Maximum Impact, Minimum Effort. That’s how I approach everything, and it is no different when grilling, smoking, or cooking. This brings me to today’s tip – the dry brine.
When I first discovered the dry brine years ago, it completely changed how I prepped my meats. ALL MY MEATS. It will change yours too.
Salt is a critical ingredient that ramps up the juiciness, tenderness, and flavor of any meat when used to season before cooking. Some sprinkle salt on the surface, but why season the surface when you can get it deeper? Some inject meats with a salt solution, but only the skilled avoid pocketing the liquid, causing inconsistencies within the cut. Others may submerge the meat in a salt solution, known as a wet brine. In my opinion, wet brines are a lot of effort, especially if you complicate them with sugars and spices. All of the above work, but I want to MIME.
Enter the Dry Brine
What is the dry brine? It is a surface season plus time. Time allows the surface salt to penetrate deep into the meat without a solution or submersion. When applied, the salt first pulls internal moisture from the meat to its surface. That moisture then proceeds to dissolve the salt. Over time, this brine gets reabsorbed into the meat. It helps to tenderize the meat and uniformly amplifies the flavor. Brined meats lose less water during the cooking process because the salt helps to retain it, making the meat juicier (a study has already been done on this, but who wants to reproduce it with me?). You have to see it to believe it, hence the video at the end.
But first, the process:
1. Don’t scrimp on your salt.
The amount of salt we like in our food is subjective; however I use roughly 1.5 times what I would consider a “normal” surface season. You want plenty of it to penetrate and work its magic. I have yet to find my meats tasting over-salted. Stick with kosher salts or finer as a large, granular sea salt may take longer to dissolve.
2. Let it rest.
This is the core of the dry brine process. After applying the dry brine, put the meat in the fridge. Your cuts will dictate how long to brine. Steaks, ribs, and chicken get 2-4 hours while turkey and larger roasts get 4-6 hours.
3. Business as usual.
Once your brine is complete, season and cook per your normal routine.
Make note, don’t dry brine with anything other than salt. Spices and dry rubs don’t penetrate well, and may make the surface bitter if sitting too long (especially black pepper). I always add a dry rub and/or pepper just before putting the meat on the grill (steaks get surface salt again, but at a lower dose).
The time-lapse video below is a 2 hour dry brine condensed to 15 seconds. What did I do to prep? I unpacked the meat, patted it dry, and put it in my fridge. That is all. To make the crystals visible for the video, I used kosher salt rather than my go to pink Himalayan. I added the salt to the meat while it was in the fridge only for the video – it made quite a mess, something my wife doesn’t always appreciate!
The obvious action happens in the first 2-3 seconds of the video as the salt dissolves, but most of the magic happens in the remaining 12-13 seconds. Watch it a few times and focus on each piece at different times. Notice the salt dissolve and the brine get reabsorbed. The surface of the meat is nearly as dry at the end as it was in the beginning. Once you see and understand what happens here, you will begin to grasp the power and simplicity of the dry brine, and you will see why I MIME. I won’t season any other way.
Try it and leave your comments below!