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A Better Brine?

By Cook's Illustrated Published March 2012

Does less salt really make for a more efficient brine?

We’ve always been big advocates of brining (soaking meat in a saltwater solution). As salt is drawn into meat, the protein structure of the meat changes, reducing its overall toughness and increasing its capacity to hold on to water and stay juicy during cooking. A brine also thoroughly seasons meat all the way to its interior.

We generally recommend brining in a solution that’s roughly 9 percent salt by weight (9 grams of salt for every 100 grams of water). Several scientific studies, however, have shown that meat absorbs the most moisture at a salt concentration of about 6 percent.

When we compared chicken breasts brined in 6 percent and 9 percent salt concentrations, the 6 percent sample indeed soaked up slightly more salt water. But overall, tasters still preferred the chicken brined in a 9 percent solution because they liked its somewhat saltier taste. Our conclusion: A 9 percent solution might be slightly less than optimal in terms of saltwater absorption, but it still provides the best balance among a brine’s threefold effects, producing meat that’s tender, juicy, and well seasoned.