You don’t need a Wonderbra to enhance chicken and turkey breasts. Or, for that matter, beef brisket, pork butt. The truth is that rubs, mops, marinating, brining, and sauces can deliver a lot of flavor to the surface of meat, but if you really want to get salt or flavor deep into meat, the solution is injecting (see my articles on marinating and brining and curing). Having an injector also opens up other fun possibilities: stuffing jam into donuts, syrup into ice-cream, and melted butter into squash.
Many meat processors routinely inject meats like turkey, chicken, and pork at the factory. Injecting, or enhancing as food processors call it, 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 oversalting, you can do it at the last minute so there’s no waiting, you have less waste, no huge containers are needed, there are no refrigerator space problems, and there are few safety issues.
The secret to injecting is to go easy. A good guideline is to shoot for 1 to 2% salt, no more than 4%. It is like brining and the salt helps retain moisture as well as enhances flavor. I skip the big flavors like garlic, pepper, and herbs that mask the natural flavor of the meat. 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.
The best solutions are salt water, salted butter, or stock. And you don’t need much. Muscle is 75% water and it is saturated. There isn’t much room in there for more liquid. Your injection will go in between the muscle fibers and bundles, not within the fibers, so you won’t need much. With luck you might be able to get another 10% in there. Put the meat in a pan, insert the needle every inch or two, push it to the center, and slowly push in the plunger as you slowly pull out the needle. Keep doing this until it starts to squirt out. Check out my injection recipes here.
Many competition cooks like to inject with a product called Fab B Light or Butcher BBQ Brisket Marinade, both moisturizers, tenderizers, and flavor enhancers. Fab B contains hydrolyzed soy protein, vegetable oil, sodium phosphates, monosodium glutamate, autolyzed yeast extract, xanthan gum, disodium inosinate, and guanylate. Butcher contains hydrolyzed vegetable protein (hydrolyzed soy and corn protein and salt, with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil [cottonseed, soybean] added), monosodium glutamate, sodium phosphate, and xanthan gum. Some traditionalists think this is way too Barry Bonds and are repulsed by the idea. The results speak for themselves. They are winning. A lot.
To inject, you need a gizmo, and something to put in it.
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 easily. Meat injectors have holes in the sides of the needles, and the tip is a sharp point.
When you inject it is important that the tip go all the way through the meat until it almost pops out. If the needle isn’t long enough then go halfway through, flip it over and inject from the other side. Inject every inch or two an, this is important, as you withdraw the needle, continue to push down on the plunger so injection is dispersed from top to bottom.
A good injector has a really sharp tip, and a sturdy connection between the needle and the body of the syringe, but the needle should be easy to remove. The plunger should have a sturdy connection to the body and 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 so it is compact and you don’t lose the needle. It should have a capacity of at least two ounces and be made of stainless steel. The inexpensive plastic syringes I’ve owned eventually cracked with age or burst under pressure. Brass, copper, and aluminum are not good for this purpose, since they can react with the salt. Look for stainless steel.
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The problem everyone has with injectors is filling them. Most of us mix the injection and stick the needle into it and suck it up. But the position of the holes in the needle prevents you from getting it all, and they suck up a lot of air. This can be aggravating when you are using just a half stick of butter for a turkey breast or a small amount for a couple of turkey breasts.
The solution is to mix your injection, pour it in a glass or cup, and put a drinking straw over the needle. Stick the straw in the cup and it works perfectly!
Published On: 5/23/2019 Last Modified: 11/19/2022
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