Salting Meat

Written by  Friday, 30 November 2012
Salting Meat Illustration by Salt101

Almost everyone has heard of brining—soaking meat or poultry in a saltwater solution—but how exactly does it work? It all depends on a process called osmosis. The force of osmosis always tries to make things equal. That means liquid with a lower concentration of, say, salt, will want to dilute water with a higher salt concentration. As applied to brining, the molecules in a brine are at a lower concentration than the amount of dissolved molecules inside the muscle tissue of meat. This difference in concentration draws the brine inside the meat. And once inside, the salt in the brine dissolves some of the muscle proteins. Because these dissolved muscle proteins are better at holding water when cooked, the end product is juicier meat.

Salting works for the same reasons. When meat is salted well beyond the amount needed for seasoning, the local concentration of salt on the surface is higher than the concentration of dissolved molecules inside the meat. This initially draws moisture out of the meat in the direction of the more concentrated solution. You can see this happen when you sprinkle a lot of salt on meat—the surface becomes wet.

But remember that osmosis always wants equilibrium. When enough moisture is drawn out of the meat, it will dilute the salt on the surface. Then things work in reverse, and some of the dissolved salt is drawn back inward because osmosis wants to increase the concentration of dissolved molecules inside the meat. As salt is sent back into the meat, it dissolves the muscle proteins, the meat retains more moisture when cooked, and the end effect is similar to brining.

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