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I frequently make use of brining as a tool to help yield juicy (and well-seasoned) meat--especially on pork and poultry. I am usually pretty successful with this technique and get compliments from guests.

On the other hand, I have in the past purchased factory-brined poultry and found it nearly unpalatable. These will sometimes say things like "up to 12% retained water"--sometimes even 16% or 20%.

What is the difference here? My hypothesis is that one of more of these factors are a detriment to the factory-brined birds

  1. Concentration (e.g. 5% vs 15%)
  2. Chemicals (e.g. salt vs sodium phosphate)
  3. Delivery method (soaking vs injecting)
  4. Age (freshly brined vs sitting for who-knows-how-long)

It seems to me that something about the factory brine is irreparably damaging the muscle fibers. In part, I'm interested so I know what to avoid in my own brines (e.g., for #4--do I need to be sure to cook my beast promptly after brining), and in part I am just intrigued by the difference.

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Can you explain what you mean by unpalatable? –  Aaronut May 25 '11 at 23:45
    
Great question. As an example, I was served a pre-brined turkey on Easter, and the texture was almost like that of a cured meat, like ham or corned beef. The bird was almost completely devoid of any turkey flavor, and had to be drowned in gravy. –  Ray May 25 '11 at 23:54

1 Answer 1

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I think (as is so often the case with preprocessed meat) it will often depend on who you buy it from. I often buy kosher prepared birds (which are always pre-brined salted) and I've never had any complaints. The nice thing about kosher preparation, is that it is done according to very specific rules, under strict supervision. It's not a factory process.

On the other hand, I cannot abide the brined birds from major poultry companies. Their primary goal is to increase the weight of the bird, not the flavor.

Factory prep seeks to minimize time and cost. They will use cheap ingredients (largely just water and salt, with no added herbs) and they will use whatever process takes the least time, most likely injection, which has the added benefit that they can force more liquid (and therefore weight) into the meat than would normally come from absorption. They'll likely insta-freeze it, so wait time is probably not an issue, but freezing causes its own issues.

I would say, for best results, take your time. A nice leisurely soak, real salt, and no pressure on the meat. For best results (talking turkey here) look for "Natural" or "Minimally Processed": if it says that, you shouldn't have to worry about competing additives.

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Kashering isn't the same thing as brining. There's no liquid involved, just salt. –  Aaronut May 26 '11 at 1:35
    
@aaronut: Eh. Salt, wash, salt, wash. It's briny enough. –  Satanicpuppy May 26 '11 at 1:41
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Well, it's salty, yeah; generally kashering removes moisture though, compared to brining which introduces more. –  Aaronut May 26 '11 at 1:59
    
And yet, the Empire (Kosher brand in US) chickens are usually much better than factory-injected competitors. I suspect that although there is some moisture lost in the process, the salt helps the birds retain water during cooking. –  Ray May 26 '11 at 9:54
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Re: dryness due to salting: It depends on how long the salt is left on the surface of the meat. At first, the salt will adsorb moisture which, if washed too early, will be lost. If left long enough, though, the moisture (along with some of the salt) will absorb back into the meat. –  ESultanik May 26 '11 at 12:58

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