Can You Brine Frozen Meat? [Useful Tips Plus Yummy Recipes]

When you have been busy all day and realize you need to start cooking but are short on time, you may think you have to choose between thawing and brining your frozen meats. The great news is — you don’t. While brining works best on thawed meats, you can thaw and brine at the same time.

The best frozen meats to brine are lean meats that are already cut into portions. You can start brining chicken breasts, pork chops, lean steaks or roasts, ribs, and even shrimp while they are frozen.

Make the brine, place the meat in it, and refrigerate until it is thawed. Portioned meats will brine and thaw in 1-4 hours, depending on the size of the cuts and the amount you are thawing at one time. Continue reading for specific advice on the best types of meats to brine, the length of time to brine each type, and some recipes for brine that add flavor and tenderness to your dishes.

What Is Brining?

Brining is a time-honored tradition of soaking lean meat in a salt-water solution to make it tender, moist, and flavorful. Many people only think about brining their Thanksgiving turkey, but you can add this technique to your kitchen repertoire all year round.

 In addition to salt, you can add other spices and seasonings to your brine for additional flavor. Get creative and try your favorites, ginger, citrus, peppers, rosemary . . . anything is possible with this method.

Best Meats For Brining

The best meats to brine are the leanest meats. Meats that have fat marbled through them will have enough moisture for tenderness due to the fat content.

Chicken Breast

Poultry breasts, pork chops, ribs, and even shrimp are good choices for brining. You may want to brine a frozen beef roast if it is a lean cut. If the beef roast has ample fat marbling, it does not need to be brined because it will already be tender. You should not brine cuts of meat that are already small, tender, and fatty, like filet mignon, flaky fish, and chicken thighs.

How To Make A Simple Brine?

A basic brine is one tablespoon of salt per cup of water. Kosher salt and sea salt work well because they dissolve quickly, but you can use regular table salt as well. 

You can start your brine with boiling water to ensure that the salt (and other powdered ingredients) completely dissolves. Be sure to cool the mixture back to room temperature before adding your meat. You can let the mixture cool slowly, or you can add in a couple of cups of ice to bring it down more quickly if you are in a hurry.

For added depth of flavor, add equal parts sugar and salt to the brine. Table sugar will work perfectly well, but you can also try brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup for a different flavor. 

Brining Meat Portions From Frozen

To brine meat from frozen, create your brine and put your frozen meat into it. For the best results, make sure the pieces are separate so that the brine can work on each piece equally.

Cover with a lid and place into the refrigerator. Check on the meat once every hour and remove it from the brine as soon as it thaws completely. If your meat portions are partially thawed when you begin, they will absorb the brine faster and be ready to cook sooner. 

The thawing and brining process could take 1-4 hours based on the thickness of each cut. Check on your portions periodically to ensure that they are thawing properly. 

It is possible to over brine your cuts of meat, making them too salty or causing the texture to be mushy. The optimal time for brining thawed meat is 10-15 minutes per pound, so you should keep an eye on your food as it thaws.

You can brine shrimp, but you need to keep a close eye on it. Shrimp are very lean but also very small, so they will thaw quickly. Shrimp should only be brined for 15-20 minutes so that they do not become too salty.

Brining Whole Chickens And Turkeys

We often think about brining turkeys at Thanksgiving to give that big lean bird some extra flavor and moisture. When you brine a whole turkey, you should let it thaw before you begin brining it.

Otherwise, it will lose its texture and become too salty. When you brine a turkey, you should also reserve some seasoning and rub it between the skin and the meat to add flavor. 

Brining whole chickens is much the same as turkeys. They are just smaller. You will get the best results if you thaw the chickens first before brining them so that they don’t become too salty or break down too much in the brine. 

Cooking Brined Meats

Brining meat is suitable for grilling, smoking, or roasting meats. When you cook meat in a dry environment, it needs to start with more moisture so that it doesn’t become too dry in the process. 

Before you cook, pour off the brining solution and quickly rinse the meat in cool water. Then pat it dry with a paper towel. At this point, add additional seasoning before cooking, but there’s no need to add extra salt. 

However, if you are cooking shrimp, just pour off the brine and cook. Don’t rinse the shrimp. Because it is so small, rinsing will wash away all the brine you just added. 

Adding More Flavor To A Brine

You can use the brine as a marinade and add additional flavor to your meats. You simply add the other seasonings you want to the brine and let it soak. You may want to add some additional seasoning right before cooking (no extra salt) because the flavors from the brine tend to be milder than the seasoning that you apply closer to cooking time.

