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I brined 2 lbs of flank steak for 12 hours, but it turned the exterior gray. Why? How can I prevent the discoloration?

Ingredients:

  • 1 quart water
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • Garlic Powder
  • 2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons black pepper
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
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    Have you cooked it? You'll probably find that you don't need to prevent it - it should still brown when cooked. – Cascabel Feb 24 '14 at 1:08
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It is highly likely that the acid from the cider vinegar denatured the proteins at the surface of the meat, making them opaque instead of translucent, so the red interior does not show through.

This is akin to when ceviche is "cooked" in citrus juice, turning opaque.

This cannot be reversed, but when you cook the steak and browning reactions take place, you should get a better appearance.

In general, you can prevent this while brining by not including acid or enzymatically active ingredients like uncooked pineapple juice. Brines in general should only contain water, salt, and sugar; other flavorings are common, but they have little to no effect as they do not penetrate.

  • I think it's more just that the OP is actually trying to marinate, not just brine. – Cascabel Feb 24 '14 at 1:12
  • @Jefromi Agreed. That sounds more like a pickling brine than a meat brine. – SourDoh Feb 24 '14 at 18:12
  • @sourd'oh And yet, the recipe is far too weak to pickle. – SAJ14SAJ Feb 24 '14 at 18:28
  • @SAJ14SAJ Yeah. It's in sort of an odd, no-man's-land for a brine. Too weak to pickle, too acidic for meat... – SourDoh Feb 24 '14 at 19:27
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Even without the vinegar, it's well-known that beef will turn gray to grayish pink if brined long enough, as the salt has the same "denaturing" (breaking down of the proteins) effect as the vinegar . This is particularly relevant this time of year, as some butchers will sell "gray corned beef" as opposed to "red corned beef". Gray corned beef is a natural result of brining the meat. Red corned beef is created by adding nitrates to the meat.

One way to reduce the graying of the meat is by adding some sugar to the brine (1 cup of sugar per gallon of brine). This will also improve the flavor, aiding in caramelizing the outside of the meat and offsetting the saltiness of the brine a bit.

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The myoglobin in the meat is being denatured(broken down) which causes a colour change, as you can read here.

Your recipe doesn't have any nitrites/nitrates in them. These prevent the growth of botulism (a bacterium) and give cured meat, such as bacon and corned beef, its red colour, as you can see here.

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