Saturday, September 29, 2012

Brining Pork 101

After nearly 5 years of grilling there seems to be no end to the things there are to learn about cooking in general.  I surf the internet endlessly, lurk or actively participate in literally dozens of cooking sites, recipe blogs and grilling forums and am always amazed at how much I don’t know about this wonderful hobby of mine.  It took an Introduction to Asian Cuisine class this week however to convince me once and for all that brining was a process that I can’t ignore any longer. 

Having never witnessed the process growing up and only seeing it occasionally on cooking forums and rarely in recipe books it just never struck me as a necessary step in my preparation for cooking in any manner.  Today however I am totally convinced that no pork or poultry should every be prepared without brining, no matter how short the time available for the process, some is always better than none at all.

So last night, I started my first brining experience/experiment.  What I learned is that the process of brining any meat can add a significant amount of water to it before you cook to make meats juicier and tenderer.  This is especially true and most important when applied to Pork and Poultry.

My internet research tells me that you can actually increase the total weight of a cut of pork by 15% or more through brining.  Most will be quick to pick up on the fact that this is purely water weight but the more water, the more time it takes to cook out allowing the amount of water that remains in your cut of meat during cooking greatly increased which results in a moister and more tender final product. Apparently the science behind the process is that the extra water will reach the boiling point during cooking breaking down the cells and that translates into slightly shorter cooking times and noticeably more tender result.  . 

The basic formula for a brine solution is 1 cup of table salt and ½ Cup of Granulated Sugar for each gallon of water used.  Two things to understand the process as a beginner like me.  1) UNDER brining will NOT have a negative effect on food but 2) OVER brining will spell a salty disaster.  Your brining solution should be a little salty to the taste but not overpowering and the formula provided above is only about 1 Tsp of Salt per Cup of water so the chance of over brining is limited to time and weight management. 

Focusing on pork: I learned is that some cuts of pork can brine for days but typically 3-24 hours is sufficient.  Even a relatively short time can be beneficial however if you are pressed for time.  Pork in general is a little slower than say, poultry to get the full effect of the process so planning ahead has its advantages. 

Smaller cuts will still typically require 3-4 hours but larger cuts can take 12 to 24 hours without becoming Over Brined (if that’s actually a term).  The effect of brining is impacted by both weight and grain e.g. pork tenderloin will take less time by relative weight than pork chops because of the long grain of the tenderloin.  Basic brining as pictured here can be done with or without a variety of spices but the key is to assure that you have enough solution to totally submerge the pork you are brining.  .

Additional seasonings can be derived from any recipe you might be using or your own preferences. Herbs and spices as well as garlic and onions will add flavor to pork. Try not to overpower the flavor of the pork but just add a hint of flavor. Garlic and onions should be minced or chopped to expose the maximum amount of surface area to the brine solution.

Conclusion:  It doesn’t matter how you plan on preparing your meat, Barbequing, grilling, roasting or broiling. Brining works with any cut of lean meat like pork and poultry and while I haven’t f found any white papers as to why brining works, the experts all seem to agree that it does.  Based on my first experience, it appears to be true, our pork was MUCH more tender after a basic grilling to temperature…AND IF YOU READ my BRINING 102  post YOU WILL FIND OUT THAT I LEARNED THE HARD WAY THAT IT TAKES PRACTICE TO GET IT RIGHT...Long Grain Pork like these rolls take a MAXIMUM of 1-2 hours...MAX.