Barbecue Champ Melissa Cookston's Trick For The Absolute Juiciest Meat - Exclusive

Most home chefs use a brine when they're looking to make just about any cut of meat more flavorful and juicier. This technique — which at its most basic involves simply submerging meat in a saltwater solution — helps add moisture by changing the meat's protein structure. For this reason, some people say you should always brine lean meats before grilling.

Although brining works, it's not the technique favored by Melissa Cookston. And as a seven-time world barbecue champion and judge of Netflix's "Barbecue Showdown," she's qualified to speak on such matters. You know she's never served dry chicken to anybody. 

As she told Tasting Table in an exclusive interview, instead of brine, Cookston injects meats with flavorful liquids and coats the outside of each cut with a dry rub to prepare it for the smoker. With her injections, she's adding liquid directly into the meat rather than relying on salt to work chemical magic to make the meat juicier. Cookston also stays away from another common method for adding moisture to barbecue: basting or spritzing during cooking. "You rely on basting or spritzing for moisture and flavor, but I depend on my injections and rubs for that," she explained.

Cookston's injection technique

The world barbecue champion tailors her injections to the meat she's cooking. She said, "You can inject a pork stock when you're cooking pork. I make a beef stock when I'm cooking beef and a chicken stock when I'm cooking chicken." And while the injections do add moisture, she also emphasized the importance of proper cooking in keeping the meat juicy and tender. "I'm more concerned about flavor in my injection and rely on my cooking methods for retaining moisture." No amount of injection can save you from overcooking your meat or smoking at too high a temperature, but infusing the meat with a concentrated stock can supercharge its flavor, making pork taste porkier than anything you've tried before.

Unlike using a brine, which needs time for the brine to flavor and tenderize, injecting gives you an almost instantaneous payoff. Injections also have an advantage over basting and spritzing because they're done ahead of time and don't require you to open the lid of the smoker or grill during the cooking process. Per Cookston, "If you're opening that door you're losing all your heat, which you have to gain back ... You get big temperature fluctuations that way which, when you're rendering fats and collagens, is bad for the cooking process."