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The subject should sum this up. We're taking advantage of the seasonal prices for 2 fresh turkeys which I'm breaking down into boneless breasts, thighs, and legs to be frozen for future use. The back and rest of the carcass will be boiled down with some chicken carcasses we have frozen for poultry stock.

For the cuts goal will most likely be to thaw and smoke them in the BBQ.

So, is it best to brine before freezing, or brine after freezing the birds?

I have tried searching for this but everyone seems to just be asking whether it is ok or not to store a brined bird. Nothing that really examines the results of each approach.

  • I am very interested to read the answers to this. Commercial frozen turkeys (e.g. Butterball) are often brined prior to freezing, as are a lot (maybe most?) bulk packages of frozen poultry parts. – Jolenealaska Nov 17 '14 at 21:13
  • I don't have a knowledgeable answer, as I've never tried freezing brined meat (other than pickled pork for red beans & rice). What you might want to consider is either a 'dry brine' (rubbing w/ salt and flavorings and letting it sit in the fridge for 1-4 days) to avoid the extra water issues that Tom mentioned ... or specifically use the brine as a supercooled liquid to bring down the temperature of the poultry faster (chill bird in fridge; make strong brine, chill in fridge, add ice to dilute, keep moving 'til most of the ice melts, add chilled bird) – Joe Nov 18 '14 at 2:30
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    Oh ... and a good call on parting it out before freezing ... in high school one of my friends had a bunch of us over, and said there was a chicken we could cook for lunch ... once we got hungry, I found it was still frozen. Tried to speed thaw it, but extracting the neck when the chicken's half-frozen in icy cold water really sucks. (enough that I remember it decades later) – Joe Nov 18 '14 at 2:33
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According to Handbook of Food Science, Technology, and Engineering, Volume 3, edited by Yiu H. Hui,

  • the freezing of any meats, (particularly red meats), causes cell walls to rupture
  • the rate of rupture is inversely proportionate to the rate freezing

Since household-grade freezers are of the slower sort, owing to an effort toward energy efficiency, when we at home freeze meats we are doing about as much damage as possible to the structural integrity of the meat at its most fundamental level, to wit, its cell walls.

The reason this is relevant to the question [of brining before or after freezing] is as follows. To brine meat is to infuse it with water or, as the wiki on Brining states here,

...makes cooked meat moister by hydrating the cells of its muscle tissue before cooking, via the process of osmosis, ...

Since water, unique among all molecules, is the only substance which actually expands when frozen rather than contracts, the absorption of additional water into the individual cells of the meat is now guaranteed to facilitate further rupturing of the cell walls, that is, if brining is performed prior to freezing.

Certainly therefore it is counterproductive to attempt to brine meat before freezing it, at least in the home setting. The greater quantity of ruptured cell walls, caused by the introduction into the cells of more water prior to freezing, ensures that the meat once thawed and undergoing preparation will have that many fewer cell walls in tact, that is, cell walls by which to keep the moisture in the cell. The result will be a product less moist than one would have obtained had brining not been performed.

enter image description here

Here we find a perfectly thorough blog entry on the brining of turkey where, it must be said, we find that the author does not present a brine-to-freeze option. The author does however confirm that "11% sodium" on the label represents a turkey brined by the manufacturer, (which we'll hope to find refrigerated by our grocer, not frozen). The above graphic, which applies only tangentially to the question at hand, was obtained from that blog entry. Its relevance however speaks for itself.

  • Thank you for the breakout! I ended up breaking down the birds and putting them right back into the freezer for later usage. I figure I can brine when I'm ready to use them and incur significantly less damage to the muscle tissue. – Matthew Nov 21 '14 at 18:05
  • Since when do meat cells have cell walls? – user40586 Nov 6 '15 at 15:02
  • @SellWahl Don't read too much into the "wall" part - yes, it's really a membrane in animal cells and not a wall with the same structure as plant cells, but it can get ruptured nonethelesss. – Cascabel Nov 6 '15 at 16:31

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