Originally Posted by Janster
School me on Brining.... I understand the 'salt' does something to the meat, but is it that much of a difference?
What's the maximum amount of time to brine? I've seen - couple hours. Is it a bad idea to start a brine in the morning and leave it all day until you get home - too much?
Long read, but this was interesting to me and explained how it works.
How a brine works
Moisture loss is inevitable when you cook any type of muscle fiber. Heat causes raw individual coiled proteins in the fibers to unwind—the technical term is denature—and then join together with one another, resulting in some shrinkage and moisture loss. (By the way, acids, salt, and even air can have the same denaturing effect on proteins as heat.) Normally, meat loses about 30 percent of its weight during cooking. But if you soak the meat in a brine first, you can reduce this moisture loss during cooking to as little as 15 percent, according to Dr. Estes Reynolds, a brining expert at the University of Georgia.
Brining enhances juiciness in several ways. First of all, muscle fibers simply absorb liquid during the brining period. Some of this liquid gets lost during cooking, but since the meat is in a sense more juicy at the start of cooking, it ends up juicier. We can verify that brined meat and fish absorb liquid by weighing them before and after brining. Brined meats typically weigh six to eight percent more than they did before brining—clear proof of the water uptake.
Another way that brining increases juiciness is by dissolving some proteins. A mild salt solution can actually dissolve some of the proteins in muscle fibers, turning them from solid to liquid.
Of all the processes at work during brining, the most significant is salt's ability to denature proteins. The dissolved salt causes some of the proteins in muscle fibers to unwind and swell. As they unwind, the bonds that had held the protein unit together as a bundle break. Water from the brine binds directly to these proteins, but even more important, water gets trapped between these proteins when the meat cooks and the proteins bind together. Some of this would happen anyway just during cooking, but the brine unwinds more proteins and exposes more bonding sites. As long as you don't overcook the meat, which would cause protein bonds to tighten and squeeze out a lot of the trapped liquid, these natural juices will be retained.
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