People call me “the meat guy” around here and they’re always asking me for advice about cooking meat. Lately, the questions have all been about grilling. You sure can tell that summer is right around the corner! I figured if my teammates are asking me this stuff, then chances are readers of this blog would be interested too. I think there’s just something so right about cooking meat over open flame. But it can be tricky at times and you don’t want to overcook some great meat.
My grilling secret is brining, which helps meat stay tender and flavorful with less cooking time. Cooks are getting more familiar with brining a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, but brining meats for the grill isn’t as well known. So, you can be the first on your block to wow your guests with juicy, delicious grilled meats.
There’s no big secret to brining, just basic chemistry. Meat contains salt molecules. When you submerge meats into a liquid with a higher concentration of salt, the brine is absorbed into the meat. Any flavoring added to the brine will be absorbed into the meat as well. When you brine meat, it becomes saturated with extra moisture. That extra moisture helps your meat not dry out when grilling. In fact, it’s good for smoking, roasting and frying too.
So what should you brine? Lean meats like poultry and pork are the best cuts to brine. Large roasts, racks of ribs and anything you plan to smoke will be much more tender. And brining is really easy to do, but it does take a bit of forethought and planning. You’ll need a food grade plastic or glass container, or a plastic bag big enough to hold the meat and the liquid. Try to avoid using metal containers or pots for brining, or you can line then with food-safe plastic. Some metals may have a reaction to the brining liquid.
To create basic brine, use 1 1/2 cups of Kosher salt for each gallon of water. You can also use table salt, but reduce the amount to 1 cup per gallon. The number of gallons of water you use depends on how much meat you need to cover. Make enough brine to completely submerge the meat without any part being out of the liquid. Some cuts might need to be weighed down to stay under the surface. You can get really creative with the flavors in your brine by adding ingredients like beer, wine, herbs, spices, garlic, onion, chilies, peppercorns…there’s really no limit to the flavors you could try. I like to add a couple of tablespoons of chopped garlic, a bottle of beer, a diced jalapeño and some roughly chopped onion to mine. If you add fruit juices or natural sweeteners, like maple syrup or molasses, use them sparingly! Their high sugar content will make the meat more likely to burn or blacken on the grill.
Let the meat brine one hour for each pound. Once the brining process is done, remove the meat from the brine (don't reuse the brine), and rinse it to remove the extra salt. (If you are brining a whole chicken or turkey,let it rest for about 6 to 12 hours between brining and cooking. This gives the meat time to absorb the moisture from the skin, and then the skin will get golden and crispy when you are cooking it.) Now you’re ready to grill. You just light the fire and grill like you normally do. Once you’re done grilling, remember to let the meat rest before you serve it so the juices can redistribute themselves.
General guidelines for resting are:
- Lamb & beef – 5 minutes
- Pork – 2-3 minutes
- Poultry – 2-3 minutes
Brining is a simple way to make your Memorial Day grilling memorable...in a good way. Do you have some favorite ways to grill? Let me hear them. It’s always good to teach an old dog new tricks.