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Burgers with Green Tomato Mayonnaise
Credit: Hector Sanchez

If you have ever volunteered to cook the Thanksgiving turkey, you are probably familiar with the concept of brining; soaking the bird in a mixture of salt water and spices to impart tenderness and flavor. Using a dry brine, or rubbing the meat down with salt and dry spices and letting it air dry in the refrigerator, is also a popular method to gain the same results. Along with salt, however, there is another kitchen staple that you can use if you want to tenderize meats. Adding a solution of baking soda and water to meat creates a chemical reaction that guarantees a juicy burger and succulent chicken. Before you fire up the grill this weekend or brown your ground beef for a pot of chili, read on for a quick science lesson on how to tenderize any cut of meat you may cook.

Salt Encourages Water Retention

Soaking meat in a salty brine helps the meat muscles absorb more water, thus retaining moisture. Through a process called "denaturing," salt causes protein in the meat to uncoil and form strings, which link to water. Brining with a salt solution helps safeguard the meat from drying out when it's cooked.

Baking Soda Changes Chemistry

Using a solution of baking soda and water to tenderize meat works differently than using a brine. Baking soda neutralizes acid and raises the pH level on the surface of the meat, causing the outside of the meat to become more alkaline. This chemical reaction makes it more difficult for the proteins inside the meat to tighten up, and when proteins can't bond together, the meat stays tender when cooked instead of constricting and toughening up.

Baking Soda Solution Works Faster

Tenderizing with a baking soda solution is faster than using a saltwater brine. Meat only has to sit in a baking soda solution for 15 to 20 minutes, but a brine solution can take at least 30 minutes to start working. Plus, letting the meat sit longer in baking soda will not do any harm, whereas over-brining meat can make it stringy and mushy

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Use Less Baking Soda Than Salt

A standard brine for 1.5 lbs of meat calls for ¼ cup of salt dissolved in 1 quart of water. If using baking soda, make a solution of ¼ teaspoon of baking soda and a pint of water for 12 ounces of ground beef. 12 ounces of sliced meat, such as chicken and pork, take a teaspoon of baking soda in their solution.