Two Brine Recipes to Try For Pork Chops

1. Brown Sugar Brine for Pork Chops

The light flavor of pork makes it a delicious option for a sweeter brine. This recipe has more solids to dissolve, so start by bringing 3 cups of water to a boil. Add to that 3 tablespoons of kosher salt, 1 cup of brown sugar, 3 cloves of garlic, crushed, and 3 slices of crushed ginger.

Stir everything together until the salt and sugar completely dissolve. Then allow the mixture to cool down to room temperature.

pork chops

Add your frozen pork chops and refrigerate until they are thawed, 1-3 hours, depending on how thick they are. When you are ready to cook, drain off the brine, but do not rinse the chops.

2. Citrus Brine for Pork Chops

Pork chops are delicious with citrus brine as well. Start by boiling 2 cups of water so that all your ingredients will dissolve quickly. Add 3 tablespoons of kosher salt, ⅓ cup of honey, and 1 teaspoon black peppercorns.

Once the salt and honey dissolve, add 2 cups of ice to bring the temperature of the brine down while you add the other ingredients. Toss in ½ a white onion in chunks, 2 cloves of garlic, crushed, and the juice from one orange, one lime, and one lemon.

Add your frozen pork chops and refrigerate until they thaw, 1-3 hours. Just before cooking, drain the brine, and rub the chops with salt, pepper, paprika, and brown sugar. Grill the pork chops for about 4 minutes on each side, and you will have a delicious summery mouth full of sunshine. 

Of course, you can create a brine with your favorite ingredients. If you want to make a stir-fry to go with your pork chops, use soy sauce instead of kosher salt in the brine. Experiment with your favorite flavors.

Two Brine Recipes For Frozen Chicken Breasts (Or Other Poultry)

1. Lemon and Herb Brine for Chicken

A lemon and herb brine for frozen chicken breasts is a refreshing choice for a summertime cookout. Make your basic brine by boiling 3 cups of water and adding 3 tablespoons of kosher salt. Add ¼ cup of honey for sweetness and 2 sliced lemons for a bright citrus flavor.

Next, include 3 bay leaves, 5 cloves of garlic crushed, 1 tablespoon of black peppercorns, and 3 sprigs each of rosemary, thyme, and parsley. Once the brine has returned to room temperature, add the frozen chicken breasts and refrigerate until they thaw, 1-4 hours based on the size and quantity of the breasts. Don’t rinse the brine off of these before cooking. You will want to retain all of this flavor.

2. Spicy Southwest Brine for Chicken

Sometimes you need spicy chicken breasts for fajitas or tacos. You can make a spicy brine! Start by boiling 3 cups of water and adding 3 tablespoons of kosher salt. Next, add the juice of one lime, 3 peeled and crushed garlic cloves, half a chunked onion, 2 teaspoons brown sugar, 2 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp crushed red pepper, and ⅓ cup coarsely chopped cilantro.

When the mixture returns to room temperature, add your frozen chicken breasts and thaw in the fridge. When you are ready to cook in a cast-iron skillet or on the grill, pour off the brine, then pat the chicken dry. Brush with olive oil, then sprinkle with paprika and pepper to taste. Serve with sauteed onions and bell peppers. 

Brining Recipe For Ribs

When you smoke ribs, they need to start with extra moisture because the nature of smoking meat dries it out. Brining effectively adds the needed moisture and helps make that fall-off-the-bone tenderness you want in a good rack of ribs. 

Of course, the variety of brines for ribs is as varied as the types of barbecue across the country. The “best” seasoning for ribs could be a controversial debate for die-hard rib fans. To keep the peace, we are offering a basic rib brine, but leaving the barbecue sauce to you.

This basic brine will prepare about 1 ½ pound of ribs. Start with 3 cups of boiling water. Add ¼ cup of kosher salt, ½ cup of packed brown sugar, 1 tablespoon of black peppercorns, and 1 garlic clove peeled and crushed. When the salt and sugar dissolve, add 3 cups of ice to bring the temperature of the brine down quickly and to add more liquid.

Add your frozen ribs and refrigerate until they thaw for approximately 4-5 hours. You can cook your ribs in a smoker, over low coals on the grill, or even in the oven. Baste them with your favorite barbecue sauce regularly as they cook for added flavor and to help seal in the moisture.

Concluding Thoughts

Brining meat before cooking adds flavor, moisture, and improves the texture of very lean meats. You can take meat directly from the freezer and brine it while it thaws to save some time while you prepare to cook. This method is most effective for meats that are already portioned, like chicken breasts, pork chops, or shrimp.

Chicken breasts and pork chops will take 1-4 hours depending on size, and frozen shrimp will only take about 1 hour. While you can thaw and brine whole chickens and turkeys simultaneously, you will get better results by thawing them at least partially first.

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