I’m sure everyone has been to a barbecue, bitten into a grilled chicken breast only to have it crumble like sawdust in your mouth. Then on top of it, the grill-meister asks you at that exact moment, “How do you like the chicken?” With clenched teeth and a wry smile, you say, “Mmm, that’s good!”. Well, let’s put an end to this farce. The way to avoid dried-out chicken, pork, and shrimp is to brine it before grilling.
Brine before grilling
Simply put, brining is soaking the meat in salty water for several hours to overnight. This will help protect the meat when you cook it in the very hot, dry environment of the grill. You’ll be left with chicken and pork that is plump and juicy, yet fully cooked. Shrimp, which becomes rubbery when overcooked, will remain tender and flavorful. Brining your shrimp first will allow you enough time to place them on the grill, flip them all and brush them with your favorite sauce.
Enhance the flavor of the protein by adding additional ingredients to the brine like brown sugar, bay leaves, thinly-sliced raw onions, fresh garlic cloves, whole black peppercorns, etc. Adding some alcohol like bourbon or tequila will leave a nice hint of flavor that will really accent a barbecue sauce made with the same ingredient. There is nothing like bourbon-brined pork chops with a bourbon/apple barbecue sauce. These additional notes of flavor will help your next barbecue go from ordinary to extraordinary!
Brining is also a great way to defrost your protein, while adding flavor. More times than not I will use frozen shrimp, pork chops and loins, or chicken breasts. Placing these frozen proteins in a bath of salt water to defrost in the refrigerator is a great way to bring them to a safe temperature before grilling.
Brining doesn’t have to be an exact science. Brine shrimp in the refrigerator for about an hour, pork chops or chicken breasts for 2 – 3 hours, and whole pork tenderloin for about 4 hours. For a whole turkey (smoked, brined turkey is unbelievable!) I recommend brining overnight.
When you take your brined meats out of the brining liquid, place them on a paper towel-lined plate and pat completely dry. Spend a little extra time on this crucial step. Dry meat on the grill will caramelize and create a crispy crust; however wet food will steam and be bland. Once you’ve completely dried the meat, add a little oil and your favorite spice rub (if the recipe calls for it). Just remember that you’ve already added salt to the food while it brined so use less salt than you normally would to season the food.
I hope you find brining to be a technique you use the next time you grill delicate meat.