In this guide, we’ll talk about Pop’s Brine, a popular recipe for wet curing. Where did this name come from, and how can the concoction benefit your smoked meat products?
The concoction known as “Pop’s brine” is actually a curing liquid. It includes curing salt #1, or Prague powder #1. This salt includes sodium nitrite, which gives the meat a pinkish hue in addition to boosting flavor and prolonging its shelf life.
The term brining refers to submerging meat in a saltwater solution prior to cooking it. The primary goal is to help the muscle fibers retain moisture, but brining can also benefit the flavor.
How does this work? Essentially, the sodium denatures the meat’s protein strands, which allows them to hold in more of their moisture as they cook. The brine also relaxes the muscle fibers, resulting in meat that’s amazingly tender.
Brining works best on cuts of meat that are naturally lean, such as pork chops and chicken breasts. Because these cuts don’t contain enough fat to “baste” the meat, they need to retain as much moisture as they can.
Although brines are made primarily from salt and water, adding other ingredients will increase the complexity of the finished dish. Swap out some of the water for apple juice or cider, add a handful of peppercorns or other spices, and drop in some fresh herbs.
Dry brining eliminates the addition of liquid and involves putting a salt solution directly on the meat. This is a neater and less time-consuming process, so many home chefs prefer it to wet brining.
Cured meat has been treated with salt to help extend its shelf life. Some cured meat products are even shelf stable, meaning they don’t require refrigeration.
In order to cure meat, you have to use special salt. Regular table salt won’t get the job done—you need a product that contains sodium nitrite. Since this compound is toxic when consumed in large quantities, it’s important not to confuse curing salt with other salts.
When these curing salts are applied to the meat, they remove moisture, which is what attracts potentially hazardous bacteria. That’s why you can safely store these meats at room temperature without worrying about spoilage.
What Is Pops Brine?
Although “Pop’s brine” is the commonly used term, it could also be called “Pop’s cure.” The recipe includes curing salt #1, also known as Prague powder #1. This is the type of salt used for cured meats that will be cooked afterward, such as corned beef or bacon.
By contrast, curing salt #2 is used for meats that don’t require any cooking or refrigeration. Pepperoni, prosciutto, and certain types of salami fall under this heading.
Why is it called “Pop’s brine”? Our best guess is that the recipe began circulating on chat sites such as Smoking Meat Forums, and was initially credited to a poster who went by the name of “Pop.” The resulting brine was therefore named in his honor.
Pops Brine Recipe
The basic formula for Pop’s brine is fairly simple. Note that you can double or triple the recipe if you need to wet cure several large cuts of meat at once.
- 1 cup kosher or sea salt (reduce to 1/2 or 1/3 cup if you’re on a low-salt diet)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 1 tbsp curing salt #1
- 1 gallon water
Stir all ingredients thoroughly until the mixture turns a light amber color. The liquid should still be fairly translucent. Transfer to a container or zip-top bag large enough to fully submerge the meat.
As is the case with other wet brines, you can experiment with other seasonings if you’d like. Try to match the ingredients to the dish you’ll be making. For example, whole cloves would be a nice addition if you’re curing a ham for Easter.
It’s important not to overdo it on the curing salt. As we pointed out, it can be dangerous to consume too much sodium nitrate at once. The maximum amount allowed is 3 ounces per gallon of water, or 1 teaspoon per 5 pounds of meat.
You’ll notice that this recipe calls for just 1 tablespoon of curing salt, which comes in well below the maximum. If you decide to add a bit more, the meat won’t need to cure as long (see below), but it might also taste too salty when it’s done.
How Long To Cure Meat Using Pops Brine
According to the instructions that come with the recipe, the total curing time will vary depending on the type of meat you use.
For chicken and turkey, limit the curing time to 2 to 3 days. Poultry is very lean and may turn stringy if it’s exposed to the wet cure for too long.
If you’re curing your own bacon, let it stay in the mixture for 10 to 14 days, especially if it’s made from pork belly. Bacon made from the pork butt or shoulder (also known as “buckboard bacon”) should come out of the wet cure in 8 to 10 days.
When making corned beef, aim for a curing time of 10 to 20 days. We prefer to use beef brisket for this dish, but it’s acceptable to use rolled rib roasts or other beef roasts as well.
Whole hams can remain in the cure for up to 4 weeks. The longer you cure the ham, the more intense the flavor will be.
Do Cured Meats Have To Be Refrigerated?
In most cases, curing the meat eliminates the need for refrigeration because the salt draws out so much moisture. That said, all meat products will keep longer if they’re stored in the fridge, even if they’re cured.
Our recommendation would be to store homemade cured meats in the fridge, just to be on the safe side. If they are stable at room temperature, it still won’t do any harm to keep them chilled.
The Bottom Line
The concoction known as “Pop’s brine” isn’t a brine so much as a wet cure. Make sure you take that into account before you decide to make it. Curing is a longer process than brining and yields very different results, so try not to confuse the two.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!
Hi there! I’m Darren Wayland, your BBQHost. My love of great barbecue inspired me to curate this site as a resource for all my like-minded fellow pitmasters out there. When I’m not researching and learning all I can about the latest tips and techniques, you can find me at the grill—that is, if you can spot me at all through the clouds of sweet-smelling smoke. And since you asked, yes, that probably is barbecue sauce on my face. Welcome to the party!