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Feb 18, 2009 05:11 AM

Pork brine for smoked hocks needed

I'm looking to smoke some pork hocks this weekend. I might only do two or three hocks. What's a good brine recipe? I have curing sale (Prague Powder #1) that is used in a wet brine. Also, what's the duration of brining time?


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  1. In "American Charcuterie" Victoria Wise describes a pickling brine and brining procedure for pork hocks. Her procedure, however, involves brining for 5-14 days, which would push you into next week. If you think you might be interested in the ingredients list and procedure, let me know, and I'll post a version of it here.

    17 Replies
    1. re: hohokam

      Sounds like it might be a longer brine in order to preserve it via pickling? I don't know. I know that timing won't work this time, but it would be useful in the future. Actually pickled pork tongues are something I'm interested in trying. Does this recipe look adaptable?

      1. re: grandgourmand

        She does refer to it as a pickling brine, but then goes on to say that the hocks can be used for flavoring dishes or cooked and served on their own. She does describe a procedure for using the brine for pickling beef tongue, which I imagine could be adapted to pork tongue mainly by shortening the time in the brine.

        I'll post the brine ingredients and the procedures for the hocks and tongue here later today.

        1. re: grandgourmand

          Brining hocks sounds like more trouble than it's worth if you ask me. There's not a whole lot of meat on the thing and what meat is there, is absolutely covered in fat, skin, cartilage and bone. Brining is done to add flavor, yes, but it's primarily done to add moisture to things in my opinion. Unless you happen to drop them in a bonfire for a few hours you're not going to have to worry about moisture!

          The 5-14 day "brine" is more than likely a cure - after all, when you buy these in the store already smoked they are called ham hocks not pork hocks, right? That's because they were once part of a cured ham. By taking the raw pork hock and turning it into a ham hock, you are getting a home made version of what you usually find in the store. As hohokam mentions these things are primarily used to flavor dishes (beans, greens, etc.). While perfectly delicious and edible, the meat is an afterthought more than it is a main dish.

          1. re: HaagenDazs

            You're probably right on the cure vs. brine issue. And my ultimate goal is to smoke these suckers, which I believe necessitates a cure including curing salt to prevent spoilage due to low temp cooking.

            As far as your point on more trouble than it's worth, I beg to differ. My hocks will ultimately be used to flavour pea soup, so more of an accent, plus meat to add body and texture to the dish. However, on a stand-alone basis the hock is an excellent piece of meat. Very flavourful. There's the german schweinhaxe, if you've ever been to munich and one of the beer gardens, try it. Amazing. And a french Canadian dish that I grew up on called ragout de pattes de cochon. Essentially braised pork hocks in a clear broth, served with root vegetables. The meat is so tender and flavourful. In that dish, though, brining is not necessary.

            I assume there are different cuts of hock. some closer to the hook, which are mostly cartilage, skin and bone. then higher up, you're getting something closer to a picnic cut of pork shoulder.

            1. re: grandgourmand

              Smoke is a preservation method all by itself. How long do you plan on smoking these things and at what temperature? My guess is that you're not going to have to worry about spoilage unless you're smoking at 120 degrees for a couple of days (?).

              I'm not saying it's more trouble than it's worth to smoke these things, I'm just saying it's more trouble than it's worth to *brine* them. I agree they are great things to have, so don't get me wrong, but your original post mentions brining these... now you're saying you believe you need a cure? That's a big switch to make in just a couple hours, so just be sure you're getting your words straight.

              Brining and curing are far different processes. Brine=hours and it intended to provide flavor & moisture. A cure=days and is intended for preservation.

              1. re: HaagenDazs

                Yeah, that's a good point. I meant cure. And, therefore, hohokam's 5-15 day process is likely what I'm after.

                I plan on smoking for 5 hours or so at 200. All the bacon recipes suggest curing salts even at these temperatures. I'm not making bacon, but the logic should be the same.

                1. re: grandgourmand

                  "All the bacon recipes suggest curing salts even at these temperatures. I'm not making bacon, but the logic should be the same."

                  Weeelllll... not really. Good recipes don't.

