlorides and Sulfates of Magnesium and Potassium: These are other salts that can be found in brines.
  • Other Ions: Brines can contain various other ions, depending on the source and the process that formed them.

Importance of Brine in Nature

Brine is an important natural resource that has many uses. Here are some ways brine is important:

  • Salt Production: Brine is a significant source of salt, which is used in various industries, including food production, chemical manufacturing, and water treatment.
  • Energy Production: Brine can be used to produce energy through geothermal power plants and other methods.
  • Freshwater Supplies: In some areas, brine can be treated to remove the salt and produce freshwater.
  • Evaporite Deposits: Brine can also form evaporite deposits, which are important sources of minerals such as gypsum, halite, and potash.

Brine: More Than Just a Meat Preservative

  • Brine is commonly used in meat processing to improve the overall quality and taste of the meat.
  • It is also used in the production of cheese, pickles, and olives.
  • Brine treatment is also used in wastewater treatment plants to remove sludge and sewage.

Uses in Cooling and Energy Production

  • Brines are used as heat-transfer media in refrigeration and cooling systems due to their low freezing temperatures.
  • Brine is also used in power plants to generate electricity through the process of reverse osmosis.
  • Brine is used to quench (cool) steel during the forging process.

Uses in Natural Resource Extraction

  • Brine is produced from natural resources such as rock and ocean water.
  • Brine is used in the extraction of heavy materials such as calcium and ion exchange.
  • Brine is used in the proper installation and function of biological towers.

Methods of Brine Production

  • Brine can be produced through the extended flow of water over salt deposits.
  • It can also be produced through the ion exchange process, where sodium ions are removed and replaced with calcium ions.
  • Brine can be produced through the evaporation of seawater or the removal of water from a salt solution.

Types of Brine

  • The most common type of brine is sodium chloride (NaCl) solution.
  • Other types of brine include calcium chloride and resin brine.
  • The quality of brine depends on the number of ions present and the overall concentration of the solution.

Combined Uses of Brine

  • Brine is commonly used in food processing and wastewater treatment.
  • Brine is also used in cooling and energy production.
  • The potential for brine to be used in multiple applications makes it a valuable resource.

Expensive Brine

  • Brine can be expensive to produce and transport, depending on the desired quality and concentration.
  • The use of brine in certain applications, such as food processing, requires proper treatment and control to ensure safety.

New Technologies and Brine

  • New technologies, such as rotating biological contactors, are being developed to improve the efficiency of brine treatment in wastewater plants.
  • The use of brine in energy production is also being explored as a potential source of renewable energy.

Brine Recipe: The Simple Science of Making Tasty Meat

Brining is a simple process that can help you prepare moist and flavorful cuts of meat. A basic brine recipe is a great starting point for anyone who wants to learn how to brine meat. By preparing a simple brine mix, you can add flavor and moisture to different types of meat, including pork, turkey, and chicken. Brining can also help you cook meat more evenly, and it can lower the risk of foodborne illness.

What Ingredients Do You Need?

To make a basic brine recipe, you need only a few ingredients that you can find in your kitchen. Here are the ingredients you need:

  • 1 gallon of water
  • 1 cup of salt
  • 1/2 cup of sugar

You can adjust the measurements of salt and sugar to your preferences. You can also add additional ingredients to the brine mix, such as white or soy sauce, to give your meat a different flavor.

How Do You Prepare the Brine Mix?

Preparing the brine mix is a simple process that takes only a few minutes. Here are the steps you need to follow:

  1. Heat 1 gallon of water in a large container until it reaches room temperature.
  2. Add 1 cup of salt and 1/2 cup of sugar to the water and mix until they dissolve completely.
  3. Add any additional ingredients you want to include in the brine mix.

How Do You Brine Meat?

Once you have prepared the brine mix, you can start the brining process. Here are the steps you need to follow:

  1. Place the meat in a large container and submerge it in the brine mix.
  2. Make sure the meat is completely covered by the brine mix.
  3. Let the meat sit in the brine mix for several hours, depending on the thickness of the meat and your preferences. A good rule of thumb is to brine for 1 hour per pound of meat.
  4. Remove the meat from the brine mix and rinse it with cool water.
  5. Pat the meat dry with a paper towel and let it sit for a short time to cool and dry.

How Long Does the Brining Process Take?

The length of time needed for brining depends on the type of meat you are brining and its thickness. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Small cuts of meat, such as chicken breasts, need only 30 minutes to 1 hour of brining time.
  • Large cuts of meat, such as whole turkeys, need 12-24 hours of brining time.
  • Thick cuts of meat, such as pork chops, need 4-6 hours of brining time.

