Brining is a great thing for home cooks to learn to do; brines keep meat moist. At the shop, we brine meat that will be slow-cooked or smoked, especially pork: all of our bacon, ham, and chops are brined before being smoked. Chicken and (Thanksgiving) turkey also benefit from brining, though there are a lot of differing opinions there.
To brine, let the meat sit in a water, salt, and sugar solution for at least 12 hours. The smaller the cut or animal, the shorter the brine time. We use a basic 3 gallons:2 cups:1 cup ratio of water to salt to sugar. We always mix our sugar and salt with a small amount of boiling water to dissolve them and then add cold water.
You can play with the liquid for different flavors — cider and orange juice come to mind. If your liquid contains sugar or salt, remember to reduce the sugar or salt in your basic ratio. And keep in mind that sugars make the meat cook and caramelize a lot quicker. You can also thrown in bay leaf, juniper berries, and other herbs.
At the shop, we brine in buckets in our walk-in. But at home you can brine just about anywhere (clean!). A pork butt brining in a stockpot might not fit in your fridge, but it does just fine in a sealed plastic bag placed in an icy cooler or — during the freezing winter — in a clean bucket or clean garbage can out on the back porch, protected from wildlife and neighborhood pets.
If you don’t have time to brine, never fear. Sometimes Josh Applestone cooks with frozen, un-defrosted, and totally unbrined pork and it works out just fine.
To learn more about brining, check out our book, The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat. We have a community copy — plus copies for sale — at the Stone Ridge shop.