You’re probably familiar with the practice of brining whole chicken and turkey, or large cuts of meat like beef brisket. But is it worth it to brine pork chops before grilling? Let’s find out.
Pork Chops Brine
You can brine pork chops in a saltwater solution for anywhere from 30 minutes to 12 hours. Classic ingredients for pork chops brine include brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, apple juice or cider, and dry mustard. Be sure not to brine the chops for too long, or they’ll taste too salty.
The term brining refers to the process of soaking ingredients in a saltwater solution. When you use this technique, you have two goals: to impart flavor to the meat, and to help it retain moisture.
As meat cooks, its natural juices are forced out. You can often see this happen as moisture collects on the surface. The salt in the brine solution helps the tissues reabsorb some of this moisture, so the finished product is juicy and full of flavor.
Should You Brine Pork Chops?
As we mentioned, pork chops are relatively small when compared to a 12-pound turkey or a 9-pound pork shoulder. So is the brining process really worth it?
We think so. The meat will still benefit from the moisture retention that the brine provides. What’s more, pork chops are cut from the loin, which is a naturally lean primal located along the animal’s back. As such, the chops don’t have a lot of flavor on their own, so they’re a great candidate for brining.
How Long Should You Brine Pork Chops?
Pork chops should sit in the brine for at least 30 minutes to allow the salt solution to do its work. It’s permissible to leave them in there overnight, but try to keep the total brining time under 12 hours.
If you’re brining the whole pork loin, you can leave it in the solution for 2 to 3 days. Once the meat is cut into chops, however, it shouldn’t be brined for extended periods, or it will become too salty.
Can You Brine Pork Chops Too Long?
Yes. As we’ve just pointed out, brining pork chops for longer than 8-12 hours can have an adverse effect on the flavor. This is true especially if the pork chops are thinly sliced, or if the brine is excessively salty to begin with (see the section below for more details on this).
What’s more, brining the meat for too long will cause the proteins to break down past the point of tenderness, crossing the border into mushy territory. This is a concern with any marinade, but since brine is primarily water and salt, it’s essential not to overdo it.
What Is The Ratio of Salt To Water To Brine Pork Chops?
When brining pork chops, you should use a ratio of 1 tablespoon of kosher salt for each cup of water. That means that if you’re mixing up a gallon (16 cups) of brine, you’ll need to add 1 cup (16 tablespoons) of salt.
We should point out that you probably won’t need that much brine when dealing with smaller cuts. Unless you’re making a huge batch of chops for a party, a few cups of brine should be sufficient. Try mixing 4 cups of water with 1/4 cup of kosher salt. This should be enough to submerge 4 to 6 pork chops, depending on their size.
Make sure all the salt has fully dissolved before adding ingredients to a brine. For some recipes, you’ll achieve this by bringing the ingredients to a low simmer, then stirring well. You’ll need to wait until the brine has cooled completely before adding the pork chops, so plan accordingly.
You can add other ingredients to a brine in order to boost the flavor. Try substituting water, apple juice or cider, beer, or apple cider vinegar for some of the water in a recipe. Brown sugar, whole peppercorns, sprigs of fresh herbs, handfuls of aromatic vegetables, and cloves of raw garlic are all popular additions.
A Word About Salt Substitutions
Remember that kosher salt is made up of bigger crystals than regular table salt. As a result, you don’t need to use as much table salt if you choose to substitute it for the kosher salt in a brine recipe.
Decrease the volume by 25 percent when substituting table salt for kosher salt. In other words, for every 1/4 cup of kosher salt you would use, use 1 tablespoon less of table salt. For a gallon of brine, add 3/4 cup of table salt.
Do You Rinse Pork Chops After Brining?
It’s a good idea to rinse the pork chops well after removing them from the brine. After rinsing, pat them dry with paper towels, and season according to whatever recipe you’ve chosen to follow. Just remember to either drastically reduce the amount of salt you add, or omit it entirely. The brine should have contributed enough of that on its own.
If you’re concerned that rinsing the chops will wash away all the flavor, don’t worry. At this point, the solution has done its work by penetrating a few millimeters beneath the surface. A good rinse won’t affect your results. In fact, if you don’t rinse the pork chops, they’ll probably taste overly salty.
Brining Pork Chops For Grilling
Since grilling is a high-heat application, you can wind up with dry, tasteless meat if you’re not careful. This is a particular hazard when dealing with lean cuts like pork chops. Soaking the meat for a few hours in a brine solution can help circumvent this issue.
When preparing brined pork chops for grilling, make sure to pat them completely dry. If there’s too much moisture on the surface of the meat, it won’t caramelize properly.
Speaking of caramelizing, keep a close eye on the chops during cooking, especially if there was a lot of sugar in the brine. Sugar burns easily, and that will impart a bitter flavor to the meat if you’re not careful.
If the pork chops start to scorch, move them to a cooler section of the grill. Remove them from the heat as soon as they’ve reached a safe temperature. 145 degrees Fahrenheit is the standard safe temp for pork chops.
Brining Boneless vs. Bone-in Pork Chops
Does it make a difference whether the pork chops you’re brining are boneless or bone-in? For most recipes, it doesn’t. You can use whatever pork chops you have on hand, and the results should be more or less the same.
That said, bone-in pork chops have superior flavor and moisture retention on their own. That’s not to say that you can’t brine them—only that the step isn’t as essential as it is for the boneless variety. We would suggest experimenting with it anyway, just to see if you appreciate the difference between brined vs. regularly seasoned chops.