Remember that the brining process is passive, meaning you don’t need to do anything while the meat is brining. You can use this time to prepare other parts of your meal or to relax.

What Benefit Does Brining Provide?

Brining provides several benefits to your meat, including:

  • Moisture: Brining helps your meat retain moisture during the cooking process, making it less likely to dry out.
  • Flavor: The saltwater in the brine mix helps to infuse the meat with additional flavor, making it tastier.
  • Safer: Brining can help lower the risk of foodborne illness by killing bacteria on the surface of the meat.
  • Cooking: Brining can help your meat cook more evenly, ensuring that it is fully cooked and safe to eat.

How Do You Measure the Concentrations of Salt and Sugar?

Measuring the concentrations of salt and sugar in your brine mix is an important step in the brining process. Here are some tips to help you measure the concentrations accurately:

  • Use a tablespoon to measure the salt and sugar. A tablespoon is a standard measurement that ensures consistency in your brine mix.
  • Use a kitchen scale to measure the weight of the salt and sugar. This is a more accurate way to measure the concentrations of salt and sugar in your brine mix.
  • Use a brine teacher or resources to learn more about the chemistry of brining and how to measure the concentrations of salt and sugar accurately.

The Key to Perfect Brining: Salt to Water Ratio

When it comes to brining, the salt to water ratio is the most important factor to consider. A brine solution is essentially a liquid that contains a high concentration of salt, which helps to increase the moisture content of meat and prevent it from drying out during cooking. The right salt to water ratio is crucial to ensure that the meat is properly seasoned and that the brine solution is effective in achieving the desired results.

How to Determine the Salt to Water Ratio

Determining the salt to water ratio for your brine solution is easy and straightforward. Here’s a basic recipe to follow:

  • For a standard brine solution, use 1 tablespoon of salt for every cup of water.
  • If you’re using a larger container, such as a gallon, increase the amount of salt accordingly. For example, if you’re using a gallon of water, you’ll need 1 cup of salt.
  • Make sure to use a high-quality salt, such as kosher salt or sea salt, for the best results.
  • Mix the salt and water together in a large container until the salt is completely dissolved.
  • Note that some recipes may call for additional ingredients, such as sugar, herbs, or spices, which can be added to the brine solution as desired.

Why the Salt to Water Ratio Matters

The salt to water ratio is important for several reasons:

  • Too little salt in the brine solution can result in a weak brine that doesn’t properly season the meat.
  • Too much salt can make the brine solution too strong, which can actually draw moisture out of the meat and make it dry.
  • The right salt to water ratio ensures that the meat is properly seasoned and that the brine solution is effective in achieving the desired results.

Choosing the Right Salt to Water Ratio for Different Cuts of Meat

Different cuts of meat may require different salt to water ratios to achieve the best results. Here are some general guidelines to follow:

  • For beef, pork, and other red meats, a standard brine solution with a 1:1 salt to water ratio is usually sufficient.
  • For white meat, such as chicken or turkey, a slightly higher salt to water ratio of 2:1 may be needed to achieve the desired results.
  • For smaller cuts of meat, such as chicken breasts or pork chops, a shorter brining time and a lower salt to water ratio may be appropriate.
  • Note that certain cuts of meat, such as ham or bacon, are already sold in a brine solution and do not need to be brined further.

Final Tips for Brining Success

Here are some final tips to help you achieve the perfect brine:

  • Make sure to use a container large enough to fully cover the meat in the brine solution.
  • Let the brine solution cool completely before adding the meat to prevent it from cooking.
  • Follow the recommended brining time for the specific cut of meat you’re using.
  • Don’t worry if the brine solution looks cloudy or murky- this is normal and doesn’t affect the final result.
  • Chefs and home cooks alike have tried and tested different methods and recipes, so find what works best for you and your taste preferences.
  • Brining isn’t just for meat- it’s also a great way to add flavor and moisture to vegetables, such as potatoes, and even desserts, such as pie fillings or sauces.

What Meats Benefit from Brining?

Brining is a traditional technique that involves soaking meat in a saltwater solution, also called a brine. This process helps to add extra flavor, juiciness, and tenderness to meats that tend to be lean and tough. The brine is made by dissolving salt in water and adding other ingredients like sugar, herbs, and spices. The meat is then submerged in the brine for a period of time before cooking. Here are some things to keep in mind when brining meat:

  • The brine should be made with plain water and a high-quality salt.
  • The meat should be fully submerged in the brine to ensure even soaking.
  • The brining time will vary depending on the type and size of the meat.
  • After brining, the meat should be rinsed and patted dry before cooking.

