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Oct 31, 2011 12:55 PM

Dry Brining

I read on a BBQ forum one time about dry brining and decided to give it a try. I have to admit this is as easy as it sounds and I've gotten awesome results (for the most part). The end result is very much similar to a water brine but, with improved texture IMO. I've only done it with a whole chicken but I'll be trying it out on some rabbit pretty soon here. For anyone interested, heres how its done;

-Thoroughly rinse and dry whole chicken (or whatever it is your brining)

-Liberally apply salt. (Heres the tricky part, the only time I've screwed this up was when I was WAY too generous with the salt application. You want to add more than you usually would when seasoning using salt, but you don't want the meat to be completely caked in a layer of salt.) Also less salt is needed with skinless meat.

- Cover, and refrigerate. (Total time allowed to rest with salt on will greatly affect the taste of the brine. If you were heavy handed with the salt don't let the meat rest for more than 24hrs, likewise if you were a bit shy on the salt you can give it a little longer) I usually let the meat brine over night and cook the following afternoon.

-Rinse. Simply give the meat a nice thorough rinse and pat dry. Your ready to season and cook per usual recipe. (Obviously you to skip the salt if your normal recipe calls for it)


I'll never go back to water brine method after giving this method a few tries. This makes for a much less messy and more convenient brine. I hope yall give it a try next time you plan on brining.

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  1. Ah, other from the ease, you're missing the best part of dry brining by your method.

    Don't cover it, and don't rinse it. Makes for crispy skin.

    4 Replies
    1. re: jaykayen

      You bring up a good point! I suppose its unnecessary to cover because the salt keeps things sanitary. I never even thought about it to be honest. I also didn't know the trick about not rinsing, I'll have to give it a try.

      1. re: KungPao

        What I do is salt and then wrap the meat tightly in saran wrap. According to Cook's Illustrated (I think), this allows the juices that are drawn out by the salt to eventually be sucked back in (at least partially), carrying some of the salt with them, creating a more fully-permeated-with-salty-goodness bird. I leave it like this for a day, then uncover to allow the skin to dry out. Best of both worlds.

      2. re: jaykayen

        Agreed. I've been making Zuni chicken before I ever heard of Zuni chicken. But without rinsing you can't over salt or you will have some very salty meat. I salt under the skin lightly but go heavier on the skin. Leave for 2 to 3 days until the skin is dry and tight. Makes for some great crispy skin and the meat is super juicy. When I wet brine chicken I get that hammy flavor from the salt and sugar. Guess I could leave out the sugar. I'll wet brine if I'm smoking low and slow and I know I will not get crispy skin anyway.

        1. re: jaykayen

          I rinse it, dry it, and put it back in the fridge uncovered overnight or 24 hours for crispy skin. I'll also never go back to the hassle of wet brining. I've only done this for turkey, so far, before deep frying.

        2. Yup... zuni method for me! And nope, I never rinse and always keep it uncovered! Also stick some herbs between the skin and the meat too :)

          1. Works great for turkey, too! I've been dry brining for years and wouldn't do it any way. Wonderful flavor, crispy skin, no fuss. And since I spatchcock my turkey, it also roasts in no time. Make Thanksgiving day sooooo much easier.

            1. I know that I am in the minority but why do people continue to call it a brine when the proper term for this process is a cure? If there is no water involved it cannot be a brine, and no additional moisture can be added to the meat if the salt isn't dissolved.

              You can add salt to the meat via this method, flavor from the salt and other herbs and spices can be imparted, and the meat will be firmer because it contains less water, but there is no moisture added to the flesh if the salt is not dissolved in a liquid.

              Rant over.

              12 Replies
              1. re: Kelli2006

                Thank you.

                Took the words right out of my mouth.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  The name "dry brine" is a oxymoron. I guess that I liked my formal logic and chemistry classes more than most because calling putting dry salt on meat and expecting the meat to be juicier is is culinary moonglow.

                  Genuflects to Shirley Corriher, Harold McGee and Alton Brown.

                  1. re: Kelli2006

                    I only dry brine jumbo shrimp in a square bowl.