                  First, bacon is salty as a general rule, so that's why there is suggestion to add salt. On top of that, I think there are plenty of homemade bacon recipes that do not include curing salts. Look up Alton Brown's "Good Eats" homemade bacon recipe (recipe link below). His does not include the curing salts. I would go as far as saying, if you find a recipe that has curing salts as part of the ingredient list, go find another one that doesn't.

                  Hocks are salty too, but personally if I'm going through the trouble of making something like this at home, I would not be adding curing salt which leads me to #2 -->

                  Second, curing salts like sodium nitrite, sodium nitrate, or potassium nitrate are often added to mass produced items like store bought bacon to increase shelf life and preserve color. They dump those chemicals into cheap hot dogs too. Most "gourmands" would never ever, ever dream of adding these things to a homemade product because it's not natural or necessary. If you go to the grocery store, you'll often find bacon that is nitrate and nitrite free. They are also often a better product.

                  Curing salt is not even edible on it's own.

                  Third, you do not have to worry one single bit about "spoilage" if you are smoking at 200ish for 5 hours. Nothing is going to grow on your meat so to cure these for the simple purpose of preservation is not necessary. It will alter flavor of course, but just know that you don't have to cure these to preserve them during the 5 hour cooking process. Think about any other smoked product like ribs or pork shoulder. They are smoked in the same method that you're using and spoilage isn't an issue there.

                  Have you smoked anything before?


                  1. re: HaagenDazs

                    I've smoked chicken, sausages, ribs. Mostly between 225 and 250. Actually, spoilage isn't much of an issue either when the end product will be re-heated and simmered for several hours to make soup. I've cured pancetta before, without using curing salts because you end up cooking that stuff anyways, at higher temperature.

                    However, the bacon recipes almost all call for some form of curing salt. Whether it's Tender Quick, Prague Powder or something else. And as far as 'gourmands' avoiding the stuff, well, that's not accurate. Alice Waters uses it in her homemade pancetta recipe. Michael Ruhlman calls for it in his bacon recipe. And you go to any meat curing boards, you'll see a debate on their use, but most will use the stuff.

                    Anyhow, point well taken on the use of nitrates. There's an avid discussion on their use. For now, I'm using it. Probably will cut it out of products that will subsequently be cooked, but for any meats I dry cure in order to eat 'as is', nitrates for me.

                    1. re: grandgourmand

                      You're probably right about those high profile names using the chemicals, but for bacon? Why? And of course you're free to do what you want, but I'd rather not use preservatives & chemicals to essentially create processed foods at home, especially in something as simple as ham/pork hocks. We're not talking about dry cures for meats we're talking about some simple smoked meats.

                      By making something at home, for me, there's fun and learning involved in the method itself, but there's also ample opportunity to create something that is simple and pure. If you don't need to use the chemicals, why would you?

                      Again, there is certainly some valid use of the chemicals in dry cured products but we're just not talking about that kind of thing. To each their own.

                      1. re: HaagenDazs

                        I agree with you on many points. However, I'm just starting the process of curing and preserving meats. At this stage, I don't want to screw around much with conventional processes and then tailor my own methods when I become more comfortable with everything.

                        As an aside, curing agents also have an impact on flavour and appearance. For example, your hams might not be pink and rosy, instead a shade of grey (I don't know) without their addition. Pastrami comes to mind as well. Anyhow, something else to think about.

                        1. re: HaagenDazs

                          I think many many people, not just high profile names (and gourmands included) use nitrites and nitrates. You're right, they have their purposes, so I don't think dismissing them out of hand so quickly is justified.

                          They are not included in many foods just to extend shelf life - they are often times a necessity in acquiring desired texture, consistency, and flavor. They are also, in many cases, the single-most effective agent to supress botulism.

                          I never held much stock in the belief that an 'unnatural' product is inherently bad (or that a 'natural' product is necesarily 'good').

                          I use nitrites to cure my bacon before I smoke it because it changes the flavor, to cure my pork leg into ham, to cure hocks and tongue before I pickle them, to cure my brisket before turning it into Montreal style smoked meat, to cure my brisket before making corned beef and nitrates to safe guard my air-dried sausage and salumi.

