A basic steak or chicken brine doesn’t work for large cuts like pork butt or shoulder. Nah, that’s not for me! The best pork shoulder brine is that which can break down muscles and take the flavors deep into large pork cuts.
While the foundation remains water, salt, and sugar, it’s the additional ingredients that truly make it shine. After years of pork BBQ experience, I’ve discovered how effective citrus zest, apple cider, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and even beer enhance the brine’s impact. The result? A slab of pork that’s moist, tender, and has a standout flavor profile before it even hits the smoker.
Now in this article, I’ll be sharing all the pork shoulder brine recipe secrets to make the perfect smoked pork. Together, we’ll explore the ideal blend of herbs, spices, liquid flavors, and acids that help break down the pork butt or shoulder.
Pork Shoulder Brine Recipe in 7 Easy Steps
Now let’s go into the details of brining pork shoulder or pork butt. Follow these simple steps to brine pork shoulder and unlock the perfect smoked meat each time:
- Choose your pork cut: Look for a boneless or bone-in pork shoulder or pork butt, whichever you prefer. Make sure it’s the right size to fit in your brining container.
- Create the pork shoulder brine: Combine water, salt, brown sugar, and any additional flavor enhancers you desire in a large container. Get creative! You may add garlic powder, onion powder, herbs, apple cider, spices, citrus zest, soy sauce—whatever tickles your taste buds. Stir or whisk all together until the salt and brown sugar dissolve. Let the pork brine sit undisturbed for five minutes.
- Prep the pork for brine: Blot the wet meat with a paper towel to keep it dry.
- Submerge the pork: Place the meat in the pork shoulder brine. Make sure it’s fully submerged. If needed, use a weight or plate to keep it down. Alternatively, you can put the pork meat into a two-gallon Zipper Bag like the Ziploc Storage Bag. Pour in the pork shoulder brine. Shake things up, seal the container, and refrigerate.
- Brine time: Let the meat soak in the pork shoulder brine for at least 12 hours or up to 24 hours for maximum flavor penetration. The longer, the better!
- Rinse and pat dry: Once you’re done brining pork shoulder, remove the meat from the pork shoulder brine and give it a good rinse under cold water. Pat it dry with a paper towel.
- Cook as desired: Now it’s time to cook that brined beauty. You can smoke it, roast it, or grill it.
How to Smoke Brined Pork Shoulder?
Now that we’ve brined the meat let’s take that brined pork shoulder to the next level by taking it to the smoker. Here’s my foolproof step-by-step process to smoke it like a pro:
- Prep your smoker: Whether you’re using a charcoal, electric, or wood pellet smoker, get it fired up and preheated to a temperature of around 225-250°F. This recipe turns out perfectly on my Weber 22'' Smoky Mountains Cooker. But you can easily cook them in any smoker you have.
- Add smoking wood: Choose your favorite smoking wood chips or chunks—hickory, apple, or mesquite are popular choices. The Mr. Bar-B-Q Hickory Wood Chips work really great for this recipe. Soak them in water for about 30 minutes, then drain before adding to the smoker.
- Remove the brined pork meat from the brine: Take the brined pork shoulder out of the container and give it a quick rinse under cold water. Pat it dry with a paper towel to remove excess moisture.
- Apply a dry rub (optional): If you desire an extra layer of flavor, now’s the time to rub your pork shoulder with a blend of spices, herbs, and seasonings. Get creative and tailor it to your taste preferences.
- Place it in the smoker: Carefully place the pork shoulder on the smoker grates. Close the lid and let the smoking magic begin.
- Monitor and maintain temperature: Keep an eye on the smoker’s temperature throughout the smoking process. Adjust the vents or add charcoal/wood as needed to maintain a consistent heat level.
- Smoke it low and slow: Slow-cook the pork shoulder for several hours, allowing it to absorb the smoky flavors. The cooking time can vary depending on the size of the shoulder. But a general rule of thumb is around 1.5 to 2 hours per pound (0.45 to 0.9 kg).
- Baste with barbecue sauce: An hour after the meat’s in the smoker, you may now start basting it with BBQ sauce or apple cider vinegar every 45 minutes. Basting with the sauce or apple cider vinegar helps to get a better taste, keep the pork moist and give it a tasty and crispy bark.
