100 Techniques

Technique #31: Brine Poultry and Meat for Tender, Juicy Results

Brining has had its ups and downs in terms of popularity. But we are steadfast, enthusiastic proponents. Why? Simply put: better flavor and texture.

Published Oct. 1, 2023.

This is Technique #31 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master.

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All meats lose moisture when cooked, so brining can be a great way to keep them from drying out.

You’re infusing extra moisture into the meat prior to cooking, so even though it will lose the same amount of moisture when it cooks as meat that hasn’t been brined, you end up with more moisture in the meat when it’s done. 

How Does Brining Work?

Brining works by promoting a change in the structure of the muscle proteins. As the salt is drawn into the meat, the protein structure of the meat changes, creating gaps that increase its ability to hold on to water and stay juicy and tender during cooking.

But not all proteins need to be brined all the time.

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When Is It Smart To Brine?

Lean proteins like poultry, pork, and seafood benefit when you are subjecting them to the high heat of frying or grilling, or you are cooking them for a prolonged period of time in a dry environment—like a whole Thanksgiving turkey, for example.

One of the very best things to brine is chicken parts for frying. Soaking chicken pieces in a salty buttermilk brine ensures the chicken is highly seasoned and stays juicy even after being blasted by the hot oil.

Likewise, brining pork tenderloin, which is extremely lean, in a salty-sweet brine is the ideal insurance for keeping it moist and juicy on the hot grill.

Unlike salt, using sugar in a brine doesn’t change the meat’s texture, but it can be used to add flavor and promote better browning.

When Should You Skip Brining?

It’s not desirable if you’re cooking protein in a moist environment, as with a braise, or just quickly cooking skin-on poultry pieces, since the extra moisture will inhibit the skin from becoming crispy.

And meats that are well-marbled even after cooking, like beef and lamb, are best salted rather than brined.

3 Tips for Successful Brining

  1. Make sure to use food-safe nonreactive container for brining—just double check that it’s large enough to completely submerge whatever you are brining. 
  2. To keep your food at a safe temperature, always store the brining food in the refrigerator. 
  3. Always follow the recommended brining time in a recipe. More is not better, since brining for too long will result in overly salty meats with an unpleasant, spongy texture.
Check out our technique in action for successfully brining poultry.

Step by Step: How to Brine and Fry Extra-Crunchy Chicken

To put this brining technique to the test, follow these steps to achieve perfectly seasoned, extra-crunchy fried chicken that stays moist.

Step 1: Make the Brine

To brine chicken parts before frying, dissolve salt in buttermilk in container large enough to submerge all chicken pieces.

Step 2: Soak the Chicken

Add chicken to brine and soak for 1 hour in refrigerator.

Step 3: Prepare Chicken for Frying

Remove chicken from brine and dredge in seasoned flour. Transfer to prepared baking sheet.

Step 4: Fry Skin-Side First

Add chicken to hot oil, skin side down, and cover pot. Fry until deep golden brown on first side.

Step 5: Flip and Fry Till Golden

Flip chicken and cook uncovered until deep golden brown on second side and breasts register 160 degrees and thighs and drumsticks register 175 degrees.

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Recipes That Use This Technique

Want to put your newfound knowledge of brining poultry and meat to use? Try it with these recipes.


Extra-Crunchy Fried Chicken

We wanted to create juicy, rich tasting fried chicken at home without the big mess, and with a crust as crunchy as KFC.
Get the Recipe

Grilled Glazed Pork Tenderloin Roast

Overcoming pork tenderloin’s challenges—lean, dry meat; mild flavor; and a tapered shape that cooks unevenly—required some rough treatment.
Get the Recipe

Sweet Tea–Brined Fried Chicken Thighs

Sweet tea makes an extra-special brining liquid.
Get the Recipe

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