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Pork Chop Brine

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If you have ever cooked a pork chop that turned out tough and dry, we have three words for you: pork chop brine. What exactly is a pork chop brine? At its most basic, it’s a mixture of salt and water in which the chop soaks before cooking. Read on to learn why we brine, how it works, and how to do it.


What is a Pork Chop Brine?

A pork chop brine, like all brines, is a mixture of salt and a liquid, usually water. Soaking lean meats like pork, poultry, and even shrimp in a brine helps ensure these proteins turn out tender, flavorful, and juicy. And while it’s not a 100% guarantee—you still have to cook them right—it’s pretty close.

The most basic pork chop brine is simply salt and water. A standard ratio is ½ cup salt to about 1 quart water. However, the kind of salt you use makes a big difference. In the Traeger test kitchen, we use Diamond Crystal kosher salt. If you were to use table salt, which has finer crystals, you would use about half as much salt in volume, and for Morton kosher you would use a little less as well. In fact, a more accurate measure for salt for brining is weight. You want about 4 ounces of salt by weight per quart.

You can also add flavorings to a brine. Fresh or dried herbs, garlic, citrus, and sweeteners like brown sugar are popular. You simply need to whisk these ingredients together until the salt has dissolved. Alternatively, you can heat the brine to dissolve any salt and sugar, but you must let it cool completely before adding the meat to it.

Brine_Ingredients

How Does a Pork Brine Work?

In his classic tome On Food and Cooking, food scientist Harold McGee explains that the salt “disrupts the structure of the muscle filaments” making the meat more tender. The salt also enables the protein to absorb the liquid in the brine as well as any aromatic molecules in the brine from flavor additions. When food is cooked, it loses water weight, which causes it to dry out. But because the protein has absorbed extra liquid from the soak in the brine it does not become as dry and so stays nice and juicy.


How Long to Soak in a Pork Chop Brine

Compared to, say, a turkey, pork chops are small and so don’t need a ton of time in the brine. In fact, if a food is brined for too long it—somewhat ironically—starts to dry out. For pork chops, 4 hours works well. How long is too long is up to debate and depends on the salinity of your solution and the thickness of your chops, but we suggest no more than 24 hours.


How to Cook a Brined Chop

As mentioned earlier, pork chop brine is a great insurance policy against dry, tough chops. But a brine can only do so much. If you overcook the chops by a lot, even the best brine can’t help you. For this reason, we strongly recommend using a leave-in meat thermometer like MEATER when cooking pork chops. Holding it parallel to your work surface, insert it into the center of one side of your thickest chop avoiding bone.

Take the chops off the heat when the internal temperature is between 140°F and 145°F, erring on the lower end for thin chops. A reverse sear, which means cooking a protein low and slow first and then searing it briefly at the to finish and give it a nice crust, is a great method for pork chops, especially thick ones. And with a Traeger you get the added benefit of wood-fired flavor. This pork chop recipe uses the reverse sear; feel free to add a brine to it. And while this article describes how to reverse sear steaks, the idea and method is the same for chops.

Pork Chops_Grill

Pork Chop Brining Steps

Here are the basic directions for brining pork chops. Feel free to add a pork chop brine to any pork chop recipe. However, you may wish to cut down on any additional salt in the recipe as the meat will already be salted.

  1. Make a brine with a ratio of 4 ounces salt to 1 quart water. Add flavorings if desired. Stir well to dissolve the salt or heat the brine to dissolve the salt and then let cool completely
  2. Add the chops to the brine so they are completely submerged. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before cooking and up to 24 hours.
  3. Remove the pork chops and pat dry with paper towel. You can rinse them but since the salt has been absorbed, rinsing does not do much. Be sure to pat dry after rinsing. If you have the time, let the chops air dry in the refrigerator for the best crust.
  4. Season as desired but if following a pork chop recipe that did not call for brining, go easy on the added salt.
  5. Cook the chops. Take care not to overcook the chops. Pro tip: Use a leave-in meat thermometer like MEATER and take them off the heat at around 140°F; the chops will come to a final (and USDA approved) temperature of about 145°F after they rest for a few minutes.

Pork Chop Brine FAQ

Can you dry brine a pork chop?

The definition of a brine technically includes a liquid, but dry brining is another good way to add flavor to pork chops. It also helps keep them juicy but not as well as a wet brine. Think of dry brining as pre-salting. You simply season the protein well with kosher salt and let it sit for at least 45 minutes or longer. (If longer than 45 minutes, be sure to refrigerate it.) During this time, the salt will draw water to the surface and then that water (now flavored with salt) will be drawn back into the meat. Do not rinse the meat afterward (but to pat it dry) and do not season with additional salt.

Can you season brined pork chops?

Yes, you can season your pork chops after they come out of the brine with a spice rub or herb rub. Just keep the salt level in mind if using a prepared rub. Since your meat is already salted from the inside out, additional salt can make it too salty.

How is a brine different from a marinade?

A marinade is a great way to add flavor but only to the outer layer. Without ample salt, the flavors are not drawn as deeply into the meat.

Are brine recipes interchangeable?

For the most part, yes. For instance, you can use the Traeger turkey brine on a pork roast. However, a brine for a large piece of meat may have more salt in it than for a smaller cut, so you may want to adjust the ratio.

Can I brine other cuts of pork?

Of course. However, you will get the most benefit when using lean cuts like pork loin and pork tenderloin. A pork butt that you might cook for pulled pork has enough fat in it to keep it tender and juicy without a brine.


Pork Chop Brine Recipes

While you can brine pork chops for any pork chop recipe, the recipes below includes specific brines for you to try.

Juicy Grilled Pork Chops

Roasted Glazed Pork Chops

Pickle Brined Grilled Pork Chops

Smoked & Brined Bone-In Pork Chops

Grilled Garlic & Herb Bone-In Pork Chops

Smoked & Brined Bone-In Pork Chops

by Traeger Kitchen

Prep Time

15 Min

Cook Time

2 Hr

Serves

8

Pellets

Mesquite

Add juicy, wood-fired pork chops to your next smoke session. Bone-in pork chops are put in a sweet and savory brine bath before getting smoked low and slow over mesquite. Finish them off on high heat for one memorable meal.

Ingredients
4 Cupapple juice
1 Cupbrown sugar
2 Bay leaves
1 Tablespoonblack peppercorn
4 Clovegarlic
4 Sprigthyme
1 lemon zest
1 orange zest
1 Cupkosher salt, preferably Diamond
4 Cupice water
8 bone-in, center-cut pork chops (1 to 1 1/2 inches thick)
    Steps
  • 1

    In a medium saucepan combine the apple juice, brown sugar, salt, bay leaves, black peppercorns, garlic cloves, thyme, lemon and orange zest and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer until salt and sugar have dissolved.

  • 2

    Pour mixture over ice water and stir. Let sit at room temperature until cool. Pour cooled brine over pork chops, weigh them down with a plate to keep them submerged, and refrigerate in the brine for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

  • 3

    Remove the pork chops from the brine, rinse, and pat dry.

  • 4

    When ready to cook, preheat the Traeger with the lid closed to 225°F; this will take about 15 minutes. If available, use Super Smoke.

  • 5

    Holding a leave-in meat thermometer parallel to your work surface, insert it into the middle of the thickest pork chop avoiding bone. Place the pork chops directly on the grill grate and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until the internal temperature registers 130°F.

  • 6

    Remove the chops from the grill and increase the temperature to 450°F.

  • 7

    When the grill has reached its new temperature, return the chops to the grill and cook, flipping once, until the internal temperature registers 145°F, about 10 minutes.

  • 8

    Let the pork chops rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

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