When grilled, pork chops will easily dry out. But if you brine pork chops before grilling, you’ll find that they stay juicy and full of flavor.
One of the most successful marketing campaigns was “Pork. The Other White Meat.” This campaign changed the way that Americans thought about pork. Instead of being a heavy, fatty meat, people perceived pork to be a lighter and healthy protein option.
At the same time, it was not just about perception. In fact, pork became a healthier option and a leaner protein. The downside to this, as chefs have discovered, is that with lower amounts of fat, the meat dried out quickly during the cooking process. The reason is simple: Fat is your friend. Fat, especially the kind that is flecked throughout the actual meat (called marbling), contributes to the overall impression of moisture in cooked meat. It also adds a lot of flavor.
What we are seemingly left with is a choice between dry meat or fat-laden meat. Brining solves this. A brine is basically a liquid that contains salt and typically a sweetener to counter the high salt levels. Many brines also have additional flavors that are infused into the liquid (which is typically water).
To prepare a brine, there are two techniques—the cold and hot methods.
For the cold brine method, ingredients are simply added to cold water. This works well as the flavoring ingredients will easily impart their flavor to the water.
For the hot brine method, ingredients are added to the water which is brought to a boil, removed from heat, and left hot for a while. During this time, the ingredients infuse their flavors in just the same way as when you make tea. Once the ingredients are properly infused, the brine is chilled. This is a very important step. Keeping food safety in mind, meat or poultry is never added to a brine unless the brine is ice cold. How long the meat or poultry stays in the brine is a function of the salinity of the brine and the size of the meat or poultry. The lower the salinity level and/or the larger the size of protein, the longer the brining time.
Pork chops present a special problem. The loin is one of the driest muscles on the pig which means that it is prone to drying out very easily—especially on the intense heat of the grill.
Thus, pork chops benefit tremendously from brining. When pork chops absorb the salt in the brine, some food science magic happens. The salt actually helps the meat hold on to its moisture as it cooks. The additional flavors in the brine also are absorbed into the meat, thus contributing more flavor to the pork chop. (Learn more about the magic of grilling with salt).
There are 3 important tips to remember when grilling brined pork chops: