This easy Pork Shoulder in Brine recipe is the best way to ensure perfectly smoked meat every time. Made with just salt, water and herbs, their tender and flavorful smoked pork will be the jewel of your grill.
Becoming a master grill or smoker is a daunting prospect for many newcomers. With long curing and smoking times often required for meats like pork shoulder, it can seem like there are many ways to go wrong and derail your kitchen.
Here are 7 easy steps to show you how long to marinate pork shoulder.
As with smoking, curing times will vary greatly depending on the size of the pork shoulder you are preparing. In most cases, however, a standard-size pork shoulder will need to be soaked in brine for 12 to 24 hours.
What is brine?
In its purest form, curing is a process used to keep meat from drying out during cooking. Especially when smoking, where food loses hot temperatures over a long period of time, the meat loses much of its moisture and flavor.
To counteract this, we treat the food with water, salt and herbs to help lock in juices and flavors so the meat is still nice and juicy after cooking. Salt is a fantastic moisture retainer, which is why it’s always at the heart of all store-bought and homemade pickles.
We can also evolve the brine further by enhancing our blend of aromas and flavors to really infuse our pork shoulder with additional flavors. Some people add herbs, spices, vinegar, sometimes even sugar and caramel.
If that sounds terrible for marinating, then you’re not far off. However, the main difference between the two is not only the time it takes for the brine to form, but also that marinades often have a much more acidic base, meaning they contain citrus juices and a higher percentage of vinegar.
I do this with lots of pork cuts and even when smoking a whole ham. It is a type of meat that is perfect for salting.
How long should the pork shoulder be salted?
Both pork shoulder and loin are high in natural fat so they don’t take as long to soak in brine & like lean meats like turkey or chicken. In truth, you can get away with not salting it(I never salt my smoked pork belly ), but I recommend doing so to bring out the flavors.
I recommend salting an 8-pound piece of pork shoulder for a minimum of 8 hours and a maximum of 24 hours. I regularly sit somewhere between the two and walk for 12 hours or overnight.
If you have a smaller cut of meat than this, less time is fine, but I’d still try leaving it overnight.
Can you salt the pork shoulder?
Unfortunately, what can make this process a bit tricky is knowing exactly when to stop brining. If a cut of meat is left in the salt mixture for too long, it can become so salty as to be virtually inedible and, more worryingly, the curing process is irreversible.
To avoid the risk of wasting a pork shoulder(and all your hard work!), plan your time properly and respect the 24-hour curing deadline. You don’t want to be in a position where you have to wake up at 3am to rinse it off!
What should the pork shoulder be pickled?
In its simplest form, brine is just a mixture of salt and water to aid in water retention. However, since pork shoulder is already relatively high in fat, the moisture that this alone gives us is often enough to negate the need for additional moisture.
However, I recommend that you continue to do so.
Why? Although brining is a means of adding moisture, brining is also a way of adding additional flavors to our meat, and I love the taste of pork with added flavors like apple, lime, or pecan.
Choosing the perfect pork shoulder
Of course, the success of your entire barbecue or smokehouse rests on the shoulders of…your shoulder.
The pork shoulder is one of the four main cuts of pork or pork. The joint is then divided into parts: the pork butt, which is the top part of the shoulder, and the picnic, which is the bottom half.
For smoking, we just want the pork loin. This is usually between 6 and 8 pounds and is made up of a large amount of fat and connective tissue. This makes it perfect for grilling.
Available when choosing your butt, get one that has the bone and also contains about a quarter inch of fat. This is just so it gets even more flavor when roasted.
Keep in mind that when the shoulder is cooked, a significant amount of batter is lost as the fat melts. Don’t be too intimidated when buying your piece of meat either!
Kosher salt vs. table salt
Before you start, it’s also important to make sure you have the right amount of salt, depending on the type of salt you’re using. This may seem like a very small detail, but while interchangeable table salt and kosher salt are often used when seasoning, because salt plays such a crucial role in our brine, it’s absolutely critical that we measure out the right amount.
Table salt consists of tiny, granular crystals that resemble sand, while kosher salt contains large, flaky crystals. As a result, table salt actually consists of more salt crystals than kosher.
My recipe below uses table salt. If you only have or plan to use kosher salt, I try to add about 1/2 cup of salt to your brine.
The guide I’m going to walk you through today is for an 8-pound piece of pork shoulder that, once cooked, will feed a dozen people.
What do I need to make pork brine?
In addition to our 8-pound piece of pork loin, for our brine you will need:
- 10 cups of water
- ¾ cup of salt
- ½ cup sugar
- 4 sprigs of rosemary
- 2 tablespoons peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ onion
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled
In addition to the ingredients, you’ll also need a 2-gallon ziplock bag( available on Amazon here ) or maybe even larger depending on the size of your pork belly.
You can use a Tupperware or other type of container if you prefer, but be sure to use plastic wrap to keep the pork and brine sealed.
However, I make sure that the packaging I use keeps the meat submerged as much as possible while being as airtight as possible, which is why I personally prefer a sealable bag.
I should also say here that some recipes call for hot or warm water. However, that’s just not necessary for me. That’s not to say I’m against using hot water, but salt and sugar both dissolve well in normal-temperature water, so I’ve personally never seen the point of complicating things by using them