- Check internal temp: After a few hours, start checking the internal temperature of the smoked pork shoulder using a meat thermometer. Aim for the thickest part of the meat. Although the USDA has lowered the safe temp from 160 to 145°F, the internal temperature of around 195-205°F is where I get that tender, pull-apart meat.
- Rest and shred: After reaching the desired temperature, carefully remove the pork shoulder from the smoker. Now let it rest for about 20-30 minutes. This allows the juices to redistribute. Then, grab some forks or meat claws and start shredding that succulent pork shoulder.
- Serve and enjoy: Now comes the best part—dig in! Serve the smoky, flavorful pulled pork however you like. Sandwiches, tacos, sliders—the possibilities are endless.
Wet vs. Dry Brining: What’s the Difference and Which is Better?
First, the wet brining technique involves submerging your meat in a flavorful liquid brine. Think of it as a relaxing spa session for your meat, as it soaks in a bath of water, salt, sugar, and a symphony of extra flavor boosters.
Moisture-infused meat that’s bursting with incredible flavors. The salt works its way in, tenderizing the proteins and ensuring a juicy result. Wet brining takes a bit of time though. You need to brine overnight or give it at least eight hours. But trust me, it’s worth the wait!
In the dry corner, we have dry brining. With this technique, you generously rub your meat with a mixture of salt and sometimes additional seasonings. It’s like giving your meat a flavorful massage. The salt draws out moisture from the surface. That creates a concentrated brine that works its way back into the meat, intensifying the flavors.
The best part is dry brining is a time-saver! You can do this in a shorter period, anywhere around 45 minutes to 48 hours.
Which is the best for your pork shoulder or pork butt?
Well, that depends on your taste and cooking preferences. Wet brining shines when it comes to adding moisture and infusing flavors deep into the meat. It’s perfect for lean cuts or tougher meats that need tenderizing love.
On the other hand, dry brining packs a punch in intensifying flavors, improving textures, and creating a delicious crust on the surface.
Ultimately, it’s a personal choice based on the flavors and convenience you’re looking for. Wet brining delivers moisture and flavor penetration, while dry brining rocks the flavor concentration and time-saving benefits. I’ll say you should give both techniques a shot. Experiment with different meats and seasonings. Then let your taste buds be the ultimate judge.
Kosher Salt vs. Table Salt: Which Salt Should You Brine a Pork Shoulder With?
I personally think it’s better to brine pork shoulder with Kosher salt. It’s got larger crystals and a slow dissolution rate.
Also, Kosher salt is less processed. It’s got larger and flakier crystals compared to table salt. The larger crystals make it easier to control the saltiness of your brine because it takes time to get completely dissolved.
Plus, Kosher salt doesn’t contain any additives, which can affect the flavor of your brine. Its pure and clean taste allows the flavors of other ingredients to shine through.
If you’d like to brine pork with table salt, just know that it’s more finely ground. Also, it often contains iodine, which is an essential nutrient for us.
Yes, the tiny granulated crystals have a finer texture that can dissolve quickly. This makes it convenient for some recipes. But you’re dealing with more salt crystals. This can also lead to a saltier pork brine if you’re not careful with the measurements.
Also, the iodine in table salt can sometimes impart a slightly metallic taste. This may not be desirable for your pork shoulder brine liquid.
Should I Brine or Inject Pork Shoulder?
Well, it all depends on your style and what you’re craving. The brining process is all about an overall flavor takeover. It ensures every bite is packed with deliciousness. It’s perfect for a leisurely soak and letting those flavors seep in. On the other hand, injecting with a meat injector is like a precision strike, hitting specific spots with intense flavor. It’s the way to go if you want flavor explosions in specific areas.
If you’re telling me you wanna soak that pork shoulder in a flavor-packed liquid bath? That’s what brining is all about! You throw the meat in a mixture of water, salt, sugar, and all your favorite seasonings. Let it chill out and absorb all that goodness.
Injecting is like playing the doctor with your pork butt or shoulder. You grab a syringe and fill it with a special concoction of seasonings. Then, poke that needle into the meat and give it a flavorful shot straight into its core.
Some like to combine both method – that is, brine the meat completely and then inject with some more seasoning. You have to be careful with this though. Or you could over-brine pork shoulder and have more salt in the meat.
