There are few things more disappointing than this: You, your spouse or your friends have been manning the grill and the appetizing scents of flame-cooked meat have been making your mouth water. Finally, the meat is done. You grab a pork chop or chicken breast and -- gak. It's so dry you can hardly chew it.
There's a magic trick to avoid that scenario that takes no skill, no equipment beyond a zipper bag and some fridge space, and a little bit of time and planning ahead. That trick? Brining! And as a bonus, it adds flavor to your food.
Brining is, simply, the act of soaking meat in a saltwater solution (the brine) for a period of time, so the salty water penetrates the meat, seasons it, and most importantly helps it hold on to its juices during cooking. I think of it as insurance for your meat, because if you err a little too much on the side of caution and overcook a bit, you'll still have juicy meat. Lean meats like pork loin chops and chicken breasts go from delicious to sawdust in about two seconds on the grill, so that insurance is important.
According to Fine Cooking, the general formula is 1T salt and 1T sugar (which helps with browning) for each cup of water. For four chicken breasts or pork chops, you'll need about 4 cups or so. Mix up your brine, put your meat in a quart-size zipper bag, pour the brine over, squeeze out all the air as you seal the bag, and let it sit in the fridge for no more than a couple of hours.
You can and should add other stuff to your brine. Garlic cloves, herbs, and lemon slices are all favorites of mine, but experiment with just about anything you think sounds yummy. Just stay away from spice blends that contain salt because that will make the finished dish too salty.
Have you tried brining? What are your favorite flavors to add to your brine?