Meats to Avoid Brining

While brining can be a great way to add flavor and juiciness to meats, there are some meats that don’t benefit from the process. Here are some meats to avoid brining:

  • Fish: Brining can actually make fish too salty and can cause the flesh to become mushy.
  • Lean meats: Meats that are already lean, like filet mignon or pork tenderloin, don’t necessarily need to be brined.
  • Sliced meats: Meats that are already sliced, like deli meats, don’t need to be brined.
  • Fresh fruit: While some people like to brine fruit to make it more flavorful, it can actually make the fruit too sticky and mushy.

Why Brining Poultry is a Game Changer for Your Cooking

Brining poultry is a simple process that involves submerging chicken (or other meat) in a salty liquid, known as brine, for a short period of time. This step is important because it helps to transform regular cuts of meat into flavorful, juicy, and tender dishes. Here are some key benefits of brining poultry:

  • Moisture retention: Brining helps the meat to retain moisture, which means that it stays juicier when roasted or baked. The salt in the brine causes the muscle fibers to absorb water and swell, making the meat more succulent.
  • Flavor infusion: Brining allows the meat to absorb the flavors of the brine, which can be customized with herbs, spices, sugar, or other seasonings. This means that you can lend your own unique twist to your chicken dishes.
  • Tenderization: Brining helps to break down the proteins in the meat, which makes it more tender. The salt in the brine actually causes the individual muscle fibers to break down and then re-form, resulting in a more tender texture.
  • Safety: Brining can help to prevent bacteria from forming on the surface of the meat, which is especially important for lean cuts of poultry. The salty environment of the brine helps to inhibit the growth of harmful microorganisms.

How Brining Works

When you submerge chicken in a brine, the salt in the liquid forms a double bond with the water molecules in the meat. This means that the water is held in the muscle fibers for a longer period of time, even when exposed to heat. Here’s how the process works:

  • The salt in the brine causes the muscle fibers to release their moisture.
  • The salty liquid then forms a double bond with the water molecules in the meat, which helps to retain the moisture.
  • When the meat is exposed to heat, the muscle fibers contract and squeeze out some of the moisture. However, because the water is held in the fibers by the salt, there is still plenty of moisture left in the meat.
  • The result is a juicier, more flavorful, and more tender piece of chicken.

Adding Flavor to Brined Poultry

If you want to add even more flavor to your brined poultry, there are a few tricks you can try:

  • Add herbs and spices to the brine, such as rosemary, thyme, garlic, or black pepper.
  • Use a flavored liquid for the brine, such as apple cider, beer, or broth.
  • Add baking soda to the brine to help tenderize the meat even further. Just be careful not to use too much, as it can cause the meat to become mushy.
  • Rub the chicken with a flavorful spice blend before cooking, such as paprika, cumin, or chili powder.

From Fine Particles to Purified Liquid: The Composition and Purification of Brine

Brine is a solution that consists of water and various solid compounds, depending on where it is found. The range of compounds found in brine can be highly variable, with some brines containing a low concentration of dissolved solids, while others are highly concentrated. The solid particles in brine can be classified as fine, medium, or coarse, depending on their size.

Purification Processes

Purifying brine can require several steps, depending on the intended end use. The most common means of purifying brine involve the use of equipment and facilities that remove contaminants and protect against problematic ions. Some of the processes used in brine purification include:

  • Carbonation: This process involves treating the brine with an alkali, such as calcium or magnesium carbonate, to remove contaminants and protect against problematic cations.
  • Membrane filtration: This process uses membranes to separate the brine into a purified liquid stream and a concentrated brine stream. Ultrafiltration (UF) membranes are commonly used in this process.
  • Evaporation: This process involves heating the brine to remove water and concentrate the dissolved solids. The concentrated brine can then be reused or further processed.
  • Fractional crystallization: This process involves cooling the brine to a temperature where some of the dissolved solids begin to precipitate out as solids. The solids can then be removed, leaving behind a purified liquid.
  • Thermal processes: These processes involve heating the brine to remove water and concentrate the dissolved solids. The concentrated brine can then be reused or further processed.