How to Pick the Perfect Pork Shoulder?
So, you’re at the stage where you want to start getting things ready for your brined pork shoulder recipe. Here are some tips to help you pick the best pork shoulder:
- Look for marbling: When it comes to pork shoulder, a little fat goes a long way in adding flavor and keeping the meat moist during cooking. Look for cuts with a good amount of marbling throughout. Those beautiful streaks of fat will melt into the meat, making it tender and delicious.
- Consider the size: Pork butt or pork shoulder comes in different sizes, and the size you choose depends on your cooking plans. If you’re feeding a hungry crowd or want leftovers for later, opt for a larger six to nine-pound cut. If you’re cooking for a smaller gathering or want a quicker cooking time, go for a smaller four to six-pound one. It’s all about finding the right fit for your needs.
- Check the color: Fresh pork shoulder should have a pinkish-red color. Avoid cuts that appear pale or have any grayish tones. Pink and vibrant is what you’re aiming for.
- Feel the firmness: Give that pork shoulder a gentle squeeze. It should feel firm but with a slight give. Avoid cuts that feel too soft or mushy, which could indicate poor quality or mishandling.
- Trust your butcher: If you have a trusted butcher, don’t hesitate to ask for their advice. They can guide you to the best cuts, provide cooking tips, and ensure you’re getting top-notch quality.
Tips For Smoking Pork Shoulder
Ready to embark on a smoky adventure with your pork shoulder? Get your apron on and follow these tips to achieve pork perfection:
Master the Low and Slow
Smoking pork shoulder is all about low and slow cooking. Remember, it’s a large pork cut with tough muscles. So, ensure you’re keeping a consistent temperature between 225-250°F throughout the smoking process.
This slow cooking allows the fat to render, connective tissues to break down, and flavors to develop. Patience is key here, as it can take several hours to reach that tender and juicy finish.
Keep It Moist
You can spritz it with a flavorful liquid every hour or so. This helps to ensure your pork shoulder stays moist during the long smoking process.
Apple juice, cider vinegar, or even a combination of your favorite liquids can add moisture and enhance the flavors. Just be careful not to overdo it and wash away that beautiful crust.
Learn to Wrap Your Meats
After a few hours of smoking, consider wrapping your pork shoulder in foil or butcher paper.
This technique, known as the Texas crutch, helps speed up the cooking process while making the meat moist. It can also help tenderize the meat.
Rest and Shred
Once your pork shoulder reaches an internal temp of around 195-205°F I mentioned earlier, remove it from the smoker. Let it rest for about 30 minutes. Allow the juices to redistribute and the meat to become even more tender.
Next, use your claws or forks and start shredding the meat into succulent strands. This process is what we call pulled pork. And coincidentally, the pork shoulder and pork butt (also called Boston butt) are the best cut for this.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Should You Brine a Pork Shoulder?
I know many skip the brine process for their pork butt and shoulder meat. But I think you should brine it, especially if you’d like to shred the meat or want something tender. The pork shoulder brine amps up the flavor, making it retain moisture and get tender. It’s great, especially for larger cuts like pork shoulder.
2. How Much Salt Should I Throw Into the Brine?
As a general rule, you can go with about 1/2 cup of salt per gallon of water for a basic brine mixture. But hey, you’re the boss of your taste buds! Adjust the salt to your liking and make the pork brine just right for your masterpiece.
3. Do You Rinse Pork Shoulder After Brining?
You definitely should. I like to give that pork shoulder a quick cold water shower to wash away any excess saltiness. We want it to be perfectly seasoned, not overly salty. After the rinse, pat it dry with some paper towels and get it ready for the next step.
Brining a pork shoulder is a flavor and tenderness game-changer. Wet or dry, the results are mouthwatering. It infuses the meat with irresistible flavors and ensures a juicy, succulent result. So, don’t hesitate to brine your pork next time you want to cook one. Kosher salt is the ultimate brining salt for me. But if you can’t get that, be careful with the quantity when using table salt.
You should also experiment with flavors, herbs, spices, and liquids like apple cider vinegar, whiskey, or wine. May your pork shoulder brine recipe be flavorful, your pork shoulders tender, and your culinary skills celebrated!