In the days before refrigeration, good cooks found ways to cope. One was a nifty technique that is as relevant today as yesteryear.

In the days before refrigeration, good cooks found ways to cope. One was a nifty technique that is as relevant today as yesteryear.

It’s called brining, and it’s one of the oldest food-preservation tricks. It preserves the quality of meat and seafood, and it produces juicy and tender repasts.

Meat starts losing its moisture in the store. Freezing slows this, but does not prevent it. (Freezer burn is dehydrated meat.) The older the meat, the less tenderness.

Brining causes the meat fibers to expand. There’s nothing more tender than a brined beef or pork roast.

Simple salt water can rescue that past-prime cut of meat in your freezer. I’ve used it to tenderize those leathery two-for-one roasts. You can flavor brine with garlic or herbs, and the meat will draw it inside.

Brining means soaking meat in water saturated with salt. It sounds like it would explode the saltiness of the food, but if you wash if off before cooking, you won't taste the salt. You will notice the tenderness  right away.

The salt solution causes the food to hydrate, meaning retain water. Proteins in the meat coagulate and capture the liquid. This limits the dehydration that occurs over heat.  The result is juicy, tender fare.

I learned brining from my Army days, when I spent most of my ration money at a seafood restaurant in Norfolk. I got to know the chef, and he showed me the secret of his success. Ho Sai Kai brined all of his seafood.

His theory was this stuff grew up in salt water. The brine caused it to puff up and restored its “right off the boat” freshness. I tried it on a pound of jumbo shrimp for the grill. My diners exclaimed joy.

I mix a third of a cup of sea salt and a third of a cup of brown sugar in a quart of water. This is my meat brine. For seafood, I add a teaspoon of Old Bay seasoning, my favorite. Stir with a wire whisk to make a saturated solution.

Then pour into a nonmetallic bowl or plastic food bag and add the meat. It must be covered in brine. The salt water is bacteria-free, so refrigeration is not necessary. I would brine meats for at least three hours and seafood for one hour. You can brine shrimp without peeling. Brined and grilled tuna steaks are excellent.

 Another advantage with seafood is brining removes the fishy taste. This is caused by bacteria; the salt kills it.

Just about any solid meat benefits from brining. I like brined poultry including turkey. I don’t brine steak; it’s already tender and juicy.

Brining cuts cooking times. I’ve found 20 to 50 percent less time is needed, so be watchful, especially with seafood.

You can brine meat and then marinate it. Wash the brined meat and marinate for about a half hour. An olive-oil based marinade works best.

Our guests were amazed at my shrimp. One said he could hear the ocean breakers as he ate.

If you enjoy smoked seafood, brining is mandatory. I smoked some whole bass my mother-in-law caught. The brining removed the fishy, muddy taste, and the smoking punctuated their natural sweetness.

Contact Jim Hillibish at


1 quart cold water
1/3 cup sea salt or kosher salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon Old Bay seafood seasoning
1 1/2 pounds jumbo shrimp in shell


1/4 cup olive oil, extra virgin
3 tablespoons dry, white wine
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon
1/4 teaspoon dried, crushed red pepper flakes

Mix the brine in a large, plastic bowl with a whisk for about a minute. Add washed, unpeeled shrimp. Cover  and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.

Whisk the secondary marinade ingredients until the oil is emulsified.

Wash the shrimp under cold tap water. Peel the shells, removing legs, back to the tails, and devein. Marinate for 30 minutes covered in the refrigerator.

Place three shrimp each on two skewers. Grill over hot, gray coals for 2 minutes to a side. Serves 4.