In this article, your Uncle Bird will show you how to make a simple brine for smoking and why it is important to do so. This brine uses salt and water to make sure you have juicy meat. This brine will cost you about 25 cents per gallon to make. No more dry ass barbecue.
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What is a brine?
The chemical formula of brine is Na+ (aq) Cl (aq). Enough for the science lesson. For our purposes, a brine is a mixture of sodium chloride and water used to add moisture and salt throughout the meat. The added moisture will also protect the meat from overcooking during the smoking session. I recommend using plain salt for brining because it is cheap. The salt molecule is the only molecule small enough to penetrate the meat's cell walls. If you include other ingredients, they will primarily affect the surface unless injected into the meat. Using a meat tenderizer to create holes in the meat increases the available surface area. I would not spend a lot of money on the brine because it is all going down the sink anyway.
Brine vs Marinating.
A brine is a solution of salt and water. A marinade includes acid and oil. While both affect the tenderness and texture of meat, it happens in different ways. The saltwater brine causes the protein strands to unwind and reform in a matrix that traps water. If left in the brine too long, it will be very salty, like the rim of a margarita glass salty. The marinade breaks down and cooks the meat using an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar. Marinades work best for thin cuts of meat. If left in a marinade too long, the meat becomes mushy.
Should you brine before smoking?
Hell yeah. It works with everything, in my opinion, except Beef. It seems to wash out the flavor of Beef, but I am still experimenting with it. The primary benefit of using a brine is consistency. It is easier to measure and pour salt into a fixed amount of water than season meat with an even coating. By keeping the salting and seasoning processes separate, you will have a greater chance of recreating your best cooks. McDonald's is so successful because a Big Mac tastes the same if you are in New Jersey or California. You know what to expect.
What is a Jaccard and how is it used for a smoking brine?
The Jaccard is a handheld meat tenderizer. I have owned both 45 knife and 48 knife models. The 45-knife model is easier to disassemble for cleaning and sanitizing. Using the Jaccard makes brining more effective because the blades cut channels into the meat. Be careful, because too much of anything is wrong. In my experience, the Jaccard works best when used with bone-in meat. If you overuse the Jaccard, especially on boneless meat, it will lose its structure and become a blob. Go easy.
*If you use a Jaccard on any meat, it must be cooked well done. The knives push surface bacteria into the meat. Which increases the risk of food poisoning if you do not cook the meat to a safe internal temperature. We have included a link to the USDA website that provides food-safe internal temperatures.
What is the formula for a meat smoking brine?
Basic Brine Ingredients.
I use the KISS Method (Keep it Simple Stupid). A brine only requires plain salt and water to make the chemical reaction denature the meat's protein. Feel free to use plain iodized salt to keep your costs down. Remember, you will pour the brine down the drain anyway. After you remove the meat from the brine and rinse it, it will be ready for a salt-free rub.
An essential variable in the brining process is time. Please check the below chart for recommended brining times.
Smoking Brine Time Chart
Suggested Brine Time
Bone-in Chicken pieces
Boneless Chicken pieces
Turkey 12lb Average
Don't Wet Brine. Dry Brine instead.
Brine Enhancing Flavors
I prefer to use a simple brine and apply my seasoning separately since flavors only affect the meat's surface unless injected. Applying the seasoning after the brine your costs are lower because you are not throwing your spices away and then using more.
The sugar in brine will aid in browning. The effect on the surface is negligible after rinsing. The channels creating by the Jaccard provide more surface area for the sugar to stick. Again, save your money and sprinkle the sugar or include it in your rub.
I put every other flavoring component into the "Extras" Category. "Extras" include brown sugar, soy sauce, citrus juices, vinegar, herbs, etc. Be careful with acidic ingredients like citrus juices because over brining can give the meat a mushy texture. It is more effective to inject the "Extras" using a high-quality meat injector.
How do I make the Brine for smoking?
Thick plastic bags that hold meat and brine. I started using Jumbo Ziploc plastic bags for turkeys and the one-gallon bags for a single chicken. Unfortunately, the bags always leaked and need to be kept inside of another container. There are bags explicitly made for brining. The brine bags do not puncture easily because of the thicker plastic. Use brine bags with a bucket or pot. Do not use trash bags for brining. They will contain fragrances and other assorted chemicals. Do not risk your friends or family's health. Think about it, you spent all this money on meat but are too cheap to buy some food-safe plastic bags. That makes no sense.
Food Safe Buckets
Food safe plastic buckets are a great option. These can be purchased online or at hardware stores like Home Depot. You can place the buckets in your refrigerator for brining. The food-safe bucket saves money over time since the bucket is reusable. Unfortunately, a 5-gallon bucket will take up lots of room in your refrigerator. Check with any store that has a Bakery. Bakery icing comes in food-safe buckets, and they will give them to you for free. Just ask. As we say in the south, "a closed mouth don't get fed."
I have also used buckets that were not certified as food safe. Keep everything food-safe and use a brine bag inside the bucket. You will have more options such as 1-, 2-, and 3-gallon buckets.
These are buckets that are clear food-safe plastic. The measurements are on the side. A significant advantage to these is their rectangular shape, which takes up less room in the fridge. These are a great option if you plan on cooking often since the measurements allow you to create the brine and add your meat.
Coolers are my favorite option. Because it will not take up any room in your refrigerator, create the least mess, and be scaled up using a larger cooler. When I use a cooler for brining, I place the meat in the cooler and cover it with brine. I keep my ice in 1 gallon sealed Ziploc bags. By keeping the ice in sealed Ziploc bags, you do not have to worry about water leaking and diluting your brine. Please make sure you clean and disinfect the cooler after brining in it. A popular cooler is the 5-gallon orange drink cooler. It has measurement lines inside and a spout to drain the brine when finished. Use a refrigerator thermometer to make sure you maintain a temperature of lower than 40 degrees during the brine.
What type of salt should I use?
Use plain Iodized salt. There is no difference in taste for this application. Do not waste your money buying fancy salts. Why pay for expensive salt when most of it ends up going down the drain anyway?
What about Kosher Salt?
What about Pink Himalayan Salt?
You have more money than sense. Use plain Iodized salt.
Use cold water to make your brine. Do not use hot or warm water because the salt will dissolve at the same rate. Using cold water, you will not create a bacterial explosion and won't have the extra step of cooling down the brine.
4 Cup Glass Measuring Cup
Use it to measure the brine solution.
Use it to stir the brine and dissolve the salt. Don't use your hands. Yes somebody asked about just using their hands.
Fruit Juice, Veggies, Herbs, or other flavoring components.
One Gallon Smoking Brine Recipe
Step 1. Pour in one cup of cold water into the 4 Cup Pyrex.
Step 2. Use any plain salt and pour into the water until the water level reaches 1 ½ cups.
Step 3. Pour the saltwater slurry into the 1-gallon container, fill to the 1-gallon mark, and stir until it the salt has dissolved. Suppose you feel the need to throw some money down the sink. Now is the time to do it. Go ahead and add your fruit juices, soy sauce, and herbs, etc.
Your brine is now ready to use.
*Jaccard the meat prior to placing it in the brine.
Frequently Asked Questions.
Does the brine kill bacteria before smoking?
No. Brine is not a meat cure. Brining is for flavor and moisture retention. Please cook all meats to a safe internal temperature.
Do you have to smoke the meat immediately after brining it?
No. Remove the meat from the brine and rinse if you need to cook it a little later.
Should you rinse brined meat before smoking?
Yes. I rinse to remove the nasty bits and excess salt from the meat's surface.
When do I use the Jaccard?
Jaccard the meat prior to placing it in the brine.