Tips for Marinating Pork

Barbecue sauce dripping on marinated and grilled spare ribs

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Marinades are great for tenderizing tough cuts of meat and imparting flavor to meats. Pork is a meat that greatly benefits from a marinade. Tougher cuts of pork need a strong marinade and time for it to work its way into the connective tissues. Tender cuts of pork may not need help with tenderizing but can benefit from a dose of flavor enhancement.

Tough Cuts of Pork

The tough cuts of pork, like pork butt and shoulder, can greatly benefit from a marinade to break down the connective tissues and help make the meat easier to chew.

Other tough cuts, like ham hocks and pigs feet, usually work best in a soup or stew as a flavoring agent. A slow-cooked stew can usually break down the muscle and sinew on these cuts, so most cooks do not spend the time to marinate these cuts.

Tender Cuts of Pork

Tender cuts of pork, like the loin, ribs, or belly, may not need to be marinated for tenderness, but these parts absorb flavor well and can make a piece of meat come alive in your mouth. Since extremely lean cuts of pork like pork tenderloin can dry out quickly with a hot cooking method, it's best to give the meat as much flavor as possible ahead of time by marinating it in the refrigerator.

You will find that the least amount of time that tenderloin needs in a pan or oven is best. Have a thermometer handy. Once the meat reaches a safe temperature of 145 F (medium-rare), remove it from heat to reduce the chances of it drying out.

Marinade Ratio

You can plan on needing about 1/4 cup of marinade per pound of pork. This is a general rule and largely depends on the container you are using to marinate the pork. For example, this marinade ratio works for a gallon-sized zip-top bag and chops, ribs, or a small roast. But, if you have larger cuts, like a butt or shoulder, you may need to increase the marinade ratio since you will need a larger container like a casserole dish or plastic snap-top container.

Marinade Containers

When marinating in a zip-top plastic bag, make sure to remove as much air as possible. This will force the marinade into better contact with the meat. When marinating in a container, use only glass or plastic.

Acidic marinades can react with metal containers and alter the flavors. Make sure that you turn the pork periodically so that the marinade works evenly. Turning every 30 minutes is ideal, but for longer marinating times, every few hours is fine.

Pork Marinating Times

The primal cuts of the pork, or the first cuts that a butcher makes to portion out the carcass, are the shoulder, butt, loin, and ham. Those cuts are then broken down further into roasts, ribs, chops, and pork belly. Marinating times depend on the toughness of the meats and the sizes of the cut.

Primal Cuts Marinating Times
Whole shoulder 16 to 24 hours
Shoulder butt Roasts over 8 pounds 10 to 12 hours
Shoulder butt Roasts under 8 pounds 6 to 8 hours
Picnic shoulder Roasts over 8 pounds 10 to 12 hours
Picnic shoulder Roasts under 8 pounds 6 to 8 hours
Loin (large roasts) Bone-in, boneless 4 to 6 hours
Loin (small roasts) Tenderloin 2 to 4 hours
Loin (ribs) Baby back ribs, country-style ribs 2 to 4 hours
Loin (chops) Pork chops 2 to 4 hours
Spare rib/belly Spareribs (whole rack) 2 to 4 hours
Spare rib/belly Spareribs (individual cut) 1 to 2 hours