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+++Enter At Your Own Risk+++ At the gentle nudging (I said gentle y'all) of a few friends, I have started these blogs in order to share my culinary goings-on and daily misadventures through my own brand of humor (ok, sarcasm). I just write about stuff! At 50, I have learned that living has gotten in the way of life - and I am going to blaze my own personal trail to fun (hopefully)! If it is feminine, great. If it is not, so much the better! Hopefully fun that does not land me in jail............

Monday, November 21, 2011

Brining Pork Chops - or - Taking a Salt Bath

So, for years I made DrY pork chops. I was NOT proud of my ability in cooking them, AT ALL. This weekend I got a wild hair and decided to thaw some pork chops I had frozen and cook them up. Sunday morning I suddenly though – why don’t I brine them and smoke them on the smoker. The upside of smoking pork chops (in my limited experience) is it lends magnificent flavor to the meat. The downside is it dries a dry meat further.

Enter “BRINING” as a tool towards moist, juicy meats.

Brining any meat apparently adds a significant amount of moister/water before the meat is cooked. This gives us a juicier and tenderer end-product. Basically it takes LONGER to cook the water/juices out when there is more water in the meat. Brining adds that water.

Now, as far as it working on “any” meat – I do not know. I have only tried it on pork chops. However, I am feeling rather “special” right now – after my “Porking” success and have decided I WILL brine a small turkey and SMOKE it for Thanksgiving. A nice little treat since I am spending the bulk of the holiday alone again this year. More on that later!

In my reading, the basic brine solution is 1 cup of regular table salt to 1 gallon of water (=1 Tb per 1 cup of water). This is not an overly salt-laden solution so it will be harder to “over-brine” with it. Over brining (adding too much salt to the meat) cannot be undone. The solutions should be salty to taste but not thick. If you use kosher/coarse or sea salt, you will want to go with 1.5 cups per gallon water. The weight by volume is less.

I suggest, for your first try at brining, err on the side of caution and go with less time. Under-brining will not hurt anything. I cannot emphasize enough that over brining (due to longer soaking time or higher salt content) will ruin the meat. There is no way to undo the damage.

• Pork Chops (about 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick) - 12 to 24 hours
• Whole Pork Tenderloin - 12 hours
• Whole Pork Loin - 2 days

Brining times are not only determined by the weight and thickness of meat but also by the grain of the meat. Pork tenderloin takes less time to brine by weight than do pork chops because the long running grain pulls the brine into the meat.

Now, there are many seasoning options to add to the brine solution. A sweetener being a good idea. Sugar (white/brown), molasses, corn syrup, maple syrup, or honey. A good rule of thumb is to add a ½ cup of sweetener per gallon of brine solution.

• When preparing to brine, make sure you pick a container that can handle the meat size and the liquid.
• Make sure you submerge the meat completely. The brining solution only needs to just cover the meat.
• You must refrigerate the meat during brining – OR – pack ice/ice-packs around the meat in a cooler.

Other seasonings can be added from any recipe or for any taste YOU desire. Herbs, peppers, spices garlic and onions will add flavor to pork. Try not to overpower the flavor of the pork. This will take a little practice. Garlic and onions should be minced or chopped to expose the maximum amount of surface area to the brine solution.

***Note: I went with ¼ salt and a ¼ c sugar to 4 cups water, but I will try to go with the 1 Tb salt and 1/2Tb sugar per cup water option next time.

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