Simple Pork Shoulder Brine

Pork shoulder can be made tastier by brine. Brining helps improve the flavor, texture, and tenderness of slow-smoked pork. Different ingredients can be used to create the perfect brine under different recipes.

We will go through all the possible ways to prepare a savory pork shoulder brine that will make your meals stand out. But first:

Let’s Define What a Brine is

When meat is smoked, it is exposed to high temperatures, increasing the likelihood that the meat may lose its natural taste and moisture. The use of brine can help prevent this. When meat is smoked or grilled, this blend of ingredients helps keep it from being too dry.

You may make your own brine or buy it from the shop. Both strongly detect the presence of salt.

Besides these, vinegar, caramel, spices, herbs, and sugar are also included while preparing the brine.

Another important component for improving moisture retention in your pork is water.

For pulled pork, the most recommended brine ingredient is vinegar or apple cider. The flavor blends well with this type of meat while smoked. Mixed with water, salt, and other preferred spices, it can be injected into the meat as well as rubbed on the outer layer.

Benefits of Brining Meat

As pointed out earlier, brined meat tastes different from plainly smoked meat. The materials used for brining make a huge difference in pork in terms of texture, flavors, and juiciness.

The aroma also changes depending on the ingredients you include in your brine.

The most powerful bit of this mixture is salt. The amount you use matters and it also determines how delighted your taste buds will be.

Apple Cider brine makes your pork shoulder transform from basic smoked meat to soft pieces of tenderness that are easy to pull out and chew.

How Long Does Brining Last?

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Depending on the size of your pork, the process of brining can take approximately 24 hours. This also depends on whether or not you are only rubbing it on top or injecting it internally. Another factor to consider is the amount of time you have to spare.

With the above factors in mind, you can spare a time range of 10 to 24 hours for brining.

The first step does not consume too much of your time. With the right recipe, all you’ll be doing is weighing the ingredients, crushing those that need to be crushed, and mixing them as instructed.

The next step involves immersing your pork into the brine and refrigerating it for the recommended time.

Another catch to guide you on the time spent brining is the meat’s size. Is it fat or lean? For the former, more time is taken because of the thickness, to allow the brine to get sucked into every corner of the meat.

For leaner pork, the time required may be less than that of fatty one because it takes in the mixture faster.

We recommend at least 8 hours for meat that has the lowest minimum characteristics (such as leanness) and 24 hours at most for the rest. Likewise, you can strike a medium balance and go for 12 hours to achieve optimum perfection.

Most pitmasters prefer brining overnight since the meat remains undisturbed during the entire process.

How to Pick the Perfect Pork Shoulder?

No matter how well you prepare your brine, the most delicious results can only be tasted in a perfectly selected pork shoulder.

What do you look out for when picking it? First, be keen on whether the shoulder contains bone or not. To achieve the desired flavors, you’ll need to choose one that has at least a quarter-inch of fatty layer. When you smoke such, the fats melt down, infusing into the brine. This makes it more delicious.

Next, look out for the size. It is advisable to buy at least a quarter more pork (in terms of mass) than needed. This will compensate for the reduction that comes with melting. You might buy a large portion, only to get surprised by how little it ends up getting after smoking.

Kosher Salt or Table Salt?


The choice between the two is determined by individual preferences. Their differences are evident in their physical appearance but in the end, all that matters is using them in the right amounts.

Some people use them interchangeably but for those to whom details matter, kosher salt remains just that, and table salt uniquely represents itself.

The size of their granulated crystals differentiates them from one another.

While kosher salt has large crystals with a resemblance to flakes, table salt looks more like sand but with tiny white granulated crystals.

In our recipe, we used table salt. That should not limit your choices if you would like to experiment with kosher salt.

Everything You Need for Pork Brine

To brine 4lb pork shoulder butt, you will need all the ingredients and equipment listed in this section:

  • ½ onion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 rosemary sprigs
  • ⅔ cups of salt
  • 3 peeled cloves of garlic
  • 5 cups of water
  • ⅛ cup of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon peppercorns

Along with the ingredients, other items you’ll need include sealable bags, whose size will be determined by that of your pork butt.

You can opt for Tupperware or other types of zipper bags as long as they are free from leakage and are airtight.

The packaging bags of your choice must be large enough to keep your meat submerged in the brine for the required time.

When it comes to water, you can either use warm or cold water, though some experts insist on hot water.  Our team tried both and didn’t see any need for the hype surrounding the water’s temperature.

The main argument is centered on the speed that salt and sugar dissolve when the heat range of the water is increased. In the end, the choice is yours to decide on what works for you.

Related: Smoked Pork Butt

How to Brine Pork Step by Step?

Photo credit: vacuvita

The recipe outlined here is suitable for 4lbs of pork shoulder butt. Preparation time is approximately 10 minutes and an additional 12 to 24 hours of resting the meat in brine. Another 8 to 12 hours will be used in smoking it. The main requirements are herbs, water, salt, and meat. This is your one-way ticket to the land of brined and savory fall-apart smoked pork butt.


  • ½ onion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 rosemary sprigs
  • ⅔ cups of salt
  • 3 peeled cloves of garlic
  • 5 cups of water
  • ⅛ cup of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon peppercorns
  • 4 lb pork shoulder


  1. Add 5 cups of water in a sizable bowl. Mix this with sugar and salt by stirring until a solution is formed.
  2. Put the remaining ingredients in this solution. Stir the mixture to form an even paste. Measure 2 cups of the brine mix and reserve it separately for later use. Put the remaining mixture in a sealable bag.
  3. Add the meat into the brine and lock it in using the ziplock.
  4. Refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours. Preferably overnight.
  5. During the smoking session, the reserved cup of brine can now be put to use. This is done to maintain the moisture as well as enhance the pork’s flavor.
  6. Spread the mixture carefully over the smoked meat. Alternatively, you can do this using a brush, for an even layer of brine. Smoke until the internal temperature hits 175 to 190°F.
  7. After reaching this temperature, take the pork shoulder out of the smoker and wrap it using foil paper. Leave it to rest for 20 to 30 minutes before serving.

Favorite Pork Shoulder Brine Recipe

There are many recipes for brined pork shoulder but none beats one that has apple cider vinegar.

This ingredient complements the smoky flavor that comes after smoking the meat. It also gives the pork an exceptional juicy tenderness.

For great results, vinegar measurements should be in the ratio of 1:2 in comparison to the water used. If you prefer an intense flavor, you can go for a water-vinegar ratio of 1:1.

The steps followed in creating this brine are similar to the ones highlighted above. Salt is still an essential component of brine and shouldn’t be bypassed.

You can incorporate other ingredients per your preference, put the mixture in a ziplock bag and refrigerate it for the recommended period.

During your smoking process, brush some brine on the pork shoulder to moisturize the possibly dried-out surface.

Related: Smoked Pork Shoulder Recipe

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