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Jan 27, 2011 04:37 PM

stupid question about brining

This may seem like a really stupid question. But every time I've looked up anything about brining, I always find the formula of, like, 8 cups of water with however many cups of sugar and salt. Now as a single person who lives alone, I don't often use more than 16 oz of meat at a time. I was wondering if it was possible to reduce the brining liquid to about half the amount with the same equal parts. I would say this is obviously do-able, but the fact that I've never heard anyone mention the recipes for brining being portioned down makes me have my doubts. Also, I never hear anyone just list the recipe in portions, it's always starts with a base of 8 cups of water, as opposed to just, this many parts water, sugar and salt.

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  1. I felt your pain, and then basically gave up on wet brining. For one thing, while it certainly tenderized the meat and added moisture, my pork loin roasts there for a while had a decidedly Jello-like feel to them - not totally jellied, just enough to be kinda weird. Dry brining, on the other hand, reportedly does the trick in a nicer way and requires no giant bath. I've not tried it, though I'm sure there are plenty of folks here who have, but simply salting the meat and letting it sit loosely covered has helped such things as the pathetically lean pork loin roasts we're getting nowadays (larding helps too, but that's a different topic). So I'd suggest you look for more information on that process.

    FWIW, the smallest piece I've wet-brined was a 2 1/2 lb. boneless loin roast in a gallon Ziploc with half a gallon of water (yes, that 8 cups!), 3/4 cup of salt and half a cup of sugar. Overnight, and it was okay. I don't personally see the point of going to that much trouble for a single meal's worth of meat, even just for me.

    1. Estimate or measure how much liquid is needed to cover your piece of meat (in what ever is the most convenient container). Then use the appropriate ratio of salt and sugar. If you only need 2 cups to cover the meat, then use a quarter of everthing.

      1. Dry brining is definitely the way to go. I've been doing it for over ten years now, and it's much less of a hassle than wet brining, and you won't end up with the textural issues that Mr. Owen refers to in his post.

        Use kosher salt, not table. Let your piece of meat air dry in the coldest part of the fridge for as long as possible. The only things I don't dry brine uncovered for more than a few hours are boneless chicken breasts and boneless pork chops, or fish and seafood. Other than that, it's easy as pie. We've never had anything that was oversalted or ruined using this method.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Phurstluv

          Use kosher salt, not table. Yes. And use Diamond Crystals, not Morton's. Morton's is rock salt and will grossly oversalt whatever you apply it to; DC is evaporated salt, is in flakes rather than chopped rocks, and is pretty much convertable in recipes directly from table salt. In other words, while a teaspoon of Morton's = 2 tsp table salt (roughly), the Diamond Crystals salt can be used at par.

          In California I buy Diamond Crystals at Smart & Final for $2-something per 2-pound box. YMMV.

          1. re: Will Owen

            I don't know where you got Morton's Kosher salt in rock salt form but mine is (and has always been) flaked. Kosher salt is used in place of table salt, usually as a final step rather than as a recipe ingredient, because it does not dissolve like table salt and provides a bit of a salt "kick" with each bite of food. Diamond Crystal salt is granulated, rather than flaked, and doesn't work as well as a finishing salt as the Morton Kosher variety.
            Rock salt (halite) is what you normally buy when you purchase table salt. It dissolves readily in water and is simply granulated for table use (with iodine sometimes added as a thyroid disease preventative measure)

            1. re: Will Owen

              For brining, the only essential point is that Diamond is least dense, table salt densest, and Morton's kosher in between. If you make the brine using a weight measure, it the salts are interchangeable. If working by volume, it is simplest to use the type that the recipe calls for.

              Ruhlman in Ratios suggests a 20 parts water : 1 part salt, by weight.

              1. re: Will Owen

                The usual table of equivalents would say:

                1 unit of table salt =

                1.5 units of Morton's kosher salt
                2 units of DC kosher salt

                * * *

                I only dry brine now. No need to wet brine.

            2. The great thing about a brine is that is a very forgiving medium. If you made the brine with the original recipe but only put half as much meat in, it would be fine to use. If you cut everything in half, it would be fine to use as well. There are lots of things to sweat in the kitchen, but this is not one of them.

              1 Reply
              1. re: gilintx

                after all, you end up tossing most of the brine.

              2. Use a fairly tight container and use what you need to cover the meat. Salt is pretty cheap so if you waste some, oh well. I usually use a zip lock bag but I have removed as much air out of the bag as possible. If there is extra bag, I just roll it up so the meat stays in contact with the brine.

                I don't see how dry brining brings extra water into the meat which is what wet brining does. I guess it could, I'm not an expert on the subject.

                With a full chicken or turkey it will take one of those big water baths. I usually am brining pieces of chicken, pork tenderloins which are only a pound or pork chops. I don't generally cook whole pork loins or even 3 pound sections so those would need a big bath too. Small pieces require only an hour of brining too.

                I also suggest you try brining pork tenderloins in 7-8 tablespoons of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar for about an hour. Use one of those zip lock bags I was talking about. I like it even better than regular brining.