Brining boosts flavor and makes meat tender. Brining, which consists of soaking meat in a solution of water, salt and often sugar, has a dramatic effect on meats of all kinds.
Table salt is made of two chemical, sodium and chloride, whose ions are oppositely charged. Proteins, such as those in meat, are large molecules that contain a mosaic of charges, negative and positive. When proteins are placed in a solution containing salt, they readjust their shape to accommodate the opposing charges. This rearrangement of the protein molecules compromises the structural integrity of the meat, reducing its overall toughness. It also creates gaps that fill up with water. The added salt makes the water less likely to evaporate during cooking, and the result is meat that is both juicy and tender.
Basic brining formula calls for 1/3 cup table salt, and 1/3 cup sugar dissolved in 1 quart cold water (per pound of food), with food left to soak one hour per pound. This formula is developed with two goals in mind: to season the food through and through, such that even a 12-pound turkey would be seasoned right to the bone, and to provide a cushion of moisture that would keep the food from drying out as it cooked.
If you are very sensitive to salt, we recommend that you skip brining. Do take extra care not to overcook your food; in my experience, home cooks are more likely to overcook food than undercook it, and there’s no better way to dry out a pork chop or a chicken breast than to overcook it.
Safe Handling for Wild Game
Improper temperature is meat’s worst enemy. The surface of the carcass may be contaminated with bacteria that can spoil the meat unless chilling stops the growth. During warm hunting seasons special care should be taken to keep the carcass cool. It should be kept in the shade and allowed as much air circulation as possible. If the air temperature is above 50 degrees as it often is in Texas, the deer carcass should be refrigerated within 1 to 2 hours after harvesting.
- Trim away fat before cooking if this was not done when the game was cut. Wild game fat tends to become rancid quickly and this contributes to the “gamey” flavor.
- Keep raw meat and cooked meat separate to prevent cross-contamination.
- Wash your knife, hands and cutting board often with warm, soapy water.
- Trim fat and inedible parts from carcass when it is cut.
- Freeze meat while it is fresh and in top condition.
- Divide meat into meal-size quantities.
- Prevent “freezer burn” by using good quality freezer paper. Use moisture/vapor proof wrap such as heavily waxed freezer wrap, laminated freezer wrap, heavy-duty aluminum foil or freezer weight polyethylene bags.
- Press air out of the packages prior to sealing.
- Label packages with contents and dates.
- Freeze and store at 0 degree or lower.
- Avoid overloading the freezer. Freeze only the amount that will become solidly frozen within 24 hours
- Avoid long storage periods. Limit fresh game to eight months frozen storage and seasoned or cured game to four months frozen storage. In most states hunting laws require that all wild game be used before the next hunting season. Check regulations for amount of game you can keep and length of time that you can keep it.
Why Meat Should Rest
A final but very important step when cooking all meat is allowing it to rest after it comes off the heat. As the proteins in the meat heat up during cooking they coagulate, which basically means they uncoil and then reconnect in a different configuration. When the proteins coagulate, they squeeze out part of the liquid that was trapped in their coiled structures and in the spaces between the individual molecules. The heat from the cooking source drives these freed liquids toward the center of the meat.
This process of coagulation explains why experienced chefs can determine the “doneness” of a piece of meat is by pushing on it and judging the amount of resistance: the firmer the meat, the more done it is.
But the coagulation process is apparently at least partly reversible, so as you allow the meat to rest and return to a lower temperature after cooking, some of the liquid is reabsorbed by the protein molecules as their capacity to hold moisture increases. As a result, if given a chance to rest, the meat will lose less juice when you cut into it, which in turn makes for much juicier and tenderer meat.