The key ingredients are the sugar, salt and water of course. The flavor ingredients are very versatile. I change them up depending on what I am cooking- I sometimes use fennel seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds etc.
When you are cooking meat that has been soaking in a brine mix you have a greater girth for accidentally over cooking. If you leave the meat (lets say a chicken breast) on the grill or have a partner who thinks they are the bee's knees on the grill yet dries the food out to hockey pucks then a brine is your best friend. It seals the moisture inside the meat allowing the juices to stay within instead of leaching out.
Brining is good for 'cuts' of meat and also whole birds- I guess you could brine an entire pig but you'd want to have bloody big bucket!
This recipe will brine one big turkey or two whole chickens- half the recipe for smaller chops, breasts etc.
Basic Brine Recipe
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup salt (table salt is fine or kosher)
1 gallon (4.5 litres) water
1 Tbsp. black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
3-4 sprigs of fresh herbs like oregano/thyme/rosemary
1 Tbsp. chili flakes (optional)
Place all ingredients into a large pot and bring to the boil. Simmer for 1-2 minutes then remove from heat and cool straight away.
(A rapid way to reduce the temperature of your brine is to fill the sink up with cold water dump as many ice cubes you have into the water. Pour the brine mixture into a plastic or stainless steel container and plunge it into the iced water bath. Stir occasionally to quicken the cooling process)
Once the brine is cold- place meat into brine and soak for up to 6-7 hours (depending on the size of meat. Whole birds will take 7 hours, chicken breasts about 5 hours). Drain and use or if you are not using straight away, cover meat in olive oil to stop it from drying out. I usually brine meat 1-2 days before I need it so on the day all I have to do it cook it!
Give it a go, it is well worth the extra step.