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Q: I have a question about brining pork. I have have good success wet brining pork. Especially ribs using coffee in the brine. What dictates, for you, between dry brining vs. wet brining?
A: Great question and I apologize in advance for the extra long answer–
In both processes you end up with more juice in the meat than you would if you didn't brine however, there are differences between the two:
With dry brining, the meat will never contain more juice than was already in the meat to start with.
Coarse kosher salt is added to the surface of the meat at a rate of about 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon per pound.
Over time, the salt pulls the liquid to the surface, the liquid dissolves the salt and that same salty brine is then re-absorbed back into the meat.
This causes the protein strands to unwind and the salty liquid gets trapped preventing the liquid from escaping during the cooking process.
You can weigh a piece of meat after dry brining and it will be about the same as it was before brining. Nothing was added that wasn't already there other than a small amount of salt.
With wet brining, you end up with more juice in the meat than it ever had on it's own. Some of the salty liquid gets drawn into the meat during the brining process.
This causes the protein strands to unwind and that salty liquid gets trapped preventing the liquid from escaping during the cooking process.
Even a very lean piece of meat like pork loin or chicken breast can end up super juicy after cooking, not because of it's own juices but because you added extra juice.
You can weigh a piece of meat after it is wet brined and it will be heavier than it was before.
Which one to use?
To decide which one to use requires you to think about whether you want to add extra liquid to make it a lot more juicy or to just trap the already present liquid so it's a little more juicy in the end.
In both cases, it will be a lot more flavorful because of the added salt inside of the meat.
I tend to dry brine most things because it's easier and less mess but leaner cuts like pork tenderloins, loins, chops, chicken breasts, etc. can be greatly improved by wet brining.
I recommend a test such as purchasing 2 large pork chops or chicken breasts and wet brining one, dry brining the other.
Cook them exactly the same and see if you can tell the difference between the two. Have a couple of friends or family members taste the two as well and see if they can denote differences between the two.