Brine Divine

by Matt on March 15, 2007


If you look in the dictionary under the word "impatient" you’ll most
likely see my picture a few rows down. My disdain for playing the
waiting game is a big reason why I don’t pickle, bake, brew or preserve
too well, although I have aced the sauté, grill, and fry like nobody’s
business. So you can imagine my dilemma when I first learned about
brining meat. There were numerous knuckle biting moments when I had to
accept that soaking meat for what seemed like an eternity really did
yield a more flavorful, juicy bite. I may not have learned to deal with
sitting around doing nothing, but I have certainly surrendered to the
divine brine.

Brining is soaking poultry or pork in salted, seasoned liquid prior
to cooking. It’s similar to marinating, but this process actually
changes the texture of the meat. And it’s very simple. Depending on the
brine and the cut of meat, the process can occur overnight or in as
little as a few hours in your fridge–and the results are spectacular.
The meat is juicy and flavorful, seasoned from within. And the best
part happens when you grill: you’ll get that desired smoky char on the
outside with a tender, moist texture on the inside. I don’t know about
you, but I have a hard time achieving both when I grill if I don’t

Janet Fletcher from the San Francisco Chronicle summed it up perfectly: "Because
there’s more salt in the brine than in the meat, the muscle absorbs the
salt water. There, the salt denatures the meat proteins, causing them
to unwind and form a matrix that traps the water. And if the brine
includes herbs, garlic, juniper berries or peppercorns, those flavors
are trapped in the meat, too. Instead of seasoning on the surface only,
as most cooks do, brining carries the seasonings throughout."

Bingo! And there you have it.  So next time you’re working with pork chops, try your hand at brining. It’s divine.

Vanilla Brine for Pork


Vanilla? Yes. Vanilla. It imparts a subtle intriguing flavor on the
pork. This recipe comes from The Complete Meat Cookbook by Bruce
Aidells and Denis Kelly.

9 cups hot water
2-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cracked black peppercorns
6 (1-1/4-inch to 1-1/2-inch thick) center-cut loin pork chops

Stir the hot water, vanilla, sugar, and salt together until the sugar and salt are dissolved.
Add the black pepper. Cool to below 45 degrees F. in the refrigerator.

Trim any excess external fat from the meat. Submerge the pork in the
brine in a large bowl or small crock. Make sure the meat stays under
the surface during curing by using a heavy plate to weight it down.
Refrigerate the pork in the cure. The chops should take 4 to 6 hours in
the brine.

To test flavor of brined pork, cut a small piece off the meat, pat it
dry and pan-fry it. If the meat is sufficiently flavorful, remove it
from the brine, let it come to room temperature and grill. If not,
leave it in the brine and test again later.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Online brining resources:

story at

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