2 Hour Brine For Pork Chops
For shorter brining periods, intensely flavored ingredients are a must. This recipe, which calls for a 2-hour brining time, uses dry mustard to provide a spicy counterpoint to the sweetness of the pork. Don’t be tempted to substitute prepared mustard—it won’t have the same effect.
- 4 thick-cut pork chops (bone-in or boneless)
- 5 cups water
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 6 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
- 2 teaspoons ground mustard
1. In a large saucepan or stock pot, heat the water and cider vinegar until hot.
2. Stir in the salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, and ground mustard. Keep stirring until all the salt and sugar has dissolved.
3. Let the mixture cool completely, then place in the refrigerator until it’s well-chilled.
4. Transfer the brine solution to a nonreactive container large enough to hold both it and the pork chops.
5. Add the chops to the brine solution. Make sure they’re fully submerged.
6. Cover the container. Refrigerate for exactly 2 hours.
7. Remove the pork chops from the brine and rinse well under cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels.
8. The chops can be grilled, roasted, pan-seared, or broiled. Because of the intense flavor of the brine, they shouldn’t require any additional seasoning.
How To Brine Pork Chops With Brown Sugar
The rich sweetness of brown sugar takes center stage in this marinade recipe. For this reason, we would recommend browning these chops on the stovetop, then transferring them to the oven. Otherwise, the sugar might burn. If you have your heart set on grilling, consider scaling back on the amount of sugar you use.
- 4 thick-cut pork chops (bone-in or boneless)
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 4 cups water
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
1. In a saucepan or stock pot, combine the water and kosher salt. Heat, stirring, until the salt has dissolved.
2. Whisk in vinegar and sugar, then add the cinnamon stick. Continue to whisk until the sugar dissolves.
3. Let the mixture cool to room temperature, then place in the fridge until cold.
4. Transfer the brine to a glass dish or other nonreactive container, then add the pork. Make sure the meat is fully submerged.
5. Let the pork chops sit in the brine for 30 minutes at room temperature. If you’re planning to brine them a bit longer, transfer them to the fridge. We would recommend taking them out of the brine within 2 hours if possible.
6. When you’re ready to cook, remove the chops from the brine and rinse well under cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels.
7. Season and cook the pork chops as desired.
Pork Chop Brine With Apple Cider Vinegar
This recipe uses a higher concentration of cider vinegar than the others. Vinegar helps to tenderize the pork, but be sure not to brine it for too long, or it will break down the proteins to the point of mushiness.
- 4 pork chops, preferably bone-in
- 3 cups water
- 2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/3 cup apple juice or cider
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 2 cloves raw garlic
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
1. Combine the water, vinegar, and juice or cider in a glass dish or other nonreactive container large enough to hold all your ingredients.
2. Stir in all the remaining ingredients and mix well until the salt and sugar are dissolved.
3. Add the pork chops, making sure they’re fully submerged. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, but no longer than 8 hours.
4. Remove the pork chops from the brine and rinse well. Pat dry with paper towels, then cook as desired.
Pork Chops Brine Overnight
If you’re going to brine your pork chops overnight, try to take them out of the mixture within 8 to 12 hours. Consider shortening the total brining time if the mixture contains overly acidic ingredients—for example, the cider vinegar brine recipe we’ve listed above.
Too Salty Pork Chops: What Went Wrong and How To Fix It
Clearly, you want your pork chops brine to impart a dose of salt flavor. But what happens if you go overboard and wind up with too-salty pork chops?
For starters, look back over your recipe to ensure that you used the correct proportions. If you followed the instructions and the meat still tasted too salty, consider scaling back on the amount of salt next time.
It’s also possible that you left the meat in the brine too long. As a rule, pork chops don’t need to brine for more than 30 minutes to 2 hours. If you keep the brining time to a minimum, you can avoid the pitfall of overly salty pork chops.
Is there any way to salvage the chops at this point? There are a few methods you could try. First of all, try spritzing a bit of citrus, like lemon or lime juice, on the surface of the pork. The acid will work to neutralize the salt flavor. If citrus would ruin your recipe, substitute a bit of wine or vinegar instead.
Sugar can tone down the saltiness as well. Rub a small amount of brown sugar into the surface of each chop, then reheat them quickly. If you’d like, mix in a few other seasonings to avoid making the chops taste overly sweet.
Additionally, you can try to drown out the saltiness by smothering the chops in a sauce or gravy. Choose a sauce that’s flavorful, yet has a naturally low sodium content. That should help to correct the mistake and render the meat not just edible, but delicious.
How To Cook Brined Pork Chops
For best results, cook the pork chops as soon as you’ve rinsed off the brine. At this point, they can be pan-seared, roasted or baked in the oven, broiled, or grilled. If you choose to grill the chops, watch them carefully to ensure that they don’t burn on the outside before they’ve had a chance to cook through.
Pork chops that are cut 1 to 2 inches thick should cook for about 4-6 minutes per side over medium heat. Use an instant-read thermometer to make sure that they’ve achieved an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit before taking them off the heat.
It’s easier to brine pork chops than larger cuts because you don’t need to make as much of the brine solution. It also takes up less room in the refrigerator—sometimes none at all if you opt for a brining time of 30 minutes to 2 hours. In fact, shorter brining times are encouraged, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t try this technique yourself.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!