Of course we had to include one of our favorite meals, that being pork shoulder. If you are grilling, smoking or roasting it, it is a wonderful piece of meat and learning how to brine a pork shoulder will not only help to increase your cooking skills, but will also allow for you to enhance the natural flavors already found inside this wonderful cut of pork.
What is Pork Shoulder?
Pork butt, also sometimes known as Boston butt is the American name given to the cut of pork which comes from the upper section of the shoulder. Usually above the front leg and often containing the blade bone itself. If you look at the diagram above you will see the section labeled ‘A’.
A lot of times this cut of pork goes under several different names. With different family members possibly mentioning the different names given. Such as your mother calling the cut ‘Pork Shoulder’ when creating those Sunday roasts we all know and love. Your father would have perhaps called it the ‘Boston Butt’ when he was going to place it on the grill on the weekend. If you are a smoker then you may have heard it referred to as ‘Picnic Pork’ by fellow smokers in the community. If you have ever taken part in a professional competition or have watched professional cooking competitions, then you may have heard the cut of pork referred to as the ‘Money Muscle’. This name is given to the cut of pork as if it is cooked correctly it can bring in the blue winning ribbons, cash prizes and even bragging rights.
Why Should You Brine A Pork Shoulder?
The pork shoulder can be a great meat to have both to cook and eat on its own, but you may be wondering, what can brining do to this meat cut?
The most important factor when it comes to why you should brine a pork shoulder is that it helps to remove the dehydration that occurs to the meet during the usual cooking process. The liquids and salts which are placed into the brine, help to bring out the juices and help to keep your cut of pork moist whilst it is cooking.
There is a secondary benefit to brining a pork shoulder, this is the infusion of ingredients. Placing in your favorite seasonings, juices and herbs will help to enhance the natural flavors and bring a great new flavor to the final product. In this tutorial we are going to be using bay leaves and garlic. Other options could be to use chopped ginger and rosemary, which will give a really great flavor! However you just to brine this beautiful cut of pork, it is your opportunity to make something that you can be proud of.
Brining a Pork Shoulder
Although there are a wide variety of names used for this cut of pork, the process is still the same for all of them. No matter which name you give to this section of pork, brining is still the best way to make this cut taste incredible and just fall apart. The main point to take from this is to infuse the meat with some great flavors.
Before getting into the step by step guide on how to complete this brine process, we will need to collect some supplies (basic that you can get from your local store) and ingredients which are required to follow along with this guide.
There will be a small number of supplies and ingredients required to follow this recipe:
Note: When we have completed the brining process we will add a rub during the cooking process, this may mean that you don’t want to add certain ingredients to the brine, such as peppers, chili powder, paprika etc. It would be recommended to save these for the cooking process.
Ingredients & Supplies
- A Large Bowl
- 2.5 Gallon Zip Lock Seal-able Bag
- 7 Cups Apple Juice
- 2 Cups Of Water
- 3 Cups Of Apple Cider Vinegar
- Quarter Cup Of Soy Sauce
- Quarter Cup of Brown Sugar
- Quarter Cup of Kosher Salt
- 6 Bay Leaves
- 3 Stalks Of Celery ( Clean & Broken into 2” Pieces )
- 4 Garlic Cloves ( Crushed )
Quick Tip For The Kitchen: Some ingredients, such as peppers, either crushed or ground are a great enhancement throughout the cooking process. Add them into the rubs we are going to use can add a bitter taste to the final product during the long brining process. It should also be added into things such as the gravy as a seasoning once cooking has been completed. Adding in ground black pepper to your gravy during the application of a high heat can give the pepper a strong off putting bite.
Preparing The Pork Shoulder Brine
So, let’s get started with preparing the brine. Add the water to a bowl and begin to dissolve the brown sugar and salt in it.
Once the salt and sugar has completely dissolved, pour this into the seal-able bag and set it aside for now, we will use this later.
Next step, combine the rest of the ingredients inside the bowl. Now would be a great time to mix everything together along with the remaining water, sugar and salt solution from the bowl.
After these have been mixed together well, pour off everything into the bag that you had used previously for the dissolved brown sugar and salt water solution.
Before adding the pork to the brine you have just created, make sure to keep 2 cups of the brine so that we can use it later on whilst we are cooking. You will better understand the reason for keeping this brine in the section below, “Reserved Brine Section”.
Now, we need to add the meat to the brine we have just created and place it into the refrigerator for a minimum of 8 hours, but to get the maximum effect you should leave it in there for 24 hours.
Cooking The Brined Shoulder
Once the time has passed for the cut pork and brine being in the refrigerator. This will mean that your meat is nearing its brining end time. Now you will be ready to slow cook the meat at 225 Fahrenheit or 350 Fahrenheit if you are cooking in your oven.
With either method, you will need to pull the pork from the brine. Then give it a good amount of rinsing under some water, then you can place it down on a dry cutting board.
We need to dry the pork once we have rinsed it off, you can do this with either a kitchen towel or paper towels. Ensuring that the pork is completely dry, removing all surface moisture will help when adding the flavors you want during the cooking process.
When using the smoker, we are going to use a rub that consists of salt, peppers (crushed and ground), paprika and sugar. All of these ingredients, some being in the brine we created, are best applied at the point to help further enhance the flavor of our meat.
The idea of what we are trying to achieve from how we brined our pork shoulder to the rinsing and the application of the dry rubs. This helps to give a layering effect to the meat which will give a great amount of flavor. You will be able to notice deep apple within the center, which will have a garlic hint and aromatics from the bay leaves whilst you are roasting the meat. The dry rub on top will become the crust and give the brined pork a great initial bite!
How To Apply Your Reserved Brine To Your Pork Shoulder (Properly Of Course!)
The final step whilst you are cooking the brined pork shoulder already, whether you have chosen to slowly smoke over 6-8 hours using your favorite smoker, or you are going for a much quicker 2-3 hours, you will continually want to be working at the meat. The brine that we told you to preserve earlier will be ideal to bring back out to use.
Pouring it onto the meat slowly or dabbing it with a brush/towel will help to give the meat more flavor. The reason why we are going to be doing this is so that we can add more flavor and increase the meats deliciousness! The idea isn’t just to make the meat more moist, but to actually keep on building up the layers of flavor we mentioned earlier in the post. Also, if you would like to maintain and keep building your flavor profile, it is important to not apply a strong heat source to the meat or allow it to cook past the internal temperature.
Whichever cooking method you are using, you will want to ensure that the internal temperature is around 160 Fahrenheit. Once you are able to hit this magic number, you will need to pull the meat out and wrap it up with tin foil for around 25-30 minutes. The will allow for the juices to stop circulating which occurred during the cooking process.
Finish Product & Final Thoughts
Once you have completed all the steps above you have successfully learned how to brine pork shoulder, how to properly apply the brine to the meat and the best cooking temperature. Go ahead, serve your delicious meat amongst your family and friends.
Whether you’re going to be pulling the pork apart to have inside sandwiches, or you are slicing it for a roast, you will have meat that is simply delicious. You can serve with either roasted (strongly recommend) or fried vegetables, along with your favorite beverage.
To close, you should definitely share your new learned tricks with your family and friends, so that they can cook it for you the next time you fancy pork shoulder. Either that or keep your new found secret to yourself, so that you can be the go to person for the perfectly cooked pork shoulder.
P.S. Don’t forget to view our other How To’s Here.