Brining causes meat to accept moisture before cooking and helps to retain moisture during cooking. Brine is basically a concentration of salt and sugar within a liquid. Other flavour can be added to the brine, but even a brine with only salt and sugar can dramatically improve a meat’s flavour.
There are two basic principles involved in the brining process, osmosis and diffusion. Diffusion and osmosis are always working to reach an equilibrium. Diffusion is what causes the meat to accept the salt and sugar. The concentration of the brine (salt and sugar levels) is greater than the concentration in the meat’s tissue. Diffusion tries to reach an equal state of salt and sugar in both the brine and meat. Therefore, the salt and sugar levels will increase in the meat’s tissue. Brining also causes water to be drawn into the meat. This is because of the higher concentration of water outside the meat trying to equalize with the lower concentration of moisture inside the meat. This movement of moisture is called osmosis.
Once the salt and sugar are in the meat’s cells, they cause the proteins to relax and link together. The links of proteins then capture and hold more moisture. As the meat is cooked, the links of proteins begin to gel and forms a barrier to lock and hold in moisture and flavour. This is the reason that brined meats taste fresher than non-brined meats, even after being reheated the next day.
You can use Sea salt and brown sugar in your brines. Add aromatics to taste like fresh rosemary, pepper, and other spices and herbs. Don’t add any acidic ingredients like vinegar or lemon juice as these will cure your meat and make it mushy. These ingredients are better reserved for a shorter marinade. Sea salt has a much cleaner taste than table salt and brown sugar gives more flavour than pure sugar. The rule to follow on the ratio of salt to sugar and water is one gallon of water to at least 1/2 cup of salt (one cup is the maximum) and a minimum of 1/2 cup of sugar. Brining can cause the meat to be too salty if these proportions are not followed.
The water used in the brine should also be non-chlorinated. You can boil tap water for a few minutes to remove most of the chlorine, but it is better to let the chlorine evaporate by letting the water stand for a few hours. Just heat the water to dissolve the salt and sugar. Before the meat can be added, the brine must be chilled in the refrigerator. Or you can just add some ice. Just use less water to start with and make sure your ice was made with filtered water. Rule of thumb is about two pints of brine per pound of meat. The best meats to brine are poultry and pork. The meats should be brined for about one hour per pound but no more than eight hours. The best containers to use for brining are large, zip-lock freezer bags or a plastic container and some mechanism to hold the meat down in the brine. Because of contamination by the meat, do not reuse any of the brine.