Brine for the best barbecued lean meats | Chef Dez

By Chef Dez | May 21, 2014

Although men have been assigned the stereotype of working the backyard barbecue, it is a joy that is shared by all home culinary enthusiasts. It's a summertime passion.

The smoky essence of smoldering charcoal starts my mouth watering as my mind conjures up recollections of flame-licked meats and fire-caramelized vegetables. With a few basic tips, you can overcome any barbequing intimidation you may have.

Overcooking lean meats is the most common mistake made, as people want to ensure that meat is fully cooked before serving. Although it is imperative for poultry and ground meats to be fully cooked, this does not give you the right to transform them into dry charred remains.

Brining can help protect light-meat poultry and lean pork. This is a technique that involves soaking in a salt-water solution for a period of time prior to cooking. Not only does this add moisture to the center of the meat, but also seasoning, as the salt saturated water is drawn in.

A simple brining formula would be: 1/4 cup table salt dissolved in 4 cups of water for pieces of poultry or lean pork. Let the meat sit in the brine for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator. Remove from the brine, pat them dry, and cook as you normally would.

This brining process will provide a moisture protection shield to help keep fully cooked meats juicy. However, this is only a safeguard – overcooking is still possible, but this lessens the chance.

The only other consideration you may need to give your recipe is the amount of seasoning. The meat will already be seasoned somewhat from the salt in the brine, so back off on the saltshaker.

Try this technique the next time you are barbecuing chicken breasts, pork chops, pork tenderloins or pork loins. You will be impressed with the results.

The salt used can be any salt: Kosher, Sea, etc. – the important aspect is to ensure that the granules are the same size as table salt. A coarser grind will result in less salt per equal measure as more air trapped between the larger particles.

It is important to mention that this is the simplest form of brine: water and salt. There are many more complex recipes available on the Internet that will bring flavor and moisture, but this easy brine is a straightforward starting point.

Another essential pointer to bring up is that red meats are typically not brined; marinating is better for red meats, but that's slated for another column topic.

Dear Chef Dez,

I love barbecued chicken with the skin on, however it always seems to get burned on the outside well before the center gets cooked.

I know many people cook skinless chicken pieces and they have no problem, but I enjoy having the skin on. However, the fat from the skin promotes flare-ups, and thus gets burned.

How can I avoid this without losing my enjoyment of having the skin?

Tracey S.,


Dear Tracey:

Indirect heat is the way to go to conquer this problem. When using direct heat (with the flames directly below the meat) the skin will drip fat onto the flames and cause flare-ups, and thus create excessive burning.

Depending on what type of barbecue you have, setting it up for indirect cooking will be different. Many ceramic charcoal barbecues will have a ceramic plate for heat diffusion, while gas grills will mostly rely on having a burner turned off under the meat and closing the lid.

This will utilize the heat from the other burners to do the job.

Chef Dez is a food columnist, culinary instructor and cookbook author. Visit him at Write to him at or P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, BC V2T 6R4.

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