How To Brine Meat—The Ultimate Guide

Check out our deep dive into the world of brining. This collection of our favorite brine recipes will show you everything you ever wanted to know about brine, how it works, why you’ll love it, and how to do it.

This post will show you our favorite brine recipes for turkey (wet and dry), a brine recipe for pork chops and a super fast and easy brine for chicken.

Let’s dive in!!

What Is Brine, And Why Is It Used?

how to brine

Brining is one of the oldest methods of food preservation techniques.

Brine is commonly used to preserve vegetables. Pickling is one example of how this salty solution adds flavor and preserves cucumbers or other vegetables.

Lacto fermentation, commonly used to make sauerkraut, is another technique that uses salt water and naturally occurring good bacteria to preserve food.

Wet brining is a simple method used to enhance the flavor and texture of meat. In its most simple form, a brine recipe is made with a solution of water and salt.

However, many recipes include the addition of spices, among other things, to add even more flavor.

The Most Basic Brine Recipe

The most basic formula is 1 cup of salt for each gallon of water.

the basic wet brine formula 1 cup of salt plus one gallon of water.

A simple wet brine recipe adds flavor and moisture to the meat. You can up the flavor profile by adding spices like bay leaves, peppercorns, citrus, and even flavors like apple juice.

explanation of a seasoned wet brine. add spices to the salt water and boil

When using dried spices, the brine solution is typically boiled and cooled completely before combining it with the meat.

How Brine Works

This is the geeky part that I love. Brine works by osmosis. Remember middle school science?

The simplest explanation of this osmotic phenomenon is that the protein molecules in meat contain water. When you put that meat in a salty solution, the water and salt drive toward equilibrium.

First, the water in the protein is pulled out into the salt solution. There is an attempt to balance the salt and water concentrations between the two systems. Then the salt solution will get reabsorbed into the meat to rebalance the moisture content.

By brining we take advantage of the inherent drive toward osmotic balance. We can use this naturally occurring process to add flavor and increase the moisture content of the meat, thus improving its texture.

It’s like magic, but it’s not! It’s just science.

When Should You Use Brine?

Brining is best for larger pieces of meat that will be roasted, grilled, or smoked. Some cuts of meat are better suited to brining than others.

Think chicken breasts, pork chops, and that Thanksgiving turkey. All of these get a flavor and texture boost from brining.

Cuts of already well-marbled meat, such as filet mignon, porterhouse steak, or ribeye, do not need to be brined. They have plenty of flavor, just as they are.

meats that benefit from brine; chicken, turkey, and pork

You’ll want to make sure that the cut of meat you are buying isn’t already injected with a salt solution. Most boneless prepackaged poultry in the grocery store has been pre-brined. You may have seen a label that mentions that there is a salt or sodium solution. Pre-brining is part of the commercial packing process.

You might also notice that when you try to saute that chicken breast in a pan, it takes forever to brown because so much water gets released during the cooking.

I’ve found that higher quality butcher shops sell meat and chicken that hasn’t been pre-brined; therefore, you end up with a much better flavor.

The difference between wet brine and dry brine

When you think about a brine recipe, you probably think of a wet brine. However, there is also a method known as dry brining.

explanation of a dry brine with salt and dry spices, essentially a dry rub

The term dry brine is a bit of an oxymoron. A brine is, by nature, a liquid solution. A dry brine is really a rub or a salt “cure.” However, the result is the same. You end up infusing flavor and balancing the moisture content in the meat for a scrumptiously tender, juicy and flavorful piece of meat.

Dry brining is my favorite method for Thanksgiving turkey. This method will give you the most flavorful and moist turkey you’ve ever had with the crispiest skin.

The difference between a marinade and a brine

The primary difference between a marinade and a brine is that a marinade usually contains an acidic component such as citrus or vinegar. A marinade also usually has oil it.

Marinades are primarily about adding flavor. The flavor will stay mostly on the surface of the meat.

A brine, more specifically, is used to add moisture to the meat. The salt penetrates more deeply into the meat and helps the protein molecules retain more water.

top tips for wet brining

Tools For Wet Brining

You might need a large non-reactive container for brining a whole turkey. This 12-quart food save storage container (affiliate link) is perfect. It also comes in smaller sizes for smaller jobs.

top tips for dry brining

Tools For Dry Brining

For dry brining or salt curing meat in the fridge it’s best to use a heavy sheet pan (affiliate link) with a wire rack (affiliate link) set over the top to catch any drips.

Frequently Asked Questions about brining

Is brine just salt water?

In the most straightforward sense, a wet brine is made with water and salt.

