The Ins and Outs of Injecting


Afraid of needles? Don’t let that deter you from enjoying the benefits of injecting. As many barbecue pros know, injecting is the most efficient way to add flavor and moisture to smoked, barbecued, or grilled food. Think of injecting as marinating from the inside out.

Let me explain. Rubs, spice pastes, and glazes sit on the meat’s surface. Marinades penetrate only a few millimeters into the meat. Brining and curing solutions do reach the center, but require several days or weeks to do so (a process that takes up major real estate in your refrigerator). Injecting gets the flavor to the center of the food in seconds with the push of a plunger.

Many injectors look like oversize hypodermic needles. The syringe (plastic or stainless steel) typically comes with a 2- to 4-ounce capacity—enough for most barbecue projects. Use it for injecting broth, melted butter, or other liquid seasonings. For thicker flavoring mixtures (like pesto or jerk seasoning), invest in a wide mouth injector—often sold with a metal spike for making a deep hole in the meat in which you inject your spice paste.

SpitJack Magnum Meat Injector GunOne of the coolest injectors we’ve come across is the SpitJack Magnum Meat Injector Gun, sold by the folks who developed the SpitJack whole hog rotisserie. The injector itself comes with a pistol-grip handle and a ratchet plunger designed to shoot even thick liquids deep into the meat. You get four different oversize needles (large, small, slanted, multi-hole). A handy carrying case is optional.

If smoking 150-pound hogs is your deal, you may want to spring for a commercial injector system to save time and hand fatigue. Some look like pressure sprayers and hold 2 to 2.5 gallons. Others, like the F. Dick Marinade Brine Injector, feature several feet of tubing with a terminal valve on one end that can be submerged in a large container of injector liquid.

To use an injector, fully depress the plunger and insert the needle in the injector sauce. (Some needles are closed at the end but have holes along the sides. Make sure the perforations are fully submerged in the sauce.) Pull the plunger back to fill the syringe with liquid. Plunge the needle deep in the meat, then depress the plunger slowly and steadily. (A quick plunge may send streams of injector sauce squirting in the opposite direction.) Withdraw the needle gradually.

Alternatively, minimize the number of holes you put in the meat by angling the needle in two or three directions using the same entry hole. Continue injecting until liquid begins leaking from the holes, indicating the meat cannot hold any more. For easier clean-up, work over a rimmed baking sheet.

So what should you inject with your injector? The short list includes broth or stock, melted butter or olive oil, cognac or whiskey, hot sauce or Worcestershire sauce, fish sauce or soy sauce, or a combination of these ingredients. For a touch of sweetness add fruit juice or molasses or honey. (Warm the latter in a saucepan of simmering water so they flow easily.) Below is a link to one of my favorite injector sauces to get you started.

As for the target, good candidates include large cuts of meat, like whole hogs, hams, and pork shoulders, whole turkeys and chickens, briskets, etc., plus intrinsically dry meats like pork loin, lamb leg, beef round roast, and double thick pork chops.

Here are some additional tips:

  • Once you mix the ingredients for your injector sauce, place it in a deep slender vessel to facilitate drawing the liquid into the syringe.
  • Lubricate the rubber or silicone gasket on the end of the plunger with a little vegetable oil before using. Repeat after each washing.
  • Use low-sodium broth when assembling injection sauces. That way, you control the salt content.
  • Unless you own a needle with a wide opening, avoid coarsely ground spices or similar ingredients that have the potential to clog. Strain out solids through a fine mesh strainer or coffee filter.
  • For better injector sauce dispersion, let the meat rest for an hour after injecting and before grilling or barbecuing.
  • When aesthetics matter, use light-colored injector sauces with lighter-colored meats and dark injection sauces—i.e., sauces that contain Worcestershire sauce, molasses, coffee, etc.—with darker meats.
  • Wash your injector by hand after each use, giving the needle special attention. Clean the tip with a bent paper clip and run hot water through it. (The dishwasher may craze the syringe and dull the needle.) Some models are designed to store the needle(s) inside the syringe when not in use. Otherwise, replace the needle guard it came with or push the tip into a small piece of cork between uses.

Get the Madeira Injector Sauce recipe.

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