The Zen Of Injecting Meat: No Wait, No Waste
Rubs, mops, and sauces can deliver a lot of flavor to the surface of meat, but if you want to get the flavor into meat, the solution is brining, marinating, and injecting.
The problems with brining and marinating is that they take a lonnnng time to get the flavor deep into the meat, and some flavors never move more than 1/8" past the surface (see my articles on marinating and brining). But injecting is a sure fire way to get the flavor and juiciness down deep. And it is the only way to get fats, herbs, spices and other large molecules deep into meat. You don't have to worry about over salting, you can do it last minute, you have less waste, no huge containers are needed, there are no refrigerator space problems, and there are few safety issues.
In fact, many meat processors routinely inject meats like turkey, chicken, and pork at the factory. So far, it is unusual to see red meats injected. The big advantage to injecting: No wait, no waste, get the juice in deep. Check out the video of a small commercial Ruhle Brine Injector at right. And that's a small one!
The secret to injecting at home is to go easy on the salt and flavorings. A good guideline is to shoot for 1 to 2% salt and skip the big flavors like garlic, pepper, and herbs. I have judged pulled pork and brisket at barbecue competitions where the meat was gushing juice, but it didn't taste like meat. It tasted like apple juice and garlic. I want pork that tastes like pork, beef that tastes like beef, and turkey that tastes like turkey.
To inject, you need a gizmo, and something to put in it.
There are a number of injection gizmos on the market ranging from simple hypodermics to pumps that look like something used by the Orkin man. For home use, a good sturdy specialty meat injector hypodermic will do.
The needles for this purpose are different than normal hypodermics. They aren't open at the tip because a large opening at the tip gets clogged with meat easily. Meat injectors have holes in the sides of the needles, and the tip is a sharp point.
A good injector has a really sharp tip, and a sturdy connection between the needle and the body, but the needle should be easy to remove. The plunger should have a sturdy connection to the body of the syringeand a good tight gasket between it and the interior of the syringe. I prefer a silicone gasket. It should be easy to break down and clean, and you should be able to store the needle inside the syringe. It should be at least 2 ounces capacity and made of stainless steel. The inexpensive plastic syringes I've owned lastic tended to crack with age or burst under pressure. Brass, copper, and aluminum are not good for this purpose since they can react with the salt.
What to put in them
Many BBQ champs use commercial products like Fab B Light or Butcher BBQ Brisket Marinade whose ingredient lists include commonly used commercial moisturizers, tenderizers, and flavor enhancers such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein, papaya extract, monosodium glutamate, autolyzed yeast extract, xanthan gum, disodium inosinate, guanylate, and sodium phosphate. Some traditionalists think this is way too Barry Bonds. But they win, and I've tasted the product and been impressed.
Inject with a brine that no more than 2% salt by weight. It will diffuse to a lower concentration, enough to enhance flavor and bind water, but not enough to give the meat a cured flavor.
You can add oils, herbs, spices, sweetners, syrups, sauces, stocks, broths, colorings, pretty much anything. But be thoughtful. If you use herbs or spices, grind them fine. Don't use dark liquids like soy sauce or Worcestershire on light colored meats like chicken or turkey. Don't go crazy with sweeteners. Here are the recipes I use.
Makes. About 1 quart
Serves. This makes enough to inject about 30 pounds of meat
Beef Brine Injection
1 tablespoon table salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons Worcestershire
4 cups water or low sodium beef stock, or a mix of both
Poultry Brine Injection
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
4 cups water or low sodium chicken stock, or a mix of both
About the salt. If you use Morton's kosher salt, double the quantity.
Optional. Smoke the salt.
Optional. You can add 1/2 teaspoon of MSG such as Ac'cent.
Optional. You can add herbs and spices such as garlic and pepper, but they can overwhelm the meat's natural flavor.
Optional. After you have used a brine injection, if you want you can go back and inject a small amount of oil. You can't mix the oil with the brine since it floats to the top. If you don't have canola you can use another neutral flavored oil like corn oil. Olive oil can be strong flavored. You can try butter, but it tends to coagulate and gather in blobs. The blobs disperse somewhat during cooking, however.
1) Mix all the ingredients in a bottle and shake vigorously before injecting. Pour into a narrow container so you can suck fluid in through the needle. In a wide bowl it is hard to get the holes below the water line and you then need to unscrew the top, pour it into the syrings, spill it everywhere, screw on the top, inject, and repeat. I bought a V-shaped flower vase for the job.
2) Insert the needle parallel to the grain and go all the way to the center. Press the plunger slowly and ease the needle out. Insert the needle about every 1.5" apart and leave behind about 1 ounce per pound. A little liquid will follow the needle out of the hole, but if it comes spurting out, use less pressure. We want to avoid pockets of liquid.
3) You can cook right away, but if you let the meat rest for an hour or more, even overnight, the injecton will disperse more evenly through the meat. Then dry the surface with a paper towel and apply your rub and cook.
This page was revised on 12/2/2011
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