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Does "Enhanced Pork" Mean Better?

By Cook's Illustrated Published September 2002

The pork industry has introduced a product called “enhanced pork"—is it better than other offerings?

Our obsession with fat has prompted the pork industry to breed a leaner pig. Today’s pork is 50 percent leaner than its counterpart in the 1950’s and less fat means less flavor and moisture. The industry has addressed this issue by introducing a product called “enhanced pork”—meat injected with a solution of water, salt, and sodium phosphate. The idea is to both season the pork and prevent it from drying out. (The sodium phosphate increase the pH of the meat which improves its water-retention abilities.) We wondered if we could skip brining and save time by using enhanced pork.

In a side by side test, we compared enhanced pork chops and unenhanced pork chops as well as brined versions of both. The enhanced pork was salty and had a somewhat artificial flavor. When brined, these chops were extremely salty and inedible. The unenhanced pork that was not brined was dry and bland. The unenhanced pork that had been brined was juicy and well seasoned—it was the clear winner.

As far as we are concerned, the benefits of brining pork are clear. First, you control the salt and avoid any artificial aftertaste. Second, brining guarantees moist meat (as long as you don’t overcook pork). During our research, we found a few supermarkets that only carried enhanced pork. If you must buy an enhanced pork, skip the brining step in our pork chop recipes.