Maximize Your Brine

By Cook's Illustrated Published September 2013

Could we pack more meat into the same volume of brine to save space in the fridge?

When we brine meat, we generally call for a relatively large amount of saltwater solution for a small amount of meat. After all, we want to make sure that there’s an adequate amount of brine to both season the meat and keep it tender and moist. Our standard brine for four boneless chicken breasts or four pork chops is 3 tablespoons of salt in 1½ quarts of water (or a 9 percent solution of salt to water by weight). We know that it’s fine to add two more breasts or chops to the same brine, but since refrigerator space is always at a premium, we wondered if we could add a few more without having to increase the amount of brine. With more meat would there be enough salt present in the usual amount of brine to properly do its job?

To find out, we soaked four boneless chicken breasts and four pork chops in the standard brine for each quantity of meat. In addition, we soaked eight breasts and eight chops in the same amounts of brine. After 30 minutes, we grilled all the meat and tasted the results. For both chicken and pork, tasters couldn’t tell which meats had had extra company in their respective pots.

Our conclusion? If you are short on space, it’s fine to use up to eight breasts or chops in our recipes that call for four, while leaving the brine amount the same. But don’t go any further than that. When we tripled or quadrupled the amount of chicken and pork, we ended up with underbrined meat.