Friday, July 27, 2007

More Brining

Another in a continuing series of articles about brining.

You’re going to need a container to hold whatever it is you’re brining. For small pieces such as chicken quarters or pork chops, a good old Ziploc plastic bag is just the trick. But for something large, like a full sized turkey, you’ll need something really big. The easiest way is to use a food service bucket and place the brine and bird in a refrigerator. Since the brine is for flavoring and not preserving, you’ll need to keep everything at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don’t have that much refrigerator space, use a food service bucket and a big cooler. Keep the brine and bird in one end, and keep the other end cycled with ice. Or put the in a cooler with brine, then use ziploc bags full of ice to place on top -- we don't want the salinity of the brine changing as the ice melts.

For one event I needed to do 200 chicken quarters. I mixed up the brine and placed it in a 60 quart cooler. I then put in the chicken, and covered the rest with ice. I made the brine a little stronger, keeping in mind that eight pounds of ice is a little more than a gallon of water. I grilled the chicken on high heat and put a little of my sauce on at the end – the attendees at the event were unanimous on saying this was the best chicken they’ve ever had.

How long to brine is the source of many arguments among barbeque experts. In my opinion, it of course depends upon the size of the meat, but more is better. You’ll also have to take into account how strong the brine solution is – the more concentrated the salt level, the less time it will take to brine. But be careful. At the upper end of concentration you’ll actually be desiccating the meat, which is not what you’re looking for. The amount of time for a brine will range from a few hours for small pieces, to a few days for large undertakings. I once brined a twenty pound turkey for four days and the result was perfection. I had intended to cook the bird earlier, but the weather didn’t cooperate.

The magic ratio for brine is one cup of Morton’s Kosher Salt to one gallon of water, and equal parts of a sweet flavoring. Common sense would tell you that brining would make the bird salty, but in fact it’s the other flavors that come along for the ride that provide the flavor. Other brands or types of salt require different ratios, but stick with Morton’s Kosher Salt. It’s inexpensive, and it’s got the best taste.

The salt and other flavorings that you want to cross the cell walls must be completed dissolved into the solution. The easy way to do this is to bring one or two cups of water to a full boil and dissolve the salt. Then mix this with the rest of the water, stirring well. If the recipe has sugar in it, dissolve the sugar into the solution at the same time.

We’ll start off with a basic brine. You’ll be surprised at the difference this makes, even though it would seem to not impart much in the way of flavor:

1 gallon water
1 cup Morton’s Kosher Salt
1 cup sugar
juice and pulp from three lemons
¼ cup of Lawry’s Seasoned Pepper

Brine the bird for 2-4 hours if you’re doing small pieces, or 6-8 hours for a complete bird. Rinse the bird off in freshwater when you take it out of the brine, but don’t soak it. You’re just removing the outer layer of salt – you don’t want to start a process of reverse osmosis.

The only downside of brining is that the skin is saturated with liquid and tends not to come out crispy. In fact, it can be a little rubbery. If you’re looking for crispy skin, let the bird dry in the refrigerator for a few hours. You won’t lose much of the internal moisture, and the skin will come out as if it were grilled traditionally. I don’t eat the skin anyway, so I tend to go right from the rinse to the grill or smoker.

This part is very important: Now is the time to throw away the brine. It’s raw poultry and shouldn’t be used. Even if you boiled it there would still be bits of blood and meat floating in it that could go bad. Just get rid of it in a safe manner.

Cook the bird on a 325 degree grill until the meat reaches an internal temp of 180 degrees. If you press on the meat, the juices will run clear. Measure the temperature at the thickest part of the meat. Apply a glaze of sauce and let it caramelize on the grill and then apply a little more sauce after you plate it.

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