Along with rubs and marinades, brines tenderize and add flavor to pork and poultry. You can make a vinegar brine with no water, but it's usually best to dilute the vinegar with water. If you choose a straight-vinegar brine, soak the pork for no more than two hours and be sure to add a sweetener such as white or brown sugar.
Pork is much leaner today than it was a few decades ago. Brining is one secret that can add moisture and tenderness to lean meats such as pork and poultry. Brine pork before you grill or smoke it and you'll notice a sweeter, less acrid taste. A basic brine starts with 1 cup salt to 4 quarts of water. Beyond the basic formula, though, you can improvise to your heart's content. Vinegar adds flavor and may even help further tenderize meat. Apple cider vinegar, in particular, has a sweet, mellow flavor which makes it especially suitable for pork. You can substitute rice vinegar and soy sauce for Asian flavor or use white vinegar for a more biting taste. Use 1/2 to 3/4 cup vinegar for each quart of water.
How to Brine
To mix up a brine for pork, you'll first need to know how much water you need. Place the meat in the brining container and cover it with water. Transfer the meat to a platter and pour the water into a measuring cup. Pour the water into a large saucepan, along with the salt, vinegar and any other flavorings such as garlic, juniper berries or brown sugar. Heat the brine to simmering to dissolve the salt. Refrigerate the brine until it's completely chilled and then add the meat. If you add the pork while the brine is still hot, you may partially cook the meat or warm it enough to allow bacterial growth. Kosher salt is lighter than regular table salt and you'll need approximately 1/2 cup more for each cup required. You can use sea salt, but it's rather expensive for brining. Kosher or table salt works just fine.
Keeping It Safe
A brine doesn't contain enough salt or vinegar to preserve meat, so it's important to keep it refrigerated for safety. Bacteria grows quickly when the meat is stored over 40 degrees Fahrenheit, so keep it refrigerated or chilled at 40 F. Whenever possible, store brined pork in the refrigerator. If you're brining a large cut of meat, such as a pork shoulder, you can place the meat and the brine in a large plastic bag and place it in a cooler, surrounded by ice. Keep a thermometer in the ice and monitor the temperature, making sure that it stays at 40 F. Small cuts of pork, such as pork chops, need between two and eight hours of brining. Cook larger cuts within two days. Longer brining can make the meat mushy.
Into the Oven
Before you cook pork that's been brined, it's important to rinse it thoroughly under running water. This removes excess salt, as well as the bitter taste of the vinegar, leaving only a clean, mellow flavor. Don't salt the meat, but pat it dry with a paper towel, which helps it brown. Roast, pan-fry or grill brined pork until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part reads 145 F. Brined meat cooks more quickly so watch it closely.
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