                          grandgourmand, the suggested brines sound good. Trick is to bring the liquid to a boil to release aromatics, let cool somewhat, then add the instacure.
                          Make sure it is *cold* before adding the item(s) to be brined (either in the fridge overnight, or iced down.)
                          My basic brine:
                          1 gallon H20
                          1C salt
                          2C brown sugar
                          1.5C white sugar
                          handful pickling spice
                          handful whole cloves
                          1/2C instacure

                          I've cured hocks that were split and cut into pieces that took only 4 days. Whole hocks would take longer. You can shorten the time by injecting 10% of the hock's weight with the brine (use a cajun injector) then submerge. Since you are smoking, a complete cure is not critical.
                          Pork tongues took only a day to cure.

                          Besides Ruhlman, I would suggest taking a look at "Great Sausage Recipes and Meat Curing" by Rytek Kutas
                          Kind of a bible of sorts on all things charcuterie.

                      2. re: HaagenDazs

                        Help! I bought a fresh ham and plan to smoke it in 36hours and just realized it's not going to be ham-tasting because it's not cured. Can I cure in a day and a half to give it a ham taste rather than just smoked pork?

                        Edit: I just read that I can shorten curing time by injecting so I'll go get an injector. But between brining and curing, what gives the fresh ham the ham quality?

                        1. re: Bgesmoker01

                          You responded to Haagen, but if I may...

                          It looks like you're planning to smoke in less than 24 hours by now.
                          Even with injection, a ham (back leg or part of) will not cure in 24-36 hours. I cure whole legs with injection AND brining and it takes up to 2 weeks to get a through and through cure.

                          Its the curing which gives the pork hamminess and pinkness. Curing can be done with salts and (somewhat) with sugars, but the heavy lifting is usually done with instacure.
                          Instacure#1 is a blend of common salt (sodium chloride) 93.75% and sodium nitrite 6.25%

                          You can wet brine using a solution with instacure or dry-brine using a rub containing instacure.

                          A brine (wet or dry) will cure from the outside inwards. No problem with smaller pieces of meat (like tongue, hock, etc etc).
                          Larger cuts (like brisket, ham, etc) benefit from injection - pumping the meat with cure. The piece will then cure from both inside and outside, shortening the cure time.

                          Sometimes, I'll pull a piece of meat from the brine only to find it wasn't fully cured. This is only evident after its cooked (or smoked), the center isn't the rosy color of cured meat - its grey like ordinary cooked meat. Its not necessarily a "bad" thing, just not fully cured...

                2. re: HaagenDazs

                  Whoa whoa whoa
                  "what meat is there, is absolutely covered in fat, skin, cartilage and bone"
                  #1, Theres not alot of fat on the hocks.
                  #2/#3 Skin? Cartilage? Whats wrong with skin and cartilage? Done right, the skin and cartilage are fabulous.

                  1. re: porker

                    You're missing my point completely. I didn't say anything was wrong with anything. I agree with your points. I only made the point that that a brine, for the purposes of adding moisture, was unnecessary. Brines and cures are different things.

                    There's not "alot" (spelled, a lot - 2 words) of fat, you're right. But there's certainly enough there to keep the amount of meat moist.

                    In reply to your 1:50 AM post, I'll keep stressing my point that we're not talking about sausage, we're not talking about ham, we're not talking about brisket, corned beef, or pickled anything. We're talking about a small hock.

                    As for more chemical free bacon, here's a little article from the NYT on lamb bacon. Notice the ingredient list, please.


                    1. re: HaagenDazs

                      Thanks for the link. That's another one to add to the list of things to make.

            2. The recipe below (adapted from "American Charcuterie: Recipes from Pig by the Tail" by Victoria Wise) will make 2 gallons of brine.

              1 lb fine sea salt
              8oz brown sugar
              2 gal water

              1 head of garlic, cloves separated but not peeled
              2 bay leaves
              5 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
              3 sprigs fresh sage (or 1 tsp dried)
              5 juniper berries
              2 whole cloves
              8 whole black peppercorns
              1 c water

              1/2 oz Insta Cure #1 (a.k.a. DQ Curing Salt, Prague Powder #1, "pink salt")

              Wash a 3-gallon non-reactive container and rinse it boiling water. Mix together salt, brown sugar, and 2 gallons of water in the clean container.

              Mix remaining ingredients, except curing salt, in a small pan and simmer for 1 minute. Remove pan from heat and stir in curing salt to dissolve it. Pour the contents of the pan into the brine container. Refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to marry.