How long do you soak in brine?

The general rule regarding wet brine is 1 hour per pound of meat. Do not brine longer than recommended.

A saltwater brine degrades the protein structures in meat. While this is good at first because it helps tenderize the meat, over brining it will leave you with a mushy mess.

What is the formula for brine?

Add 1 cup of salt (kosher or sea salt) for each gallon of water.

You can also add spices for extra flavor (see boiling recommendations.) Apple juice can be substituted for water.

Do you rinse meat after brining?

There is no need to rinse meat after removing if from the brine.

However, patting the meat dry is highly recommended. Especially if you brine a turkey with skin on.

Is pickle juice brine?

Yes, in fact, pickle juice makes an excellent brine for chicken. It’s a perfect way to use up leftover pickle juice instead of tossing it.

Do you refrigerate meat while brining?

Yes, it’s recommended that you should refrigerate meat in the brine solution.

Pro-tip: bring your meat to room temperature before cooking.

Do you need sugar in a brine?

No, you don’t need sugar in brine; but you can add it to add a little sweetness to your recipe. Brown sugar can add a nice caramelly flavor to the meat.

Do you boil brine first?

If you use spices in your brine recipe, bring the brine to a boil. This will help the flavors from the herbs and spices to infuse into the solution.

Make sure to cool completely before adding meat.

More Brine Recipes

Are you Camp Dry Brine OR Wet Brine?

Leave a comment below and let us know.

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Brine Recipes

Laura Reigel
This collection of brine recipes will get you started if you're ready to experimenting with brining. Each recipe only takes minutes to prepare. Brining times and cooking times will vary.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 1 brine recipe


  • Large food storage prep container non reactive


Wet Brine For Turkey

  • 1 12-14 lb turkey
  • 2 gallons cold water
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 oranges, quartered
  • 2 lemons, quartered
  • 6 thyme
  • 4 rosemary

Brine For Pork Chops

Pickle Brine For Chicken

  • 2 lbs chicken breasts, or chicken thighs
  • 2 cups pickle juice

Breading For Pickle Brine Chicken

  • 1 cup flour, for dredging
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups seasoned flour, or bread crumbs seasoned with 1/4 teaspoon each salt, pepper, poultry seasoning, paprika, and a pinch of cayenne pepper (if you like it spicy)

Buttermilk Brine For Chicken


How To Brine A Turkey

  • Add the cold water and the remaining ingredients to a large non reactive vessel.
    2 gallons cold water, 1 cup kosher salt, 1 cup brown sugar, 2 oranges, 2 lemons, 6 thyme, 4 rosemary, 1 12-14 lb turkey
  • Add the turkey and brine for 1 hour for each pound. Approximately 12 to 14 hours.
  • Remove the turkey from the brine an pat dry. Let the meat come to room temperature before cooking.
  • Cook the turkey using your preferred cooking method. Roasting, grilling, or smoking.

How To Brine Pork Chops

  • Add the cold water and the remaining ingredients to a non reactive dish or a plastic zip-top bag.
    4 thick cut pork chops, 4 cups cold water, ¼ cup kosher salt, 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, 1 dried bay leaf, 1 sprig  fresh rosemary, 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 teaspoon whole allspice berries
  • Add the pork chops and brine for at least 2 hours, up to overnight.
  • Remove the pork chops from the brine and pat dry. Let the meat come to room temperature before cooking.
  • Cook the pork chops using your preferred cooking method. Roasting, grilling, or smoking.

Pickle Brined Chicken

  • Add the pickle juice and the chicken to a non reactive dish or a plastic zip-top bag.
    2 lbs chicken breasts, 2 cups pickle juice
  • Brine for at least 2 hours, up to overnight.
  • Remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry. Let the meat come to room temperature before cooking.
  • Cook the chicken using your preferred cooking method. baking, grilling, OR bread with the chicken breading and deep fry.
    1 cup flour, 2 large eggs, 2 cups seasoned flour

Buttermilk Brined Chicken

  • Add the buttermilk and the remaining ingredients to a non reactive dish or a plastic zip-top bag.
    2 lbs chicken breasts, 1 ½ cups buttermilk, 2 teaspoons Kosher salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 4 teaspoons yellow curry powder, 2 teaspoons turmeric, 1 teaspoons cumin
  • Add the chicken and brine for at least 2 hours, up to overnight.
  • Remove the chicken from the brine and set on a wire rack that has been set over a baking sheet. Allow the excess brine to drip off the chicken as it comes to room temperature.
  • Bake or grill this chicken for best results.


Keyword brine
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