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Oct 30, 2011 07:21 AM

Any downside to brining?

My wife and I eat a lot of boneless skinless chicken breasts. We like the convenience and relatively healthy nature of them since I like meat at every dinner but they come out dry and tasteless a lot.

I read a cooks illustrated article about brining chicken for the grill. During the summer, I took to pounding the breasts out of a uniform thickness, then brining them before throwing them on the grill. Despite my mediocore grill skills, it was almost impossible to screw them up and they always came out nice.

Last night I did shake and bake chicken. I didn't pound the breasts, but I did brine them for a couple of hours in a water and soy sauce mixture. They came out much jucier than usual.

So now I figure I'll brine all my chicken. Is brining truly the magic bullet for making edible boneless skinless chicken or are there any downsides? I don't really watch my sodium but imagine that it soaks up a fair amount of salt, On the other hand, it doesn't taste salty and how much can it soak in anyway? Are there recipes where you shouldn't brine?

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  1. I'm not a huge fan of brining, but many ppl are and more power to them. I don't like the saltiness, and it's a very fine line between brined, and overbrined where the meat is just way to salty for me to eat, and the texture of the meat changes to jello (hyperbole, yes, but I just don't care for the texture.) Some say it's "tender," but I simply don't agree. I can make tender b/s chicken breasts, and do so fairly frequently. Also, I prefer boneless skinless thighs to breasts by a country mile. If you're looking for bonelss skinless chicken, try thighs or legs. B/s turkey thighs are good too. More flavor, and more forgiving if you're worried about your cooking method. B/s breasts are good, but you have to watch them like a hawk -unless you brine them, of course. I'd assume brining might be an issue in stewy dishes - but not really sure.

    1 Reply
    1. re: gordeaux

      Thanks. Unfortunately, my wife doesn't like thighs, and I don't like them enough to argue about it. I don't worry about the saltiness, but the texture does sometimes feel a little off; almost like a processed chicken than a real breast. I've had the same thing happen when I marinate a steak too long (or use vinegar or pineapple juice in the marinade).

    2. Shann, the biggest challenge I see to brining is knowning if your meat has been "enhanced" or injected with the sodium and/or chemical mix many meat providers are doing to pork and poultry these days.

      Beef seems to have been able to steer clear (pardon teh pun-lol) of being enhanced, but a lot of the meat available in large grocers have already been "brined" or at least shot up with a saline solution, so brining may indeed be sodium overkill.

      In meat where no enhancement has been done, I almost always brine. For things like pork butts and shoulders, large chickens and turkeys, I don;t brine but do a custom homemade brine type injection with herbs and other natural items.

      For things like chicken breasts, pork chops and smaller cuts, I brine if not enhanced already.

      Much like anything else these days, you have to be vigilant and read labels, as someone is always looking to slip something you don't want in on you if you aren't paying attention and it adds to their bottom line of profit.

      1. I almost always brine poultry and pork. The only down side is over brining. I highly recommend measuring. I hate to measure and will make a brine by eyeballing it and, sure enough, I have over seasoned my pork chops twice.

        Consequently, I have promised my wife I would measure when brining from now on. She said there would be serious consequences if I over brined the Thanksgiving turkey. I don't even want to know what that means (shudder)!

        1. Brining is an art and a lot of cooks experience "near" success or downright failure the first couple of times they try it so they give up. The density of your brine (things added to the water) will vary depending on the type of protein, the raw weight of the produce being brined, etc. My advice, better under-brine than to over-bring and work up to the optimum formula as you gain experience.
          There are many formulas to serve as a foundation. This page:

          has some good information (based on a CI article) that I like to use as a reference.

          1. i am currently marinating some pork for a Portuguese Vinha D'Alhos. A pork and onion dish, highly seasoned (much like a brine) with vinegar and water, wine -herbs and spices. It's been in there 2 days and I'll use it tonight. Usually I let it go for 3 full days.

            What I 'd like to know is what is the difference in this kind of marinade and using a brine? Is it only the amount of salt or sugar?

            1 Reply
            1. re: chef chicklet

              Marinade and brine are two different processes. The brine essentially enhances the moisture level in the meat, marinating infuses flavor. I'm a bit surprised that your marinating recipe runs for a span of two days. With vinegar and wine in the mix it's breaking down a lot of protein fiber; be careful you don't end up with mushy meat.