For years, I avoided grilling chicken breasts at every backyard barbecue. No matter what I did, they always turned out overcooked or undercooked (which was pretty embarrassing either way). Then, I learned the secret to getting super tender meat every time on the grill: brining! It might just be the game-changer you need for your summer grilling season.
How does it work?
Brining works in two ways. First, the salt alters the protein structures inside the meat. It basically allows the cells to retain more moisture, effectively trapping water inside. When you cook the meat, some of that moisture evaporates but most of it remains. The brine also breaks down meat’s tough muscle fibers, preventing them from tightening up as they cook. These loose fibers are less likely to squeeze out water, so the meat stays nice and juicy.
We might have a few marinade secrets up our sleeve, but brining is a no-recipe-required kind of event. Simply combine one tablespoon of salt for every cup of water. You’ll need enough water to completely cover the meat; usually, four cups of water (and 1/4 cup of salt) will do the trick.
Can you over brine?
If you leave meat in the brine too long, it can definitely get too salty. Sometimes, you can fix it by soaking the meat in cold water to draw out the excess salt, but it doesn’t always work. If you really brine it for too long (as in, days too long), you can cause excess protein denaturing and make the meat mushy—and there’s no fixing that!
A good rule of thumb is to brine super-thin fish fillets for ten minutes. Seafood like shrimp and thin cuts of pork or poultry (like chops or chicken breasts) usually take 15 to 30 minutes. Larger cuts like whole chicken can brine overnight, and very large turkeys can sit as long as 48 hours.
What meats should you brine?
Any lean cut of meat will benefit from brining—especially chicken breasts, pork chops, pork tenderloin, shrimp, or fish. These types of meat don’t have a lot of intermuscular fat (or marbling) to keep them from drying out as they cook. The brine will all but guarantee you won’t end up with a chewy piece of dry meat!
Are there meats you shouldn’t brine?
Never brine a kosher, self-basting, or enhanced turkey—these types of turkeys are already treated with salt, so brining them could render them inedible. It’s not necessary to brine fattier cuts of pork or poultry, like the belly meat or chicken thighs, but it also won’t hurt. When it comes to red meats like beef or lamb, you’re better off using a dry-brining method and salting them directly. These cuts are so full flavored on their own, they can take the direct seasoning better than the lean stuff. This method does work for both expensive and cheaper cuts of the meat you’ve chosen, however. In fact, brining is even listed as one of the 13 tricks to make cheaper cuts of meat taste more expensive.
Optional: Compress watermelon by placing in a vacuum sealed bag and removing all air and sealing closed. This compresses the juices in the watermelon and makes it look just like tuna poke.
Set oven to 350°F. Lay pine nuts in a single layer on a baking tray and toast in oven until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool.
Dice tomatoes into medium sized pieces. Remove the skin and seed of the avocado and dice into medium sized pieces. Mix with the juice of 1 lime and Morton® Fine Sea Salt. Fold in watermelon, tomato, ponzu, sesame oil, and green onions.
Divide poke into 4 bowls. Top with seaweed salad, pine nuts, and sesame seeds. Finish with a sprinkle of Morton® Coarse sea salt.
Maple Mustard Glazed Tofu Skewers from House Foods
2 pkg. House Foods Tofu Extra Firm
4 Tbsp. pure Vermont maple syrup
4 Tbsp. stone ground mustard
1 ½ Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
¾ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
12 wooden skewers, soaked in water for 15 minutes before using
Drain and dry the block of tofu with paper towels. Wrap the block of tofu in a thick layer of paper towels and place on a plate. Lay another flat-bottomed plate (or small cutting board) on top of the tofu and place a can or two of beans on the plate/cutting board to weigh down the tofu, which will help press excess moisture from it. Let sit for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the maple syrup, mustard, cider vinegar, olive oil, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.
Cut the tofu into 1-inch thick slices, then cut again into 1-inch cubes. Place the tofu in the maple-mustard sauce and toss to coat the tofu. Cover and chill for 30 minutes to 1 hour, tossing occasionally.
Thread the tofu on wooden skewers that have been soaked beforehand.
Lightly brush the grates of your gas grill with oil. Heat the grill flames over medium heat. Once hot, add the tofu skewers and grill until browned and crispy, 12 to 15 minutes, turning occasionally to brown them on all sides. Brush the skewers liberally with any remaining maple-mustard sauce in the last 5 minutes of grilling.
Southwest Burgers with Pepper Jack Cheese and Avocado Salsa Blogging Over Thyme | Laura Davidson
1 1/2 large ripe avocados, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1 lime, zested and juiced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro, plus more whole leaves for serving
1 small jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for serving
Freshly ground black pepper
1 16-ounce container Hood Cottage Cheese with Cracked Pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving
Blue corn tortilla chips, for serving
In a large bowl, gently toss together the mango, avocado, lime zest and juice, cilantro, jalapeño, red onion, salt, and several grinds of black pepper.
Place the Hood Cottage Cheese with Cracked Pepper in a large shallow serving bowl (or divide among 4 to 6 smaller shallow bowls).
Create a well in the middle by pressing and spreading the back of a large spoon into the middle of the cottage cheese while turning the bowl in the opposite direction. Pile the mango salsa into the center of the well.
Drizzle a teaspoon or two of olive oil over the salsa and cottage cheese. Garnish with a few whole cilantro leaves and a pinch more salt on top. Serve alongside tortilla chips.