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Is soy sauce a good brine?

Brining is a popular technique used to enhance the flavor and moisture of meats before cooking. It involves soaking the meat in a saltwater solution, known as a brine, for hours or days. While traditional brines are made from a combination of water and salt, some cooks experiment with more complex brines featuring additional seasonings. One popular brining ingredient is soy sauce, but is it an effective brine ingredient? Here is an in-depth look at using soy sauce for brining.

How Brining Works

Before examining soy sauce specifically, it helps to understand the science behind brining. A basic brine is made by dissolving salt in water. The salt helps denature the proteins in the meat, allowing the protein molecules to unwind and take on more moisture. Over time, the brine forms a highly concentrated salt solution outside the meat. This causes osmosis, pulling moisture from the brine into the meat cells. The result is a juicy, tender piece of meat that is well-seasoned throughout.

Brines usually contain between 0.5% to 10% salt by volume. Too little salt and the brining effect doesn’t occur. Too much can make the meat overly salty. The optimum salt concentration provides enough ions to effectively brine the meat without over-salting it. Along with salt, brines can also include sweeteners like sugar, herbs, and spices to add extra flavor.

Soy Sauce as a Brine Ingredient

With its salty, umami-rich flavor, soy sauce seems like an ideal ingredient to enhance the flavor of brined meats. However, there are a few factors to consider when using soy sauce in a brine:

Salt Content

Soy sauce is very high in sodium, with about 1000 mg of sodium per tablespoon. For comparison, regular table salt contains about 2300 mg of sodium per tablespoon. If you were to make a brine using 100% soy sauce, it would be far above the ideal salt concentration for brining. Most recommendations are to limit soy sauce to just a few tablespoons per quart of brine.

Brine Ingredient Sodium per Tbsp
Table Salt 2300 mg
Soy Sauce 1000 mg

Flavor Components

Soy sauce is made by fermenting soybeans and wheat. This process results in complex savory flavors beyond just saltiness. The amino acids and peptides produced during fermentation give soy sauce its rich, umami taste. Using some soy sauce in a brine can help amplify the savory flavors in meat. But too much can make the flavor one-dimensional.


Soy sauce has a pH between 4.7 and 5.2, meaning it is slightly acidic. Extremely acidic ingredients like vinegar or wine are sometimes used in brines. The acid helps break down connective tissues in tougher cuts of meat. However, soy sauce does not contain nearly enough acid to produce this tenderizing effect.


The dark color of soy sauce can also impart an unnatural reddish-brown hue to lighter meats like chicken or pork. This may or may not be desirable depending on the context. A southern-style barbecued pulled pork may benefit from darker flesh while chicken for chicken salad may look better with a lighter appearance.

Best Practices for Using Soy Sauce in Brines

Through experimentation, cooks have found some best practices for incorporating soy sauce into brines:

Limit soy sauce to 1/4 cup per quart of the brine or less

This provides rich umami flavor without making the brine overly salty. The sodium level remains in the ideal range for effective brining. Going above 1/4 cup per quart quickly makes the brine too concentrated.

Combine soy sauce with other umami ingredients

Fish sauce, worcestershire sauce, mushrooms, tomato paste, and miso are all good partners for soy sauce in brines. They provide layers of savory flavor without spiking the sodium level too high.

Use lighter soy sauce

Regular soy sauce can make the meat very dark. Opt for a light or thin soy sauce to impart less color. Or dilute the soy sauce with water in the brine.

Rinse and pat dry meat after brining

This removes any sticky residue and helps the color return closer to normal. Be sure to rinse with cold water to prevent cooking the surface of the raw meat.

Avoid brining lean meats for more than 2-3 hours

The soy sauce can start to make very lean meats like chicken breast taste too salty because the brine penetrates so quickly. Limit brining time or cut back the soy sauce for lean meats.

Try on tougher, fattier cuts

Tougher cuts of pork or beef that contain more connective tissue and fat can handle the intensity of soy sauce brine well. The fat balances the saltiness and longer brining up to 24 hours helps tenderize without making them too salty.

Sample Soy Sauce Brine Recipes

Here are some sample brine recipes featuring soy sauce:

Basic Soy Sauce Brine

1 quart water
1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Bring all ingredients to a boil, stir to dissolve. Chill brine completely before adding meat. Good basic brine for poultry or pork.

Asian-Flavored Soy Sauce Brine

1 quart water
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 inch knob ginger, sliced
2 green onions, chopped

Bring all ingredients to a boil, stir to dissolve. Chill brine completely before adding meat. Great for adding lots of Asian flavor.

Fajita Soy Sauce Brine

1 quart water
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup lime juice
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
4 cloves garlic, smashed

1 jalapeño, sliced

Bring all ingredients to a boil, stir to dissolve. Chill brine completely before adding meat. Excellent for flavoring flank steak for fajitas.


When used judiciously, soy sauce can be a tasty addition to meat brines. It provides a mega dose of savory umami flavor. Just be careful not overdo it, as soy sauce is very high in salt. Follow the guidelines of limiting to 1/4 cup per quart or less, combining with other umami ingredients, and brining lean meats only briefly. With the right balance, soy sauce can take your brined meats to a new level of deliciousness. What are you waiting for? Fire up that soy sauce brine and enjoy juicy, well-seasoned meats.