How to make beer brine suitable for pork, turkey, chicken, fish and beef brisket. Basic recipe + flavor variations.
- Go straight to the Recipe Card or
- Read on for suitable beer styles and useful protein specific beer brine tips (1 min)
What Does a Beer Brine Do?
A beer brine both moistens and seasons the protein soaked in it.
- Moisture. The solution penetrates deep into the meat and helps it absorb additional liquid. In result, when the brined protein begins to dry out during cooking it can still retain an adequate degree of moisture and finish juicy.
- Flavor. A beer brine also flavors the meat deep inside, in contrast to a marinade which only works on the surface.
Whereas typically you can brine a meat for moisture and then marinate it for flavor, a beer brine will season the food deep inside. No need for a marinade. All you have to do is use a dry rub (easy on the salt) or other seasoning plus a good brushing of olive or neutral cooking oil.
Basic Beer Brine Ingredients
At its core a beer brine is a flavored brine, which simply means that in addition to salt, sugar and water, the classic brine ingredients, it includes a flavorful brew and frequently other ingredients.
Our base formula for all purpose beer brine is:
1 part kosher salt : 1 part sugar : 8 parts water: 8 parts beer : other ingredients to taste (optional)
The basic recipe as given in the card below yields enough for a whole chicken or an average pork roast and can be easily scaled up or down as needed. Be sure that the food is entirely submerged in the brine.
- The beer imparts maltiness and a yeasty depth of flavor to the brined food (especially certain ales) and when the style affords it – caramel and roasty notes.
- We usually select additional ingredients with complementary flavors. Our favorites are bay leaf, various peppercorns, mustard seeds, clove, lemongrass, sage, rosemary, oregano.
How Does A Beer Brine Work?
In a nut shell a beer brine works through diffusion, just like any other brine does. At the molecular level the dissolved salt, sugar and water move into the food and alter its protein structure, ultimately causing it to absorb more water and all the flavors of the brine.
The salinity of brine solutions cause the typically tight protein strands of the meat to loosen and trap water molecules. You can easily observe that the meat becomes plumper in result of the uptake of water – especially with smaller cuts such as pork chops. When the dry heat of cooking causes the meat to loose most of the extra liquid, there is still plenty of moisture (as well as flavor) left to ensure a juicy chicken breast, pork tenderloin, halibut fillet, etc.
Best Beer Styles for Beer Brine
The maltier and yeastier the beer, the more flavor will be infused deep inside your protein of choice. Our favorite styles to work with are:
- Belgian ales – their yeast esters are unsurpassed and work with any protein
- Porters and stouts – for hearty roasts or turkey meat
- German lagers – the golden ones like pilsner are perfect for chicken, the darker like Dunkel, Bock or Marzen for pork
- Wheat ales – especially Belgian wit and Hefeweizen
- IPAs – especially bright, citrusy ones – excellent for fish or chicken
How to Make All-purpose Beer Brine
This is the fastest way to make beer brine:
- Measure out the needed water into half actual water and half ice cubes (as shown in the ingredients picture above).
- Boil the water with the salt and brown sugar to dissolve them.
- Pour over the ice cubes for significantly faster cooling down time. Add the beer.
Turkey Beer Brine Tips
Our many years of experience show that brines deliver the most flavorful turkeys, not just the juiciest one. Always, always brine turkey meat.
- Go for really flavorful brews (Belgian, brown ales, porter).
- Consider injecting brine into whole birds for faster brining times (use a meat injector).
- Consider making a strong beer brine for whole birds by doubling the salt and sugar, while keeping the brine time under 24 hours.
- When making a beer brine for smoked turkey or smoked turkey legs consider adding a bit of curing salt (pink). Add the salt in a quantity as specified by the manufacturer – a tiny amount goes a long way (about 1/2 tsp per one batch of our basic beer brine recipe).
Tips for Beer Brine for Chicken
Always brine whole chickens, drumsticks and chicken breast, especially if your plan is to bake or grill.
- The more flavorful the beer, the better.
- Use additional ingredients to accent the principal beer flavor. For example we like to take an American wheat and add a handful of preserved lemons. Makes for the best lemon infused chicken – tried and true.
Tips for Beer Brine for Pork
You should always brine lean pork cuts such as tenderloin and loin, but even fattier cuts of pork such as the pork steaks above can benefit from spending an hour or two in a brine.
- For lean pork roasts go with robust flavored porters, stouts, bocks or dark Belgian ales.
- For pork chops you can use a balanced brew and further flavor the brine with spices and herbs.
Tips for Beer Brined Steak, Brisket & Beer Corned Beef
Tough beef cuts like brisket or eye of round benefit from a beer brine before smoking or roasting. You can also make a beer brine for corned beef brisket. In certain instances you can brine steak. Besides that, beef is generally better suited for marinades and dry rubs (also known as dry brine) than brining, beer brines included.
The main reason to not brine beef is that its flavorful juices ‘bleed out’ and combine with the rest of the brine.
- For beer brined corned beef use your favorite brine recipe and substitute half the water with beer.
- For steak or tough cuts, including smoked brisket, use the recipe as given (think porter of stout) and further flavor with peppercorns, clove, bay leaf.
Tips for Beer Brined Fish & Shellfish
Smaller and more delicate proteins require less time submerged in a brine and this is most true with fish and shellfish like shrimp.
- Brine shrimp for about 30 minutes and whole fish fillets for about 60-120 minutes.
- Use brews such as saison, citrusy IPAs, herbal pale ales
- Add flavoring agents such as lemongrass or preserved lemons or limes
- After you take the fish from the brine let it air dry or very gently pat dry with paper towel. Do not marinate it, simply brush with a bit of oil and grill or bake.
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- 1/4 cup kosher salt*
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 cups water**
- 2 cups beer
- optional flavor additions such as peppercorns, mustard seeds, clove, bay leaf, herbs, etc. to taste
Basic method: Bring 1 cup of water to a boil, add the salt and sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the solution to the cold water to temper the temperature and let it cool down completely. Add the cold beer and any additional ingredients you are using. Submerge the food, cover with lid or plastic and refrigerate. Brine per the schedule below.
Alternative method: Pour 1 cup of boiling water over the salt and sugar, whisk to dissolve and add 1 1/2 cups of ice cubes plus the cold beer. Add any flavoring ingredients. Mix to combine, then add the food. Cover with lid or plastic and refrigerate. Brine per the schedule below.
Brining Schedule***: Brine for 30 minutes to 24 hours, depending on the weight of the food and its size (ex. 4 pounds of pork chops need less time than a 4 pound pork loin).
less than 1 pound – 30 minutes
1 to 3 pounds – 45 to 60 minutes
3 to 5 pounds – 60 to 120 minutes
5 to 8 pounds – up to 6 hours
over 8 pounds – 12 hours and up to 24 hours
Always discard a used brine.
The formula for all purpose beer brine is:
1 part kosher salt : 1 part sugar : 8 parts water: 8 parts beer : other ingredients to taste
Use the ratios to scale up or down as necessary.
*If using Morton salt stick with the specified quantity. If using Diamond, increase by about 30 percent to get the same salinity.
**You can divide this into 1 cup of water and 1 1/2 cups ice cubes (for the faster method to make the beer brine).
***Do not over brine, especially smaller foods like shrimp - they can quickly become too salty and even dry out.
Nutritional information is not provided as most of the brining solution is not consumed and simply facilitates juicier and more flavorful proteins.