Dry-brining is a simple and effective way to improve food quality. It costs next to nothing and requires minimal effort.
A dry-brine is especially effective on foods that are prone to drying out. Don’t forget this technique the next time you cook a Thanksgiving turkey, chicken breast, or salmon.
If you want the ‘secret’ to tender and juicy meat, then dry-brining is your best bet.
Table of Contents
- What is Dry-Brining?
- Dry-Brine Instructions
- What Happens During the Dry-Brine Process?
- Why Dry-Brine Over Other Seasoning Methods?
- Rinsing Meat Before and After Dry-Brining
What is Dry-Brining?
Dry-brining is the process of salting and resting raw meat. The salt in dry-brined meat improves flavor, juiciness, and tenderness.
However, it takes some time for salt to disperse throughout the meat and produce these results. Since dry-brining is a slow process, the resting phase is essential!
Despite the wait time, dry brining is versatile and works for many cuts of meat, such as:
- Red Meat: beef, pork, lamb, goat, etc.
- Poultry: chicken, turkey, etc
- Seafood: salmon, lobster, shrimp, scallops, etc.
- Rinse meat* and pat dry (optional).
- Season meat with a liberal amount of salt – apply under poultry skin if possible.
- Rest for 30 minutes to 24 hours, depending on size.
*Rinsing meat with improper techniques can cause food-borne illness. Continue reading for the correct rinsing protocol.
What Happens During the Dry-Brine Process?
Dry-brining produces many physical and chemical changes to improve meat quality.
- Salt draws out moisture from the meat.
- The liquid dissolves salt to create a brine.
- The meat reabsorbs the brine.
Using large grain salts (e.g., kosher salt) can prevent oversalting. That’s because finer salts dissolve quickly, which make them invisible to the naked eye. Since large salt crystals take longer to dissolve, it’s easier to judge how much salt is present.
After the salt dissolves and works its way inside the meat, it produces a variety of changes. These reactions help improve the quality of your final dish.
Dry-Brining Provides Even Flavor Distribution
Salt is a small molecule that can permeate throughout meat. However, it still requires time to distribute evenly throughout.
Skipping the resting phase can result in an overly salty exterior but flavorless center.
Unfortunately, some larger flavor compounds are incapable of passing through muscle cells. While spices may add flavor to food surfaces, not all are capable of penetrating thick cuts of meat.
Dry-Brining Increases Tenderness
Salt disrupts meat proteins that usually constrict during the cooking process. A lack of muscle contraction helps meat stay tender.
But without salt, these proteins contract as they please. Muscle contraction causes muscle fibers to tighten, resulting in tough and chewy meat.
Dry-Brining Increases Juiciness
Dry-brined meat cooks up juicier due to water following high concentrations of salt.
When we add salt to the meat’s surface, it draws out moisture. But the same holds true when salt is inside the meat (i.e., it keeps moisture inside during cooking).
Furthermore, salt disrupts muscle proteins, which usually squeeze out more juices during cooking. Since salt prevents these contractions, it can further reduces water loss.
Why Dry-Brine Over Other Seasoning Methods?
In comparison to other seasoning methods, dry-brining has unique benefits.
Dry-Brining and the Maillard Reaction
Resting a dry-brined piece of meat in the fridge reduces surface moisture, which is a good thing. Excess water on the meat surface significantly slows down the
A browning reaction that converts proteins and sugars from food into flavor compounds. It works faster at higher temperatures.
More info on Maillard reaction .
For example, it only takes minutes to brown meat when you sear it at temperatures over 300°F.* That’s because these temperatures evaporate water and speed up the Maillard reaction.
*300°F is easy to remember and won’t cause your meat to burn. It refers to the surface temperature of the meat, not the cooking temperature.
On the other hand, it takes hours for these proteins to brown in a stew (212°F, the boiling temperature of water).
So, until all surface moisture evaporates, meat will boil like a stew with minimal Maillard browning. By the time you get a nice sear on wet meat, you may have already overcooked it.
Dry-Brine vs. Regular Salting
Searing meat after dry-brining is superior to searing right after salting. You’ll have better flavor, texture, and quality.
Salt draws out moisture at first, which will reduce the temperature to boiling. As you already know, this will ruin your sear and slow down the Maillard reaction.
Also, recall that salt disrupts protein structure, which prevents muscle contraction. The relaxed muscles help meat stay juicy.
If salt doesn’t work its way into the meat, then the muscle fibers contract to squeeze out juices and other meat proteins. Cooking up these proteins will cause them to solidify into a substance resembling egg whites.
As a result, skipping the resting process will do far more than under-season meat. It may even ruin the texture and appearance.
Dry-Brining vs. Wet-Brining
A wet-brine is different from a dry-brine because it uses salt and water to brine. You’d think that wet-brining would create juicier meat, but it’s not that simple.
First, any moisture loss from dry-brining is insignificant to begin with. Meat loses more water during the cooking process than the dry-brine phase.
Note that dry-brined meat holds moisture better than regular salting. There’s no need to ‘add water back’ by choosing to wet-brine instead.
Second, wet-brining makes meat less flavorful because of the water.
Consider how dry-aging steak dries and concentrates beefy flavors. Wet-brining is the exact opposite!
And once again, the excess moisture from wet-brining can slow down the Maillard reaction. Therefore, trying to brown wet-brined meat may cause overcooking.
Rinsing Meat Before and After Dry-Brining
Under certain circumstances, you might want to rinse before and after dry-brining. But in most cases, you should skip this step.
Why Rinse Before Dry Brining Meat?
Suppose you leave raw meat in your fridge a bit too long and notice off smells. These odors may be the result of bacterial or fungal action on your meat.
Assuming it hasn’t gone bad, you can rinse away the smell and remove unwanted flavors.
Why Rinse Dry-Brined Meat?
Rinsing can also reduce the sodium content (to a certain degree) from over-salting.
For example, you may notice that one serving from a batch of dry-brined meat is too salty. If you dry-brined them equally, it’s safe to say that they’re all over-seasoned.
However, rinsing will introduce moisture and reduce the meat’s Maillard browning potential and overall flavor. You’ll have to counteract the moisture with Maillard reaction techniques to speed up browning.
Rinsing meat under running water can spread harmful germs through water droplets.
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However, you can minimize your risk by following these rinsing protocols:
- Fill a container with water.
- Submerge meat and clean with gentle agitation.
- Pour the water out, taking care not to splatter.
- Disinfect or wash any contaminated surfaces/tools with soap and water.
Dry-brining can elevate your cooking with little to no effort. Even the most basic cooks can follow along with this guide.
Remember, the most important part is to remember to dry-brine ahead of time. Your food will only be as good as the amount of time you rest your meat (larger cuts require more time)
Follow these guidelines so you can enjoy restaurant-quality food at home without the restaurant price-tag.