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If you are experienced at using the barbecue, you will certainly know that grilling is only the last step of a complex procedure. One of the most important phases, before actually placing the food on heat, is brining. This is one of the secrets of bona fide "grillers": it consists in placing the food you intend to cook - usually poultry - in a water and salt solution to enhance its flavour and make the meat more tender and the skin crisper. However, this technique requires time and sufficient space in the refrigerator. Alternatively, the dry brining method can be used.
What is dry brining?
The basic idea is that of preparing a mixture of salt and spices with which to "massage" the piece of meat before cooking it. Behind this simple operation lies a procedure which is capable of transforming the flavour and tenderness of our barbecued dishes.
It is based on the consideration that traditional brining, as well as requiring space (imagine having to immerse a turkey of 3 or 4 kilos...) will certainly preserve the meat moisture after cooking but, to do so, dilutes its juices with the salt and water solution. So, while the meat is certainly more tender, it is also less tasty. In the case of dry brining, which involves the use of dry ingredients only, there is no need to keep the meat in the fridge for an entire night, or maybe more, nor the risk of watering down its flavour. As a result, the internal moisture of the food remains intact, as well as its flavour, not to mention the fact that any skin - such as chicken skin or pork rind - will be crisper and perfectly delicious.
The dry brining principle
Dry brining is based on the principle that when an external crust of salt and spices is created, this penetrates the muscle fibres of the meat. This magic happens because, when the meat starts to cook it tends to expel its moisture towards the outer surface and accumulate on the crust. As the cooking process continues, the latter returns some of the moisture to the fibre.
This reaction, known as “pull-push”, enhances the meat with the flavour of salt and spices, but without diluting its natural juices. And that's not all: the dry brining technique enables any damage to be limited in the case of over-cooking. What actually happens is that a moisture reserve is created which comes in useful if we forget to remove the food from the heat when done. With dry brining, it is sufficient to prepare the meat a couple of hours, or even a few minutes before cooking and you are all set to go, even though the extra hour or so will certainly improve the final result.
How to use the dry brining method
Dry brining is so easy and effective that it is quickly explained. It consists in preparing a mixture of three spoonfuls of kosher salt and one of baking powder - if you can't get baking powder, you can use an equivalent amount of bicarbonate of soda or cream tartar. Alternatively, prepare a mixture of half salt and up to half of kosher salt.
Now, dry your piece of meat and massage it thoroughly with the mixture so that it adheres to the surface. It is now ready for the grill but if you can, leave it in the fridge to rest for 10-12 hours. A whole day would be even better but, in this case, wrap the meat in cellophane.
When it is time to cook your food, do not rinse the meat but simply place it on the grill. It has been demonstrated that dry brining is almost as effective as traditional brining in preserving natural moisture but it also retains the right concentration of meat juices. Then, if you feel like experimenting, you can enhance your salt mixture with (a few) spices in powder form. From now on, dry brining will be an essential part of your barbecue cooking.