Contaminant Removal

Brine can contain a range of contaminants, including metals such as barium and carbonate, as well as sodium and chloride ions. These contaminants can react with other compounds in the brine, forming problematic solids such as oxide and hydroxide precipitates, as well as gypsum scaling. To remove these contaminants, brine purification processes may involve:

  • Acid neutralization: This process involves adding acid to the brine to neutralize problematic ions and prevent scaling.
  • Heating: This process can be used to avoid scaling and harm to equipment by removing water from the brine.
  • Membrane filtration: This process can remove contaminants by passing the brine through membranes that selectively remove problematic ions.

Overall, the purification of brine is a complex process that requires careful consideration of the intended end use and the contaminants that exist in the brine. Through the use of various purification processes, it is possible to achieve a purified liquid that can be used in a range of applications, from metallurgy and chemistry to the production of salt and other products.

Timing is Everything: How Long Should You Brine Your Meat?

Before we dive into the general rule of thumb for brining time, let’s discuss the factors that affect how long you should brine your meat:

  • Type of meat: Different meats have different muscle structures and fat content, which affects how much moisture they can absorb. For example, chicken breasts can absorb brine more quickly than pork chops.
  • Concentration of brine: The saltier the brine, the quicker it works. However, be careful not to overdo it as over-brining can lead to dry and tough meat.
  • Size and thickness of meat: The larger and thicker the meat, the longer it takes for the brine to penetrate.
  • Desired flavor: If you want a more flavorful meat, you can add herbs and spices to the brine. This can affect how long you should soak the meat.

General Rule of Thumb

As a general rule of thumb, brine meat for about one hour per pound. However, keep in mind that it’s possible to over-brine your meat, so don’t go too long. Here are some guidelines for brining common meats:

  • Chicken breasts: 30 minutes to 2 hours
  • Pork chops: 2 to 4 hours
  • Whole chicken: 4 to 6 hours
  • Turkey: 12 to 24 hours

Freezing Brined Meats and Poultry: What You Need to Know

Yes, you can freeze brined meat and poultry, but there are a few things you need to know to do it properly. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

  • Brined meat and poultry can be frozen for up to 3 months.
  • The best way to freeze brined meat is to freeze it within the brine in a freezer bag. Leave some room for the liquid to expand as it freezes.
  • Freezing brined meat can help to lock in moisture and flavor, but it can also result in a slightly different texture and taste compared to fresh or cooked meat.
  • When you freeze brined meat, the excess moisture in the brine can form ice crystals, which can affect the texture of the meat when it thaws. To prevent this, you can pat the meat dry before freezing it.
  • Freezing brined meat can also affect the color of the meat. For example, brined pork may turn a darker color, while brined turkey may have a lighter color.
  • It’s important to cool brined meat properly before freezing it to ensure food safety. You should also make sure to store the meat at a consistent temperature in the freezer.

The Difference Between Brining and Freezing

While both brining and freezing can help to preserve meat and poultry, they serve different functions. Brining is a method of adding flavor and moisture to meat, while freezing is a method of preserving it. Here are some key differences between the two methods:

  • Brining involves soaking meat in a saltwater solution, which adds flavor and moisture to the meat. Freezing involves storing meat at a very low temperature to prevent spoilage.
  • Brining can help to tenderize meat and improve its texture, while freezing can affect the texture and taste of meat.
  • Brining is a common method of preparing meat for cooking, while freezing is a common method of storing cooked or uncooked meat.

The Best Meats to Brine and Freeze

Not all meats are created equal when it comes to brining and freezing. Here are some common meats that are often brined and frozen:

  • Chicken breasts: Brining can help to add moisture and flavor to lean chicken breasts, which can be prone to drying out during cooking.
  • Pork: Brining can help to tenderize pork and add flavor to cuts like pork chops and tenderloin.
  • Turkey: Brining is a common method of preparing turkey for Thanksgiving, as it can help to add moisture and flavor to the meat.
  • Certain cuts of beef: While beef is not as commonly brined as chicken, pork, or turkey, certain cuts like brisket can benefit from brining.

What Not to Brine: Tips and Tricks

Here are some types of meat that you should avoid brining:

  • Beef and Pork Fat:
    Brining beef or pork fat can make it too soft and mushy.
  • Onion:
    Onion can overpower the flavor of the meat and make it taste too sweet.
  • Pickling Spice:
    Pickling spice contains a lot of spices that can make the meat taste too strong and bitter.


So, that’s how brine works. It’s a great way to add flavor and moisture to meat, and it can be used for everything from pork to chicken to turkey. It’s a pretty simple process, but it’s important to remember the salt and to make sure the meat is fully submerged in the solution. So, now you know everything you need to know about brine, and you can use it to make some delicious food!

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.