Brining is the process of soaking meat or poultry in a saltwater solution, usually with other herbs, spices, and flavorings to tenderize it and help keep it moist during long and slow cooking processes like roasting or smoking. Many barbecue enthusiasts find that brining pork shoulder before cooking it results in more flavorful and juicy pulled pork. When selecting a pork shoulder for brining, it is important to choose one with a layer of fat across the bottom and a bone in the center, both of which will help keep the meat from becoming dry. The meat should be immersed completely in the brining solution and placed in a sealed container for at least several hours and ideally overnight. Sometimes brining pork shoulder can make the meat salty, so cooks may want to rinse the brine off before cooking and avoid adding additional salt during cooking.
Poultry, especially roasting turkeys, are often brined because they tend to dry out during roasting due to a relatively low fat content in the meat. Some cooks believe that brining pork shoulder is not necessary because this type of roast already has enough fat in it to keep it moist during slow roasting or smoking. Other pulled pork enthusiasts, however, insist that brining yields an even better result, with meat that falls off the bone and can be shredded with almost no effort. The best type of pork shoulder to use is the same whether the meat is to be brined or not — one with a generous layer of fat along the bottom and a bone running through the middle, both of which help to keep the meat moist during cooking.
Most recipes for brine call for approximately 1 cup of salt for each gallon of water. Some chefs suggest using kosher or sea salt, while others have good results with regular table salt. Sometimes other ingredients, like brown sugar, molasses, peppercorns, or bay leaves, are added to the mix when brining pork shoulder. Other times, a dry rub or flavor injector is used to flavor the meat after removing it from the brine solution. Whatever ingredients are used, the pork shoulder should be immersed completely in the brine solution for as long as 24 hours and should be kept in the refrigerator during this time. A large sealable plastic bag is a good container to use for this purpose.
Some chefs do not like brining pork shoulder because it makes the meat salty. Others enjoy the salty taste, but those who don’t may find that rinsing the meat with water after brining removes some of the salt while still retaining moisture. Cooks who are interested in brining pork shoulder can experiment with different options until they find their favorite result.