Saturday, September 17, 2011

Product Review: Sweetwater Spice Company Brine Concentrates

I am a big fan of brining meats before smoking or grilling. But when Sweetwater Spice Company approached me about sampling their brine concentrates, I have to admit that my first thought was, “Why wouldn't people just make their own?”

Brines are easy and inexpensive to make. It's water, salt (30-75 grams per quart of water), sugar (equal or lesser amount than salt), and whatever aromatics you chose. Bring a fourth of the water to simmer, add the ingredients and let steep for 30 minutes. Add remaining water and cool down to 40f before using.

First Impressions
When I received my free sample set of the BBQ and Fajita baths, I was immediately impressed with the packaging. 

I know that has nothing to do with taste but it does say something about the quality the company has put into the product. Alexis immediately said that they looked like something from Bath and Body Works, which according to her debit card, is one of her favorite stores.

The label shows that the concentrates are preservative, gluten, fat, and MSG free. The list of ingredients contains all natural things like apple juice and things you'd find in your kitchen.

The concentrates have a thick texture and are visibly packed with seasonings.

I used this on some chicken leg quarters according to directions. I then seasoned them with my usual poultry rub and smoked them on my Smoke Hollow gas grill/charcoal grill/smoker combo at 250f using a mix of Kingsford blue bag and cherry wood (I was out of apple wood). 

About half way through I started mopping with my usual chicken mop (1 cup cider vinegar, ½ cup lager beer, ½ cup sweet BBQ sauce, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, 1 tsp hot sauce).

It took about 4 hours to get them to an internal temp of 175f which is longer than usual but that has nothing to do with the brine. In fact, brined meats generally cook faster than non-brined meats. 

I used this on leg quarters according to the directions. Next I seasoned them with a chile lime rub and grilled them on my Big Green Egg at 350f using direct heat. I used a “raised grid” which means the meat was further away from the heat than usual.

About halfway through I made a modified mop of lime juice, white vinegar, beer, sweet bbq sauce, and a serrano lime hot sauce. I mopped it twice in the last 30 minutes. 

It took a little over an hour to hit an internal temp of 175f. This was a simple lunch so we just ate them with tortilla chips and a sweet pickled corn salsa.

I wanted to try this one with beef, so I mixed it with beer and “brined” a scored flank steak, a sliced green pepper, and sliced red onion in it. I fired my Big Green Egg to 450f and added the vegetable wok insert for my Craycort cast iron grate system. I grilled the steak until it reached 125-130f (depending which end you checked) which took almost exactly 4 minutes per side.

I sliced the steak thin and served it with the veggies and Three Chile Rice that I made specifically to pair with the Tres Chiles Fajita Bath. 

Results and Thoughts
First, I wouldn't say these are just a brine. They are more like a “power marinade with brining effects”. They are more flavorful than any simple brine I have used, that is why I call them more of a marinade.

The biggest advantage to these brines is time. The recommended soaking time for these brines is about the same amount of time it takes to MAKE a simple brine as I described above. And my usual homemade brine needs 4-6 hours of soak time. They are a huge time savings.

The disadvantage to these is simple....cost. A homemade brine costs me about $1-2 for 6lbs of chicken while these commercial ones cost almost $9*.

So the flavor is there in a hurry but is it worth the cost? That depends on whether or not you have the time. If you are pressed for time, these are absolutely a good option for you.

Sweetwater Spice Company products are available online (click for website) and at select retailers such as Fresh Market.

CLARIFICATION from Sweetwater Spice:
"Our products are designed to save valuable prep and cooking time and cut out additional prep steps (seasoning) by flavoring while brining.

1/2 Cup of BBQ BATH is sufficient to brine 2-3 chicken breasts, meaning that four such meals can be prepared with one bottle (shelf life 1 Year after opening).

We hope that $2 per meal to produce perfectly moist and deliciously flavored chicken breasts in just 20 minutes is a value for our customers and strive to make it so by using only the finest all natural ingredients."

*I got my figure from the front of the 16 ounce bottles of BBQ Bath and the Lime Fajita Bath which state "Brines 6 lbs of meat".  The back of the bottles say that 1 cup of brine (8 oz) plus 3 cups of water are enough for 5 lbs of meat.  So according to the back of the 16 oz bottle, it is enough for 10 lbs of meat which does reduce the cost per serving almost in half.  

[StandardDisclaimer] I was given a set of free samples from Sweetwater Spice Company for review.