                2. re: Kelli2006

                  Good point as well! This is not a 'brine' in the literal since. Though curing maybe the term that more accurately describes this technique, I still feel like the original term posted definitely gets the point across. Personally, the word curing brings to mind aged (sometimes dry) meat. The post was made to share an alternative to an actual brine, not so much preserving/ aging meats with salt. I do appreciate the correction though.

                    1. re: Kelli2006

                      I must admit I opened this thread only to see if there was a response like this and that I'm not the only one who is driven crazy by the phrase. Glad to see I'm not alone!

                      1. re: Kelli2006

                        That's a good point.

                        But I believe that the reason people call it a 'dry brine' as opposed to a 'cure' is because while the latter is more technically correct, people are applying salt in this case to create a similar effect to a brine, and a very different effect from a traditional cure. A traditional cure is often used as a preservative or a way to drastically change the overall effect of the meat. A 'dry brine' uses less salt and a shorter application, and the intended end result is in fact moister meat.

                        I'll explain: a wet brine enhances the moisture within meat not only by forcing water into meat cells but also by deforming cell membranes so that water can't escape as easily during cooking. A dry brine obviously adds no additional water, but seems to effectively keep the meat moist by virtue of the second process. In un-brined cooked meat, dryness isn't the fault of the meat being too dry before it's cooked, but moisture loss during cooking - a 'dry brine' limits this loss.

                        The point is that while 'dry brine' is admittedly an oxymoronic term, it conveys the intent of the process a lot better than does calling this type of salt application a 'cure.'

                        1. re: cowboyardee

                          Thank you CB. I don't get hung up on the nomenclature for that exact reason.

                          1. re: cowboyardee

                            How can the meat be moister when no moisture is added? Salt is much drier than the meat so in an attempt to seek a equilibrium the salt on the surface will draw moisture out of the meat and then the now dissolved salt with be drawn back into the meat. A refrigerator is a cold dry environment, so there will not be any moisture added by placing it in that box.

                            The meat might have more flavor and maybe the cell walls of the meat may be broken but there is no way that you can add moisture to the meat when there is no moisture added to the process.

                            A traditional cure has much more salt so the drying effect is more noticeable. The only effect that might be happening is that less moisture is lost in the cooking process because the salt in the meat tissue is hydrophobic, but the cure isn't adding any moisture.

                            Yes, I have OCD and I might be interesting in taking measurements before and after the cure and then again after the cooking processe to track both moisture and salinity.

                            1. re: Kelli2006

                              It's not more moist after the dry brine itself. It's more moist after being dry brined and then cooked than it would have been were it cooked the same way but not dry brined. A dry brine *prevents* moisture loss during cooking by deforming cell walls and making it harder for moisture to escape/making the cells contract less while cooking (this contraction normally forces moisture out).

                              In other words, while searing doesn't 'seal in' moisture as the old cliche claims, dry brining actually does, in a way. It doesn't need to add any moisture. It just helps the meat keep more of the moisture it already had before cooking.

                              1. re: Kelli2006

                                Good idea, Kelli2006. I would also like to see how "dry brined" (or whatever you "don't" want to call it) compares to "wet brined" in the amount of water retained AFTER the turkey/chicken is cooked, using two birds of equal weight. However, this sounds like it might require the use equipment found in a chemistry lab to measure the moisture content. Anyway, I would be curious. "Dry-brining" is certainly counter intuitive.

                                1. re: gfr1111

                                  " "Dry-brining" is certainly counter intuitive."
                                  So is wet brining when you don't think it the whole way through. The immediate osmotic pressure should be pulling water out of meat, even in a wet brine. The oddities of the cell membrane are central to how either process works.

                                  Any way, if I'm right, cooked dry brined meat should have more moisture (and retain more of its precooked weight) at the same final temperature than un-treated meat but maybe a little less than wet brined meat.

                                  Dozens of less scientific 'taste experiments' seem to confirm that dry brining can lead to a moist-er final product than un-treated meat.

                          2. I've pretty much always done this prior to bbqing, but have always referred to it as dry marinading. Apply a liberal coating of my top secret bbq rub to pork or chicken or coffee/chile rub to brisket, wrap in foil and hold in the fridge 12 to 24 hours before putting the meat on the smoker. There is a definite difference in the flavor. The bark on a pork shoulder with this pre treatment is heavenly whereas applying the rub immediatly prior to cooking results in a product that is merely orgasmic.