Pork is the number one meat in the world because of its versatility. Experiment with a variety of marinades, rubs, brines and glazes to pair with your favorite pork cuts.


A marinade is a savory acidic liquid in which food is soaked, or marinated, to enrich its flavor and/or tenderize. Originally made with vinegar, marinades now include ingredients like wine, fruit juices, buttermilk and yogurt. They also include flavor agents like oil, herbs or spices. The acid breaks down the meat’s tissue, absorbing moisture and producing a juicier end product. A good marinade will have a delicate balance of spices, acids, and oil.

The Science of Marinades

When meat is exposed to an acidic marinade, the bonds between protein bundles break and the proteins unwind, forming a loose mesh. This traps water inside the meat causing the tissue to become moist and juicy. But after time, the protein bonds tighten, water squeezes out, and the tissue toughens. Meat that stays in an acidic marinade too long will suffer due to protein denaturing. Acid bases include vinegar, wine, citrus juice, and tomatoes.

Enzymatic marinades work by breaking down the muscle fiber and connective tissue (collagen). Kiwi, papaya, raw pineapple, honeydew melon, and figs all contain protein enzymes (proteases). If exposed to enzymes for too long, meat can become mushy. Four hours is enough time to marinate most cuts of pork.

Dairy-based marinades, such as buttermilk or yogurt, are the only marinades that truly tenderize. Only mildly acidic, they don’t toughen meat the way strongly acidic marinades do. The calcium in dairy products activates enzymes in meat that break down proteins, similar to the way aging tenderizes meat. To reduce fat but keep the moisture, try replacing oil in marinades with milk, coconut milk, buttermilk, or yogurt. Using low-fat versions of dairy products also helps reduce fat content.

The Marinade-to-Meat Ratio

A marinade should be thin in consistency in order to penetrate the meat. A general rule for marinade-to-meat ratio is ½ cup of marinade per pound of meat, but a little more or less will not be problematic. Marinades containing acid, alcohol, or salt should not be used for extended periods of time because they will chemically “cook” or denature food. Use these marinades for less than 4 hours. Marinades containing citrus juice, especially lemon or lime juice, should be used for 2 hours or less. If food is left too long in these marinades, it can change color and texture. Blends that contain no salt, acid, or alcohol can be used overnight or even longer in some cases.

Refrigerate When Marinating

Always marinate in the refrigerator. Though some recipes call to marinate at room temperature, don’t follow this practice or marinate outside, as this causes the meat to enter the temperature zone where bacteria can multiply quickly (between 40°F and 140°F). If the recipe calls for marinating at room temperature, increase the marinating time and keep meat in the refrigerator.

Marinating times vary depending on the type, cut, and size of the meat. All meats have a refrigerated shelf life and marinating does not extend that shelf life (shelf life includes the day of purchase and thawing time). Frozen meat will not absorb a marinade.

Marinating Containers

Do not marinate in a metal container because acidic mixtures can react with metal. Marinate in re-sealable plastic bags, sealable and non-porous plastic containers or glass containers only. Turn meat occasionally so all sides are coated evenly with the marinade. The easiest way to marinate meat is to use a re-sealable plastic bag or a vacuum-sealed bag. When all air is sealed out, the marinade completely surrounds the meat, dramatically reducing the amount of marinade necessary, and ensuring maximum penetration from all sides.

Can I Reuse the Marinade?

Discard marinades once used. If you intend to use the same mixture to baste, set aside a small amount before marinating or boil the marinade for five minutes before using it as a basting sauce.

Marinade Recipes

Adobo Marinade

In self-sealing plastic bag, combine 1 cup orange juice, 4 tablespoons lime juice, 3 cloves crushed garlic, 2 seeded and chopped chipotle peppers (rehydrate if dried), 2 teaspoons oregano and 1 teaspoon crushed cumin seed. Add pork to bag, seal and refrigerate overnight.

Five-Spice Marinade

In self-sealing plastic bag, combine ¼ cup soy sauce, ¼ cup dry sherry, ½ cup minced onion, 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger root, 2 teaspoons five-spice powder and 2 teaspoons sesame oil. Add pork to bag, seal and refrigerate overnight.

Honey-Garlic Marinade

In self-sealing plastic bag, combine ½ cup lemon juice, ¼ cup honey, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon dry sherry and 2 crushed garlic cloves. Add pork to bag, seal and refrigerate overnight.

Island Marinade

In self-sealing plastic bag, combine ½ cup orange juice, 4 tablespoons lime juice, 3 cloves crushed garlic, 2 teaspoons dried thyme and 1 tablespoon honey. Add pork to bag, seal and refrigerate overnight.



