Marinades are a great way to flavor your meat, however, they will NOT tenderize more than the outer layer. Brining will penetrate the meat on a cellular level effectively tenderizing your whole piece of meat. This can be done in less time than a marinade and is useful for so many more things than your Thanksgiving turkey. Want the best of both worlds? You can brine and then marinate for a short time to get tenderness and flavor.
So what is brining? Why is it not actually hard or scary and what’s so amazing about it? Brining is meat soaked in a solution of salt water. The salt penetrates the cells all the way through the meat and breaks down some of those muscle fibers, effectively tenderizing the meat. This process makes it a lot harder for moisture to escape when you’re cooking which means your meat retains a lot more moisture.
Once the salt is dissolved, add some ice to chill it so it won’t cook the outside of your meat, then add the rest of your water and plop in the meat! Small cuts can benefit from even a 15-minute soak and can go up to 24 hours. Always rinse the brine off your meat before cooking, pat dry and either marinate or season. Want to add some flavor to the brine? Go for it! Garlic, herbs, and spices are all great ideas, just add them when you add the salt. However, you won’t get much flavor out of it so consider only doing this for cuts that will brine for a long time like a big ole pork loin, and soak smaller pieces in a marinade for 10-20 minutes after brining.
I grilled two pieces of chicken, one soaked in a marinade and one in a brine. Side by side there was no question if I have to pick between brining and marinating, brining will win every time. I’d rather have a lightly seasoned tender piece of meat than a flavorful and dry piece. If you do nothing else, give this brine a try on a chicken breast or pork chop just for 15 minutes. You’ll be amazed at the difference.