Have you ever spent all day cooking a pork shoulder or other large smoked meat, only to be disappointed in the lackluster flavor or dry texture?
When our team at ATBBQ wants to get more flavor per pound, we often inject meats before cooking them. It's a quick and easy way to get intense flavor and tenderness into every bite.
We created this in depth guide to walk through some of the most common questions we get about injecting meat.
What is an injection for cooking and grilling?
To inject meat, you'll push a needle deep into a cut of raw meat (such as beef, turkey or pork) to add moisture and flavor via a liquid. Unlike a brine or marinade, which requires time to soak, an injection works instantly and reduces your prep time.
Recipes for injections can come together quickly and leave a lot of room for experimenting. Start with a base such as apple juice, melted butter, or broth. Seasonings can be added from pre-made mixes, dissolved rubs or dry brines, or by adding garlic powder and other herbs and spices. If you can get your mixture through the needle without clogging, you can inject it.
Once your injection solution is mixed, simply fill an injector by dipping the needle in and pulling back the plunger. We like to use a tall glass or a marinade shaker because it makes it easier for the injector to reach the filling.
How does a meat injection work?
When you inject meat, you add moisture and flavor. As the meat cooks, the liquid spreads throughout.
You're also adding salt with the meat injector. The salt enhances the natural flavor of meats and works as an internal brine to break down proteins and help the meat retain and absorb more water through osmosis. (Learn more about brining here.)
As you inject the injecting liquid, some of the excess liquid will work its way back out of the meat, but that's nothing to worry about. Most of the liquid and seasonings will stay inside, giving you more flavorful and tender bites all the way through.
Pro Tip: If you are doing a hot and fast grilling session, inject the meat early and let it rest prior to cooking. You'll give the injected meat more time to be seasoned and tenderized.
Injecting is the best way to get flavor deep inside meat because seasoning particles are too large to be carried by brines or marinades and cannot penetrate without the assistance of the needle.
Step by Step Guide to Meat Injecting
What should I inject meat with?
Start with a liquid base such as apple juice, butter, broth, or even water. Add seasonings like Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, pre-made mixes and marinades, dissolved rubs and dry brines, or by adding garlic powder and other herbs and spices. Just make sure your dry seasonings are small enough to dissolve so that everything will flow easily through the needle.
Can I inject marinade into the meat?
Yes. Pre-mixed marinades are a quick and easy way to get tender, juicy cuts of meat.
Can I inject any meat?
Injections are best for large cuts like beef brisket, pork butt, pork shoulders, turkey, pork loin, whole chicken and whole hogs.
Injections won't work as well on thinner cuts because the fluid will work its way out quickly. If you have a thinner cut, we suggest soaking them in a marinade. (See our article on how to marinade.)
How do I use an injector?
A meat injector looks like an oversized syringe. Mix your injection solution, then fill the injector by dipping in the needle and pulling back the plunger. We recommend using a tall glass or a marinade shaker because it makes it easier to fill the injector needle.
Next, push the needle into your cut of meat. Move the needle around to create a little pocket and squeeze the trigger to release the injection. No need to worry if some juice comes back out -- you can either wipe it off or rub it on the meat's surface to act as a binder for any dry seasonings you'll add later.
The meat will expand as it's filled with the injection. Continue working your way across the surface until the solution is evenly distributed.
How long before cooking should I inject the meat?
You can add the liquid right before you grill. Another option is to give your meat a few minutes to allow the injection to distribute more evenly throughout the food.
Is injecting meat worth the effort?
Without a doubt! Injecting is one of our favorite ways to get the benefits of both brining and marinating in one step. If you are looking for a quick and simple way to achieve great flavor, this is the way to go.
Remember, our staff is filled with experienced cooks, both in the kitchen and at the grill. Please reach out for cooking tips and advice. We love to help!
Go and inject in that meat!