Dry spice rubs are an alternative to marinades, usually made of salt, sugar, spices and aromatic herbs. Spice rubs coat each piece of meat evenly to allow for penetration of flavor without the denaturing proteins of an acidic marinade. The salt in rubs works similar to brines, helping improve the meat’s moisture capacity and flavor transfer. A typical rub has one part salt, one part sugar (granulated, brown, demerara, or palm sugar), and two parts of the spices and dry herbs that will create the desired flavor profile. Most rubs contain three basic spice types: sweet, aromatic and heat. Sweet examples include paprika and sweet chile powder, aromatic options are dry herbs, cumin, curry or nutmeg, and hot components include ground or dried peppers.

Successful rubs depend on selecting peppers, spices and aromatics that complement each other. Rub the mixture evenly on the meat and allow it to sit, refrigerated, for 6 to 24 hours before cooking. There is no need to remove the rub prior to cooking.

Caribbean Jerk Rub

In jar with tight-fitting lid, shake together 2 tablespoons dried minced onion, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 4 teaspoons dry thyme leaves, crushed, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons ground allspice, ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg, ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 tablespoon sugar, 2 teaspoons black pepper and 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Makes ½ cup.

Cajun Rub

In jar with tight-fitting lid, shake together 2 tablespoons paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons onion powder, 2 teaspoons garlic powder, 2 teaspoons cayenne, 1 ½ teaspoons ground white pepper, ½ teaspoon ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon dry thyme leaves and 1 teaspoon oregano leaves. Makes about ½ cup.

Spicy Latin American Rub

In jar with tight-fitting lid, shake together 4 tablespoons each ground cumin and chili powder, 2 tablespoons ground coriander, 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes and 2 tablespoons ground black pepper. Makes about 1 cup.

Mediterranean Rub

Combine zest of 2 lemons, ⅓ cup thinly sliced garlic cloves, ⅓ cup fresh rosemary leaves, ¼ cup fresh sage leaves, ¼ cup coarsely ground black pepper and 1 tablespoon salt. Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until garlic, herbs and lemon zest are chopped finely and ingredients are thoroughly combined. Store covered in the refrigerator. Makes about 1 cup.




Brine, also called “pickle,” is a solution of salt and water. While many people use the terms interchangeably, pickle is used to designate a salt-and-water solution that also contains nitrite or cure. Brine or pickle may also contain other seasonings such as dry spices, herbs, or aromatic vegetables that add appealing background flavors. In Italy, brine is called salamoia and in some Italian salumerie, meats, particularly beef or veal tongue, can be seen floating in large earthenware crocks in a spicy brine that includes juniper, peppercorns, allspice berries, bay leaves, garlic, and thin-sliced carrot, celery, and onion.

Brined meats are typically boiled and served either cold as an antipasto or hot as a secondo, following soup or pasta. Apart from the enhancement the meat receives through its absorption of salt and seasonings, brining also has a tenderizing and moistening effect. Brining requires more or less time depending upon the thickness and density of the cut of meat. As long as the meat remains submerged in brine, the brine is absorbed and diffused slowly throughout the meat. Brining very thick cuts of meat is not recommended, as those thicker than 3 inches may spoil at the center before the salt penetrates.

Straight immersion brines are primarily used for pickling tongues and ears destined for cold antipasti, and for other trim cuts used in special cooked sausages that benefit from the additional seasonings, cured flavor, and color they pick up. Thin cuts of pork, such as boneless loin and tenderloin, as well as cubed meats from the leg or shoulder require a matter of three to five days to drink up the brine and are delicious skewered and grilled on a wood fire.

If you wish to make your own fresh ham, or brine denser cuts such as shoulders or heavy loins, it is wise to inject them first with brine using a brine pump before immersing them in brine. This is the surest way to introduce salt to the center of a dense cut of meat, where it is most vulnerable to spoilage. Submerging the meat afterwards in the brine allows the brine ingredients to diffuse and equalize throughout the meat.

In the event that the weights of the meat you wish to brine do not correspond to the recipes below, the basic procedure for brining follows. It is important when working with percentages of salt or parts per million (ppm) of nitrite to understand the reasoning behind the recipes as the brine elements are based on the weight of the meat and the water it contains.


When formulating a brine, you need two main calculations. First, set a minimum “brine strength” (or saline concentration) and sugar content, and second, the nitrite addition. Water content varies in raw meat between 60 and 70 percent. When making brine, the amount of salt is measured not only for its concentration in the water of the brine, but also in the water of the meat as well. If the amount of salt added to the brine were based on a percentage by weight of the water in the brine alone, the meat would, in effect, dilute it. In order to season the meat fully and to discourage the growth of bacteria, the brine strength should range between three to five percent salt in water. Here the average of 65 percent considers the water-in-meat portion to deliver a more lightly salted meat. The minimum amount of salt is added to yield equilibrium brine strength of three percent. Sugar is added purely for its flavor-balancing effect on the salt at two percent and is calculated similarly.

