Why and how to brine pork chops + a chef tried and true pork chop brine recipe that will never let you down.
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A pork brine has the power to convert a reluctant pork chop eater into a pork chop enthusiast. Not only does it create a considerably juicier bite of pork – it also flavors the meat and makes it appear more tender.
What Does Brine Mean?
The modern day meaning of the verb to brine is to soak a food in a saline solution in order to increase its moisture content, improve its texture and flavor it before cooking.
The place of origin of the practice is said to be Scandinavia where in the past sea water was used to preserve meats.
At its most basic, a brine is a saline solution with 3 to 6 % salt by weight. Sugar is frequently added to brines to balance the saltiness and uplift the overall flavor.
How Does a Pork Brine Work?
When pork is completely submerged into a brine the immersion has two main effects.
First, the salt that makes its way into the meat through diffusion. It partially dissolves the proteins supporting the muscle filaments and even the filaments themselves. It also shortens them. The result is meat that is a bit more tender to the bite once cooked.
Second, the loosening of the meat’s structure allows it to absorb and hold more of the brine. A brined pork chop can increase its weight by up to 10 % due to liquid absorption. When subjected to heat the meat can lose almost 20 % of its moisture, but this is partially offset by the absorbed brine. In the end pork chops finish juicier than if not brined.
Quick Brine for Pork Chops
Salt. The key ingredient. Without salt you cannot make a brine. The best type to use is kosher salt. Be sure to differentiate between brands. For example, Morton is much denser than Diamond Crystal and the same volume of salt will result in a higher concentration (still within the 3 to 6 % range).
Water. The solvent for the salt and sugar. You can use liqiuids like stock, buttermilk or even beer as partial substitutes of the needed water to create variations or a beer brine.
Sugar. Almost always added to brines. Dark brown sugar is the top choice among culinary professionals. As an experienced chef Chris has been using it for over twenty years and likes to say that it helps the natural flavor of pork blossom.
A tried & true brine ingredients ratio is 1 part kosher salt : 2 parts sugar : 16 parts water.
To that end for pork chops we typically use 1/4 cup kosher salt and 1/2 cup brown sugar to 4 cups of water.
TIP: This basic pork brine recipe is suitable for all kinds of cuts, not just chops. Use it as a whole pork loin brine or even with a well marbled pork shoulder steak (especially if you intend to smoke it).
Pork Brine Flavor Variations
A variety of aromatic ingredients can be added to a brine to infuse it with flavor. The addition is never felt in an overwhelming manner, rather it is a hint of the unique aroma.
When brining pork chops consider adding: bay leaf, peppercorns, mustard seeds, corriander seeds, garlic cloves, shallots, rosemary, thyme, etc.
By way of liquid ingredients the flavor can be amplified with the addition of stock, beer, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, red wine, etc.
When to Use Pork Brine?
Use a pork brine any time when the cooking process will involve dry heat. Unless you will be braising thick bone-in rib chops, stewing loin chops cut into cubes or something else involving moist heat, you should brine the pork first.
How to Brine Pork Chops?
All you have to do is make the saline solution, allow it to cool down and add the pork chops to it.
You can brine at room temperature for up to 2 hours, but it is much safer to immediatley refrigerate the container with the brine and meat.
If you are adding any aromatic ingredients to the quick brine for pork chops illustrated below, add them during step one.
TIP: Heat only 1 cup of water to dissolve the salt and sugar and add it to a mixture of 2 heaping cups of ice and 1 cup of water. It all works out to satisfy the needed ratio, but the solution will cool down much, much faster.
A Brine Should Always Be Cold!
Never add pork chops to hot or even warm brine. Never.
What Type of Pork Chops Should Be Brined?
All types of pork chops can benefit from a brine, but not all must be brined.
ALWAYS BRINE: pork loin chops and cutlets, rib chops, ham steaks, sirloin chops – regardless of how thick and whether bone-in or boneless. Basically any pork chop that contains lean meat and has little or no fat, or fat only near the periphery.
BRINE IF YOU CAN: pork shoulder chops, collar pork chops (aka coppa) and particularly fatty, bone-in ribeye pork chops. These cuts are naturally endowed with fat marbling that melts and moistens the meat as it cooks. Depending on the method of preparation you have in mind for them you can skip the brining.
However, we recommend that you use a brine if you have the time and especially if you will be baking or smoking these cuts.
How Long to Brine Pork Chops?
Time is the second most important variable in relation to brining (after the salt to sugar to water ratio).
Below are recommended soaking times based on thickness and size. You want to make sure that the brine has a chance to reach deep into the meat.
Thin pork chops: 2 to 6 hours
Thick cut pork chops: 6 to 12 hours
Double cut pork chops: 12 to 24 hours
TIP: If you only had 30 minutes you should still brine your pork. A brine works from the outside in, or in other words from the parts of the chop most likely to dry out during cooking towards the center. Therefore even a brief soak can make a difference.
Should a Brine Be Discarded After Use?
Yes. Always discard pork chop brine after a single use.
If you make too much brine you can separate and store part of it before you soak any meat in it. It will keep well refrigerated for use another time.
Can You Marinate Brined Pork Chops?
Yes, you can. The two techniques are not mutually exclusive. Brining is mainly for moisture, marinating is mainly for flavor. Read Brine vs Marinade for details.
How to Season Brined Pork Chops?
Before you season brined pork chops pat them dry and even allow them to air dry for a couple of minutes. Never rinse brined meat.
Season with minimal salt because the meat already contains some from soaking in the saline liquid.
Pork Brine in Action in These Recipes
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 4 cups water*
- 1 tsp peppercorns (optional)**
- 1 tsp mustard seeds (optional)**
- 2 bay leaves (optional)**
- 3 garlic cloves (optional)**
- 2 tbsp soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce (optional)**
- In a small sauce pan combine the salt, brown sugar and 1 cup water. (If using any other flavoring ingredients add them as well). Bring to simmer, remove from heat and stir to make sure the salt and sugar dissolve.
- In a large, non-reactive container add two heaping cups of ice cubes and 1 cup of cold water. (This works out to the remaining 3 water cups). Pour the hot, concentrated brine mixture you prepared in the container with the ice water. Stir and allow to cool down completely (should happen quite fast). Add the pork chops to the solution, cover and refrigerate. Brine as needed, see time suggestions below.
- Remove the pork chops from the brine, pat them dry with paper towel and if you have a few minutes allow them to further air dry. Never rinse them with water. Discard the brine. Season the dry pork chops with your choice of seasoning, use very little salt as they have absorbed salt from the brine. Cook as your recipe directs.
* Use 1 cup as the solvent for the salt and brown sugar, 2 cups in the form of ice cubes (make them heaping cups) and 1 cup as cold water. In this manner your brine will cool down much faster and you can begin brining the pork chops right away.
**You can add any or all of these to further infuse the brine with flavor. Also compatible are corriander seeds, shallots, fresh rosemary or thyme.
If you want to use stock, buttermilk, apple juice, cider or beer substitute 1 or 2 cups of the water with one of these liquids.
We highly recommend that you read the tips contained in the article above - they will answer many questions you might have related to brining and what it does for pork chops and other cuts of pork.
Thin pork chops: brine for 2 to 6 hours
Thick cut pork chops: brine for 6 to 12 hours
Double cut pork chops: brine for 12 to 24 hours