Below you'll find some great brine recipes that you can use as a pre-cursor to your smoking activities and also if you fancy trying your hand at curing bacon or ham. You'll also find out about how to brine and why it works.
Brining or wet curing meat and fish has been around for many years and effectively has three purposes:-
Whether we are using brine to preserve or add moisture and flavour is dependent on the meat and the concentration of the brine used.
Brine is a solution of water and salt (other flavourings may be added) and it serves to dehydrate and therefore promote weight loss, so why do many people talk about brine adding succulence and tenderness to food? I learned about osmosis as a student and how water moves through a semi permeable membrane from an area of high concentration to one of low. If osmosis were the process then surely a brine would serve to dehydrate the meat?
Without question, brine is a salt solution that can be mixed to various concentrations to support the drying and preserving of food. The issue really is how long to brine and most importantly the concentration of the brine.
When using brine as a wet cure for meat (ham and bacon) or fish, the objective is definitely to dehydrate and the concentration of the brine will be strong - 70-80%. In these instances, brining is done for a relatively short period of time and is usually followed by rinsing (to halt the dehydration) and a drying process.
The science behind the dehydration is osmosis ie. the concentration of water in the brine is lower than the concentration of water in the muscle cells of the meat or fish.
There are four factors that affect brining time for fish:-
You'll find that most of my cold smoked fish recipes use a brine strength of 70-80% and it's a very simple brine.
The other factors contribute to differences in the time that the fish spends in the brine and this is best demonstrated by looking at how brining times vary between different species.
You'll find more detail in each of my smoked fish recipes.
When it comes to hot smoking it's mainly about salmon. I've got the standard brine for salmon together with some additional seasonings.
It's similar for bacon and ham in that it comes down to personal taste however there is a general rule of thumb of 4 days per inch and generally no more than 10 days.
Always thoroughly wash off the brine before drying / maturing because any salt left on the the meat will attract moisture and mould will grow on your bacon.
This is a completely different brine concentration and the science behind it is completely different too. The brine is much weaker, usually anywhere between 5-20%, the active ingredient is still salt but it's not dehydration or an osmotic effect.
The salt serves to denature the protein sheaths around the muscles in the meat. Normally these muscle cells are tightly bound so not much water is in them but when the protein sheath is denatured, the whole thing relaxes and so water is absorbed (and retained).
To further enhance the water retention during cooking, the denatured protein sheaths don't contract as much as they normally would when exposed to heat so less moisture is "squeezed out" during the cookout.
Note: - Because the brine concentration is so low it is arguable as to whether there is also an osmotic effect taking place too and there probably is. If it were exclusively osmosis however it would stand to reason that pure water would be the best for soaking your turkey, yet studies have shown that a weak brine concentration delivers better water retention than pure water. Therefore something else has to be having the effect.
This is down to the strength personal taste. When you read my brine recipes below you'll see that
they will normally be in the region of 10–15% strength and this means
that you can brine for a reasonable length of time ex. overnight or 1
day without too much concern. Start with overnight and build you way up
both in time and concentration.
Stuff the cavity with paper towels and wrap more around the outside of the turkey. When it is as dry as you can get it, remove the paper towels and place your turkey in the refrigerator overnight (standing on its neck) and this will maintain the moisture in the meat yet at the same time dry the outer skin.
You can also air dry it by hanging for 12 hours. First tie the wings and then hang it by the legs. Finally to prepare for smoking ensure that the neck is nicely open so that the smoke can pass through the bird.
Basic Brine For Smoked Salmon together with some additional flavourings
Especially when smoking wild duck (or goose) it’s really important to brine first because wild duck has little fat on it. The acidity (it's malic acid in apples) serves both to tenderize the meat and also to keep the meat from drying out when cooking.
Compare this with my grilled duck breast recipe which really calls for a good fatty breast.
For the apple juice brine you need the following ingredients and don't be afraid to experiment with different herbs depending on what you've got available. Mixed herbs work just a well as the thyme that I've used.
Yield:- 500ml or 1 pint
Preparation Time:- 5 minutes
Marinade Time:- overnight
Cooking Time:- 1 hour
Total Time:- 1 day
Use this link for the full Smoked Duck Breast
Use this link for my Smoked Goose Brine
I've included jerky here because it's arguable whether jerky uses a brine or a marinades. On one hand I've described them as marinades but then again the mix is similar to the bucket chemistry techniques used for brine recipes.Homemade Jerky Recipes
There are two ways to determine concentrations of brine solution, one is to measure discrete quantities of salt and water whereas the other is to use a salinometer.
I use the former of these two because I make up brine as and when I need it, I don't have a production line of foods for curing and smoking. All I need to do is decide on the strength of brine that I need, how much I need and then use the brine table determine the amount of salt that I use to make up my mix.
You will note that all measurements are by weight and not volumetric (eg. cups) this is so that these tables work whatever the density of salt you are using.
This is a very important point if (heaven forbid!) you use someone else's brine recipes that measure Kosher salt in cups. In this instance you must use Kosher salt and the quantity specified, you cannot substitute a regular non iodised salt. There's nothing wrong with using non iodised salt it's just that Kosher salt has larger crystals so one cup of Kosher salt will weigh significantly less than one cup of regular salt.
|% Concentration||1 Quart||2 Quarts||3 Quarts||4 Quarts|
|% Concentration||1 Litre||2 Litres||3 Litres||4 Litres|
Note: - Many will tell you that once a brine has been used you must throw it away, this is fair comment for a weak turkey brine but not true for a bacon brine. Provided you bring it back up to strength, you can use your solution many times but it must be filtered of all debris and kept refrigerated. Don't leave it lying around – that's a sure fire way to cause food poisoning.
Both tables above provide the correct quantities for a fresh brine mix but once used, you cannot assume that the strength of the solution is maintained.
If you're going to use your salt water mix for more than one wet curing session then you will need a salinometer to bring your solution back to your preferred strength at the end of each batch.
If you haven't got scales and a measuring jug (get some!) there is a very simply method to determine a 50% brine solution and that is to use an egg or potato. Just place the egg or potato in water and mix in your salt, when the egg (or potato) rises to the surface, you've reached 50% strength (it's crude but it works).