Brining is the process of storing meat for long-term use without freezing. Brining works because the salt in the water gets into the pores of the meat and prevents the spread of bacteria. Surprisingly enough, there is little information out there about this ancient preserving practice.
I decided to put this preservation method to the test to see if it really could prevent meat from spoiling over a period of one month.
What Meat Can be Brined?
You can brine any meat, but for long-term preservation, stick to meat that can be cut into slices, like beef, pork, and lamb. You can brine poultry, but it may be prone to spoilage because the meat is all in one large chunk. For my experiments, I used pork chops.
Brine Water Recipe
The right ratio of salt to water is essential for brining meat. Concentrations between 15 percent and 20 percent salt work well at preserving meat. If you are storing the meat in the refrigerator, you can get away with less salt, but if you are trying to brine meat without refrigeration, more salt is better.
For my test batch, I used a concentration of about 20 percent salt. I used ¾ of a cup of kosher salt per 1 quart of water. This recipe passed the egg float test, which pioneers used to use before exact concentrations were used.
Read The Basics of Brining for more info on salt concentrations.
Mixing up the brine is easy. Heat filtered or distilled water on the stove along with the salt until it is completely dissolved. Allow the water to cool completely, either to room temperature or to refrigerator temperature.
Place a raw egg in the brine to see if it floats. If it doesn’t, heat the water again and add more salt.
Coat each piece of meat in a layer of salt. Go crazy with the amount of salt used, particularly if you have a lot of layers of meat. The more salt the better! Cover the bottom of your container with ½ inch of salt.
Add the meat to the water once it is cool. Use a heavy weight to hold the meat down. Fully submerge each piece of meat individually to prevent air from getting trapped between the layers. Air is not your friend in this storage method. If air is trapped, the meat will spoil incredibly quickly.
I ended up choosing two small glass storage containers for my weights, which worked well. For larger containers; smooth, sanitized rocks, or a heavy plate could work. Ceramic weights used to hold down pie crusts while baking will also work.
Once a week, remove the meat and re-pack it. This is particularly important if you have several layers of meat. If you notice that the brine is stringy or thick, follow the steps below to replace the brine. In about a month, the meat will reach the “corned meat” state and can be served.
If desired, you can add herbs and spices to the brining water to flavor the meat. You can use whatever herbs strike your fancy, but popular herbs include:
- Brown sugar
- Bay leaves
Replace Brine Water Monthly
If you plan to store the meat for longer than one month, you will need to refresh the water to prevent contamination. Follow the steps below to refresh your brine:
- Take out the meat and rinse with water.
- Toss out the existing brine water.
- Make a new brine with a 15-20 percent salt concentration.
- Wash and sterilize the container.
- Add ½ of salt to the bottom of the container and coat each piece of meat in a new layer of salt.
- Place the meat in the container and pour the new brine solution over it.
- Store as before.
Refrigerator and Counter Brine Test
Almost all brining recipes I found recommended storing the brined meat in the refrigerator or a cellar that has a room temperature of around 40 degrees. This is in the “safe zone” for food preparation, which slows the process of bacterial growth and food spoilage.
However, in a survival situation, refrigerator access is not possible. I live in Texas, where finding a cellar is difficult- much less one that is cooler than 40 degrees. So, for this experiment, I tested two separate batches of brine: one in the refrigerator and one on the counter. The results of my experiment are below:
This batch was perfect. After a month, the meat had no smell and the water was not slimy. The meat itself was slightly rubbery in texture, and because I didn’t use nitrates to color the meat, it became slightly grey in color.
I was a little confused at the result of this batch. Our kitchen probably has an average temperature between 75 and 80 degrees, so it is quite warm. I expected the meat to spoil within 2-3 days.
However, that didn’t happen. At the end of the month, there were a couple of mold spots on the top of the water. I don’t know what molded, because I don’t think it was the meat. When I took the meat out of the water, it smelled fine. It had a little stronger smell than the refrigerated batch, but less than what you would smell when opening a fresh batch of pork from the store.
The water and meat wasn’t slimy either. I was most surprised at the fact that the counter meat stayed pink. I expected it to be a slimy, green, stinky mass of disgusting.
Because of the mold on the surface of the water, I would not serve this particular batch of meat- but in a survival situation, I think the meat would have been safe to consume.
I probably could have prevented the mold by changing the water weekly. All appearances indicate that the mold came from a small piece of meat that broke off the main section and floated to the top. This further illustrates the point that keeping the meat submerged is essential!
I would advise only trying the counter method in the fall and winter, since it is naturally cooler then.
Should You Store Brined Meat At Room Temperature?
The short answer is, not if you can avoid it, but my experiments did show that the brining process will work even in warmer temperatures.
Since there are plenty of other ways to preserve meat without refrigeration, it is probably not worth the risk. However, in a true survival situation, it can be used as a viable storage option even in warm climates.
You can also Preserve Meat With Salt.
Cooking After Brining
Brined meat is going to taste quite salty. If you don’t want the extra salty taste, you can try two methods to reduce the salt content:
Method One: Rinsing Meat
Rinse your meat using cold water for about 5-10 minutes. One easy way to do this is to place the meat in a colander in the sink and turn on the faucet. Flip the meat over after 5 minutes to remove salt from both sides.
Method Two: Soaking Meat
The second rinsing method is a kind of un-brining process. Place the meat in a large container of filtered water (at least as much as you used to brine the meat). Allow the meat to soak in the water overnight, or up to 24 hours.
Do this in the refrigerator or else the meat will go bad! Change the water every 4 hours or so to further reduce the salt content.
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Brined Meat Recipes
How can you cook brined meat?
Corned Meat Recipe
Traditional corned meat is boiled. This is probably the easiest way to serve brined meat. Simply place the meat into a large pot of water and boil for about 3-4 hours. Then cut and serve for any meal!
Once the meat cools, you can further preserve the cooked meat by canning it. Corned meat cans well, because it is malleable and can be served heated or room temperature.
Oven or Stove Cooking
Treat the brined meat like any cut of meat when oven or stove cooking. You will probably want to remove a good portion of the salt before cooking on the oven or stove, because the extra salt will not come out like it does when the meat is boiled. Try the following meat preparation methods:
- Slow-cooking in the oven
- Cooking in a slow-cooker
- Grilling outdoors
- Cooking in a skillet
Have you brined meat before? What methods did you use for preparation and cooking?