For safety purposes, ensure the meat is well chilled. The same applies to the water used to make the brine, and the conditions of the refrigerator or cold room in which the meat is stored. Ideally, meat, pickle, and refrigeration temperatures should not exceed 34 to 38°F at any point during the process.

The standard for nitrite addition is calculated in parts per million. The federal guidelines suggest an addition of 200 ppm for “immersion” cured meats. This level is based on the level for nitrite in the brine and in the meat at total equilibrium. This means that the quantity of nitrite is based on the total weight of the meat and the water in the brine.

To brine-cure five pounds of boneless pork loin, place the meat in a clean, nonreactive container large enough to hold it entirely submerged. Five-gallon plastic buckets are very handy for brining, as are square food-grade plastic Lexan containers available in restaurant supply stores. Determine how much water you must add to cover the meat by three inches by placing the meat in the container and pouring cold water over it, measuring as you go. For this example, three gallons of brine should be sufficient to fully immerse the meat. Calculate the amount of salt to add (the brine strength) as follows:

  • 1 gallon of water weighs 8.33 pounds
  • Water weight of loins = 5 pounds x .65 = 3.25 pounds water
  • 3 gallons water = 25 pounds (rounded)
  • Weight of water +water in meat = 25 + 3.25 = 28.25 pounds
  • 28.25 pounds x .03 = .84 pound salt
  • 28.25 pounds x .02 = .56 pound sugar

Once the weight of the meat and the weight of the brine are determined, use this simple formula to arrive at the amount of curing salt needed.

  • Raw weight of the meat = 5 pounds
  • Weight of the water in the brine =
    • 25.00 pounds water
    • .84 pound salt
    • .56 pound sugar
  • Total brine weight = 26.40 pounds

Pounds Nitrite =
200 ppm x (total brine weight + raw weight of the meat)

Pounds Nitrite =
200 x (26.4 pounds + 5 pounds)

Pounds Nitrite =
200 x 31.4

Pounds Nitrite = .006 pure nitrite

As noted above, sodium nitrite is commonly sold as a curing mix, a blend of common salt and nitrite. The nitrite content must be listed on the package; the recommended curing mix is 6.25 percent pure nitrite. Because the formula above gives the percent in pure nitrite, divide the amount of pure nitrite by the percentage of nitirite in the curing mix. To do this, express the percentage of nitrite in the cure mix as a decimal (move the decimal two places to the left) and divide the amount of pure nitrite needed by the percentage of the nitrite in the curing mix:

  • .006/.0625 = .096 pounds curing mix

With such a small amount, it will be necessary to convert to grams. There are 16 ounces in a pound and 28 grams in an ounce, so:

  • .096 pounds curing mix x 16 ounces x 28 grams = 43 grams of curing mix

For the sake of accuracy, convert the salt and sugar to grams as well:

  • .84 pounds salt = .84x 16 ounces x 28 grams = 376 grams salt
  • .56 pounds sugar =.56 x 16 ounces x 28 grams = 251 grams sugar

However, because a significant amount of salt comes along with the nitrite in your curing mix, deduct the amount from the total quantity called for. Again, assuming a curing mix that is 6.25 percent nitrite (and therefore 93.75 percent salt), calculate as follows:

  • 43 grams of curing mix (6.25 percent nitrite) – 3 grams of pure nitrite (rounded) = 376 grams salt – 40 grams = 336 grams additional salt

Now assemble the brine:

  • 3 gallons ice-cold water
  • 336 grams salt
  • 251 grams sugar
  • 43 grams curing mix
  • 5 pounds boneless pork loin

You can make a spicy version of this brine for use in curing tongues, ears, and small cuts of meat. The percentages of salt and sugar are the same.

Source: Cooking by Hand, by Paul Bertolli (Clarkson Potter, 2003)


Glazes are added to meat during the last few minutes of cooking. Glazes can be a sweet or savory mixture of ingredients from jams and honeys to mustards and flavored vinegars.

Ginger-Apricot Glaze

In small bowl, stir together 1 cup apricot jam, 2 tablespoons lime juice, 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root. Brush onto pork during last 5 minutes of cooking. Makes 1 ¼ cups.

Two-Mustard Honey Glaze

In small bowl, stir together 1 cup honey, ½ cup each Dijon-style and stone-ground mustard, and salt and black pepper, to taste. Brush onto pork during last 5 minutes of cooking. Makes 1 ¾ cups.

Maple-Vinegar Glaze

In small bowl, stir together ½ cup maple syrup with 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 1 teaspoon each crushed juniper berries and ground black pepper. Brush onto pork during last 5 minutes of cooking. Makes ¾ cup.

Marmalade-Horseradish Glaze

In small bowl, stir together ½ cup orange marmalade, ½ cup barbecue sauce and 2 tablespoons grated horseradish. Brush onto pork during last 5 minutes of cooking. Makes about 1 cup.