              Wise considers 2 gallons of brine to be adequate to cure 6 pork forehocks (no weight specified) and recommends leaving them in the brine for a minimum of 5 days and a maximum of 14 days.

              She goes on to provide a recipe for simmering the "jambonneaux" (little hams) in an "aromatic water" mixture (water, white wine, aromatics, and spices) and then baking them with a mustard and bread crumb coating. Given that you're planning on cooking the hocks via smoking, I didn't think you'd be interested in that bit. Note though, that she describes using this mixture for cooking the pickled beef tongue.

              For pickling/curing a 3-4 lb beef tongue, she recommends using 1 gallon of the brine described above. The tongue is prepared for curing by either being injected with brine in 5 different spots, or by being pierced all over at 2-inch intervals with a metal skewer. If injected, she suggests a 3-day cure; if pierced, she suggests a 5-day cure. Again, given that pork tongue is smaller, you'll likely want to shorten the time it spends in the brine. Also, I would guess that piercing would be adequate, thus obviating the need for a syringe.

              Hope this helps.

              6 Replies
              1. re: hohokam

                Oops. Forgot to add...Wise implies that the cured hocks should keep up to 5 days under refrigeration.

                1. re: hohokam

                  Thanks a lot hohokam. This is helpful. Doesn't look like I'll be smoking hocks this weekend.

                  1. re: grandgourmand

                    Ran across another method you might be interested in...

                    In "Charcuterie", Ruhlman and Polcyn present a 4-day cure procedure for preparing smoked ham hocks (3 days in the brine + 1/2-1 day drying in the fridge) .

                    Their brine is as follows:

                    1 gallon water
                    350g kosher salt
                    225g sugar
                    42g Insta Cure #1 (pink salt)
                    8 fresh ham hocks (~3.5kg total weight)

                    Combine brine ingredients, heat and stir until salts and sugar dissolve. Chill brine thoroughly. Keep hocks submerged in brine for 3 days under refrigeration. Remove hocks from brine, rinse well, and pat dry. Place rinsed, dried hocks on a rack in the refrigerator for 8-24 hours. Hot smoke hocks to internal temperature of 150 degrees F.

                    1. re: hohokam

                      Thanks for that one. I think that's the ticket. I'm definitely buying that book. Father's day coming up (hopefully my wife checks my posts)

                      1. re: grandgourmand

                        Ruhlman uses the same brine (plus some garlic and herbs) for making canadian bacon. Seems you'lll be spending a lot of time on prep and smoking for just 3 hocks, so why not make some Canadian bacon at the same time? Add 2 or 3 pounds of pork loin to the brine after giving the hocks a 2 day head start, then take everything out and smoke 2 days later.

                        I find smoke tends to overwhelm most herbal flavors (especially when you add herbs to a wet cure), but if you want to include them, the recipe for 1 gallon of brine includes a "bunch" each of sage and thyme, plus 2 garlic cloves.

                        1. re: Zeldog

                          I had been planning on doing a quick cure, then putting the hocks on the grill alongside some ribs and chicken that I'm also smoking. Obviously that won't work this time and I need to think of another meat to smoke alongside my ribs and chicken (such a good problem to have).

                          However, next time, I'll plan to do some bacon and pork hocks in tandem. Need to get some belly, though. Haven't gotten around to that yet.

              2. I also bought pork hocks today, because they looked good and were cheap.
                I've rubbed them with salt and sugar and pickling spice, and tomorrow morning I'll smoke them over maple in my woodstove, fairly hot but it doesn't take long to get smokey taste, then put them in with some navy beans I've got soaking after I've cooked the beans, and dump the lot into the slow cooker, maybe with a can of pickled Jalapenos, then throw in some onion garlic canned tomato, whatever through the day as it cooks down. We have a snowstorm in the forcast so this'll be a stormday feed, i imagine it'll
                taste OK.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Rubiolio

                  YOu're being modest. It'll be better than OK, I'm sure. Aside from pea soup, which is what I have in mind from my french canadian background, the smoked pork hock with beans seems great. Jamie Oliver has a recipe using a smoked pork hock, and flaking the meat over vegetables braised in the broth.