Brining is a very simple and useful way of getting lots of flavor into meat. You know those award-winning pork ribs that you can’t quite duplicate at home, even though it should be straightforward? The secret may very well be that the ribs were brined. And for great roast chicken a quick brining is fantastic. The technique seems to work well with pork and poultry. Aside from corned beef I can’t think of any reason to brine any other meats. It just doesn’t seem…right. Of course tomorrow I will find a simply incredible recipe for brined porterhouse (I doubt it, but anything is possible).
I think that brining may reach its ultimate expression with big thick pork chops. A quick brine and then a sear on a very hot grill, followed by 10-15 minutes on a cooler grill with the lid closed is pretty much the best way to cook them. If they are really thick, and they should be, I will tip them up onto the bone for the slow part of the cooking.
I use an 8:1 ratio of water to salt and brown sugar, and usually toss in some fresh thyme if I have it and several grinds of pepper. But any flavor that can be extracted by water will get into the meat. So go to town! however, I limit the brining to several hours. Any more than that and the meat tends to get too salty, especially ribs.
As for why it works, or what it does? I could guess, but I would rather just enjoy those juicy pork chops that are grilling as I type this.