Why You Should Never Brine Your Meat For Too Long

When it comes to cooking meat, there are all sorts of tips and tricks that can make your pork chops, turkey breasts, and steaks better. One of the biggest recommendations that chefs and home cooks alike can agree on is the importance of brining, but did you know that you can actually over-brine?

There's no denying the fact that a bone-dry piece of meat is always a letdown. Brining, however, can help you turn things around. Serious Eats explains that brining can impart flavor, but more importantly, help better maintain savory juices and even lead to better browning. Although just about any cut of meat can benefit, leaner options like pork tenderloin, chicken breast, or fish, lack enough marbling to keep them from totally drying out, notes Food52.

While the jargon can be tricky, brining is not the same as curing, nor marinating. In fact, brining requires a salty solution (dry or wet) used to maintain moisture, unlike curing, which uses salt to draw out all moisture for preservation or marinating (via Myrecipes). Naturally, each technique can play a useful role, but when it comes to brining, there's a timeframe to follow if you want maximum benefits.

Brine one hour for every pound or risk mushy meat

Although Fine Cooking outlines that leaving meat to brine can prevent moisture loss as muscle fibers absorb liquid before the cooking process, too much of a good thing can swiftly become a bad thing. While brining guidelines might vary, brining shouldn't exceed the recommended range as it won't make the meat any more delicious or juicy. Since salt moves from areas of higher concentration to lower concentration through osmosis, Cook's Illustrated reports that longer brining means salt isn't able to penetrate into the meat as well as it did initially. 

Aside from wasting your time, over-brining can also wreak havoc on the structure of your meat. In order to avoid making your meat a mushy mess, Taste of Home suggests brining for one hour, each pound. As long as you haven't let your pork or poultry sit in brine for days, you can simply remove excess salt by soaking the meat in cold water.