Pickling has been a food preservation technique for centuries. It is the process of preserving fresh foods in a vinegar solution to make them last longer and take on a briny flavor.
While we know pickling works for saving our excess produce, what would happen if meat were to be soaked overnight in vinegar?
The process of soaking meat in a briny solution overnight is typically referred to as brining or marinating. Often, the marinade is made from vinegar or acid, oil, and lots of seasonings.
We all know this brings flavor to your meat, but what does a 100% vinegar solution do to meat overnight? First, we need to dive into the science behind vinegar and why it is used for curing, preservation, and tenderizing.
Why Use Vinegar?
Vinegar is made of mostly acetic acid, which is an acid that acts as a self-preservative due to natural fermentation between the acid and sugars or ethanol. It inhibits bacteria growth, making it ideal for pickling and preserving. Foods preserved in vinegar can last for years without spoiling.
The acetic acid in vinegar increases the acidity of whatever is submerged in it, killing off any microorganisms. This creates the preserving effect. Without microorganisms, bacteria cannot multiply in an acidic environment.
Vinegar also helps to weaken collagen in meat, allowing those connective tissues to tenderize. By the time you are ready to cook the meat, the vinegar will have done its job. The ideal result is a shredded texture that melts in your mouth with a slightly acidic flavor.
Popular cured meats are often cured with vinegar. For example, chorizo is cured with vinegar before cooking. It provides a lastability that cured meats require. Vinegar also gives chorizo its unique acidic, umami flavor.
We all know how well vinegar works for preserving vegetables, so I want to see exactly what happens when a piece of meat is soaked in vinegar overnight. Does it change the flavor? The texture? Does it inhibit the growth of bacteria in the same way as vegetables?
Here is the experiment to find out the answers to these questions.
To find out exactly what vinegar does to meat, I had to choose an optimal cut of meat to brine. Chicken tends to take on flavors extremely well, however, the goal is to be able to eat the meat after the soak. A heavier cut of meat is the way to go.
I settled on a delicious, locally-raised bone-in pork loin chop. This high-quality cut of meat is perfect because it is heartier than chicken but not intensely flavored like a cut of beef.
Related: How To Preserve Beef in Glass Jars
I also wanted to choose a smaller cut of meat since the soaking time is to be 12-24 hours long. If the vinegar can preserve and penetrate this smaller roast overnight, perhaps a larger cut may soak a little longer.
There are a ton of varieties of vinegar, all of which bring something different to the table. For this experiment, I kept it simple with classic distilled white vinegar.
Folks following this recipe likely have a large bottle of distilled white vinegar laying around. With a neutral flavor and 5-6% total acidity, white vinegar is the way to go for your first time.
Meat in Vinegar Recipe
We have our meat and our vinegar picked out, so now it is time to combine them.
For this recipe, you will need:
- 1-1,5 lbs. pork loin chop, bone-in
- 2-3 cups of distilled white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon oil, for frying
- 1 teaspoon salt
- one teaspoon pepper
- A glass or non-reactive baking dish/bowl
- Plastic wrap
Begin with your pork. Add it to a glass or non-reactive dish. I used a baking dish since it was flat and fit the meat nicely.
Pour the vinegar over the meat until the meat is completely submerged. You will need more or less, depending on the size of your meat.
Cover with plastic wrap or a lid and place in the refrigerator overnight, 12-24 hours.
After 12-24 hours, your meat will have lost all of its original color. My pork was originally a beautiful pink color, but after soaking it became slightly grey and dull. Also, the meat seemed to have changed textures.
It went from raw meat to jellied during its overnight soak, which was unexpected.
After the overnight soak, remove the meat from the vinegar. Pat dry with paper towels to remove surface-level moisture. Your pork will have a strong vinegary smell with no notes of raw meat.
Next, it’s time to cook the meat. In a large cast-iron skillet, add 1 tablespoon of oil and turn the heat to medium. Allow the skillet to get hot before adding the pork.
Sear the pork and cook about 5-6 minutes per side until well-done. The meat will smell intensely briny when cooking.
Remove from the heat when the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow the meat to rest for about 5 minutes before slicing and serving.
Tasting the Results
Surprisingly, the flavor of the vinegar-soaked pork was fantastic. The meat was extremely tender and shredded apart as I ate it. It was reminiscent of wiener schnitzel or sauerbraten because the meat was acidic and flavorful.
The jellied texture of the raw meat was a roadblock that I thought might derail the entire experiment. To my surprise, the meat exhibited no jellied consistency. In fact, the texture of the cooked meat was spectacular. This was one of the most tender pork loin chops that I have ever cooked before!
In terms of vinegar preventing spoilage on the meat, the results are hard to conclude. When uncovering the pork from the brine for the first time, I gave it the smell test.
Aside from being extremely potent with vinegar, there was no smell of raw pork whatsoever. With eyes closed, you would not know that you were sniffing raw meat. While that does not mean too much for detecting spoilage, it is a start. A longer brine may yield different results in the future.
It is safe to conclude that soaking your meat in vinegar overnight not only adds great flavor but also adds wonderful texture and is a reliable way to prevent bacteria growth.
Different meats and different types of vinegar may bring on different flavors and results. The base flavors of pork and white vinegar work well together and are affordable, making this experiment great for anyone who would like to recreate it.
Meat in Vinegar
In this experiment, we set out to find out what happens if you soak your meat in vinegar overnight. It was found that soaking pork in white vinegar for 12-24 hours flavored, tenderized, and prevented bacteria growth in the meat.
Your pork may develop a grey color and jellied texture upon soaking but do not give up there. Searing and cooking the meat yields a more appealing color, ridding the meat of its greyishness.
If you are a fan of vinegar and briny dishes, you will be a fan of the meat’s flavor and aroma. To preserve meat in the future, do not hesitate to utilize vinegar.
Soak your meat for up to 24 hours for optimal flavor and texture. The experiment was worth it and I found it to be a useful technique for processing meats cheaply and effectively.
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What Happens If You Soak Your Meat In Vinegar Overnight? is written by Tracy Nawara for www.askaprepper.com