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I read that brining makes meat moister by causing protein cells to absorb water from the brine via osmosis (Wikipedia) So I thought, hmm, why not kill 2 birds with 1 stone: brine + slow-cook (sous-vide) at the same time for 12 hours or so (temp at 158º-160º). Boy, was I wrong, the pork came out tough and dry! :(

Is the effect of brining the opposite at higher temp?

UPDATE: I should also mention that later on, I slow-cook another one but this time in its own juice instead of brine and it turns out better.

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    Wikipedia is wrong. Osmosis always brings water from the salt-free to the salty place. If any osmosis is happening in brining, it works to make your meat drier, not juicier. (Of course brining as a whole makes the meat juicy - but it is by other processes, not osmosis).
    – rumtscho
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 10:49
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    what % was your brine solution? If you wanted to use this type of method I suggest keeping the overall salt content in your cooking medium to around 1-1.5% since that is the overall salt level we typically perceive to be tasty in food. Also, the salt concentration cannot get above this amount since it will eventually reach equilibrium at some point.
    – Brendan
    Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 18:59
  • @rumtscho My intuition tells me so too, because if you just marinate something for a really long time, you are essentially curing the meat, therefore making it tougher. So then, what is this "other processes" you are talking about that makes the meat juicier?
    – pixelfreak
    Commented Mar 21, 2013 at 4:37
  • Somebody else already asked that, look around for the question, must still be on the main page.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Mar 21, 2013 at 11:12

2 Answers 2

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I recommend giving this page a read: Equilibrium Brining

The idea is that when typically brining a piece of meat you may put it in a brine that is lets say 7% salt. Now it's up to you to time it correctly so that the meat and the salt solution will begin to equilibriate. Pull it out too soon and it's no big deal, put it in too long and you get a salty mess with a very tough texture.

A better way of doing this, and somewhat analogous to the stew comment, is to pick a salt concentration for the dish. Something delicate will need less salt compared to something more robust. Let's say you decide on 1.5% salt, meaning weigh your ingredients as a whole and then add 1.5% of that weight in salt. Using this method, you dont have to rely on timing, rather you can go about your business and cook it as you normally would because the salt concentration, no matter how long your cook it for, will never rise above that 1.5%. If you did this with the traditional brine, depending on the thickness of your meat, could get to 7% which would be very over-salted and probably a textural mess.

Now should we be cooking in brines? My advice, no, brine first and then cook normally because of the greater possibility of texture change with the prolonged time in the salt solution. But if you use the equilibrium method you can at least control the max salinity of the food.

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  • Thanks, Brendan. I've seen that video actually, but for some reason it eluded me when I posted this question. Anyway, would this only work for brine? What about soy sauce marinade? I assume it'll be similar because soy sauce is salty?
    – pixelfreak
    Commented Mar 21, 2013 at 4:37
  • yeah but you don't really know how salty it is. Most times ppl use soy in a marinade with doesn't usually penetrate to the core so your safe but if you cook in it your probably going to have to dilute it and balance it with other flavors.
    – Brendan
    Commented Mar 21, 2013 at 4:44
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    The page and video (and site) at that link are fantastic. Great info and apparently a perfect answer as to how to do this right.
    – zanlok
    Commented Mar 21, 2013 at 16:23
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Brining works at a cellular level; if the solution does not have the time to act and reach inter-cellular gaps then you won't get the benefits.

How does brining work (from same wiki article):

  • the meat cells have water and solutes (sodium, chloride, potassium, amino acids, ...etc)
  • the brine has salt (sodium, chloride)
  • the salt ions of the brine diffuse into the cells
  • the osmosis cause the cell to absorb water
  • some other stuff happens to the proteins (denaturalization) causing the water to be trapped

This is a slow process, in particular for the salt ions to diffuse into theat, for the osmosis to happen, for the protein to coagulate ...etc.

How is brining different from curing:

  • the concentration of solutes (e.g. sodium and chloride) is different
  • curing is usually mostly done with salt (sugar/molasses/...etc optional)
  • the concentration being higher, the osmotic pressure draws water out.

Slow cooking in the brine just didn't give a chance for the meat to absorb and trap water. Since you describe the meat as tough and dry, I would say this is mostly because of salt concentration seems too high (wet-curing).

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  • Thanks, curious though, isn't this how stew work? You slow-cook meat in a marinade (which is usually salty and sweet) for a long period of time and the meat comes out tender and juicy
    – pixelfreak
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 7:44
  • No, stewing is cooking in water, and the act of stewing the meat in the water creates broth. You can slow cook in a marinade, but you probably would end up with too concentrated a flavor for a stew.
    – GdD
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 9:34
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    @pixelfreak the meat in stew gets juicy from the melting of collagen already present in stew cuts. Has nothing to do with the liquid in which you cook the meat.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 10:52
  • @pixelfreak, a marinade is mostly acidic or enzymatic and is targeted to break down tissue, to tenderize it - whereas salt water is neutral (sodium -strong base, chloride -strong acid).
    – dnozay
    Commented Mar 21, 2013 at 7:14

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