How to Make Lean, Muscle-Building Meals With Hard Cider

Pork with apple cider
William and Susan Brinson

Everybody knows you can cook with wine and beer. But there’s another libation that will add a little fist-pumping, cat-calling action to your meals: hard cider. (Um, by the way, please drink responsibly.) Craft ciders are experiencing a major boom, and not just as beverages: They add an earthy sweetness to a brine or broth, to create flavorful-yet-lean pork, fish, and chili dishes. There’s no buzz (sorry), since the alcohol burns off—but then, so will the fat from your abs. Here are our favorite, most flavorful muscle-building meals.

Best Muscle-Building Meals to Make With Hard Cider

1. Brined Pork with Potato Mash

Makes: 4 Servings


  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 2 1/2 cups hard cider
  • 1 lb pork tenderloin
  • Black pepper
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • 2 tbsp chopped chives


  1. Boil 1 1/2 cups water in a pot. Place sugar and salt in a container large enough for pork to lie flat and add boiled water. Stir until sugar and salt are dissolved. Pour in 1 1/2 cups cider. Place pork in container, seal shut, and chill for at least 6 hours or overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 425°F. Remove pork from brine, pat dry with paper towel, and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Season with black pepper. Roast until pork reaches an internal temperature of 145°F, about 20 minutes. Let pork rest for about 5 minutes before slicing.
  3. Place sweet potatoes, 1 cup cider, garlic, and a couple pinches salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer covered for 20 minutes, stirring potatoes a few times. Uncover, raise heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally,
    until most of the cider has evaporated and potatoes are very tender, about 10 minutes. Add more cider to pan if needed. Stir in butter, thyme, cinnamon, and chili powder and then mash with a potato masher or fork.
  4. Place sweet potato mash on serving plates and top with slices of pork. Garnish with chives.

Nutrition (per serving): 304 calories, 25g protein, 27g carbs, 5g fat

Why we love it: Pork tenderloin is just as lean as skinless chicken breast, with just three grams of fat and 120 calories per serving. Swap the two for muscle-building meals that feel new and exciting.

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Poached Halibut and Stewed Tomatoes
William and Susan Brinson

2. Poached Halibut and Stewed Tomatoes

Makes: 2 Servings


  • 2 (6 oz) halibut or other white-flesh fish fillets
  • 1 1/2 cups hard cider
  • 1 yellow onion, quartered
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 cup sliced basil


  1. Place halibut, 1 cup cider, onion, thyme sprigs, and salt in a large saucepan. Add enough water to completely cover the fish by about one inch. Bring to a very slight simmer with just a few bubbles breaking the surface, reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover, and cook for 10 minutes, or until fish is cooked through. Adjust heat as needed during cooking to maintain the slight simmer.
  2. Place a skillet over medium heat and add the oil. Add tomatoes, shallots, garlic, and fennel seeds; heat 1 minute. Pour in cider, add a couple pinches of salt, and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in black pepper.
  3. Serve halibut topped with tomato-cider mixture and basil.

Nutrition (per serving): 359 calories, 37g protein, 16g carbs, 11g fat

Why we love it: The omega-3 fats in halibut can keep your blood pressure from boiling over, say researchers in the Journal of Nutrition. Also, tomatoes contain vitamin B6, which helps your body metabolize protein. Prioritize the two when whipping up muscle-building meals.


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3. Turkey Chili

Makes: 4 Servings


  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 lb lean ground turkey
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp chipotle chili powder
  • 1 1/2 cups hard cider
  • 2 (15 oz ) cans diced fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 2 (15 oz) cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce


  1. Place a large saucepan over medium heat and add oil. Add onion, carrots, and salt; cook 5 minutes. Place turkey and garlic in pan; heat 4 minutes. Add tomato paste, oregano, cumin, chipotle chili powder, and salt; heat 30 seconds. Add cider to pan, bring to a boil, and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes.
  2. Add tomatoes, beans, and Worcestershire sauce; simmer for 20 minutes.

Nutrition (per serving): 407 calories, 39g protein, 52g carbs, 6g fat

Sausage lettuce cups
William and Susan Brinson

4. Sausage Cups

Makes: 4 Servings


  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 lb lean chicken sausage, squeezed from casing
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 tsp red chili flakes
  • 1 cup + 2 tbsp hard cider
  • 3/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 large lettuce leaves
  • 2 carrots, cut into matchsticks
  • 1/2 cup sliced radish
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, cut into matchsticks


  1. Place a large skillet over medium heat and add the oil. Add sausage, shallot, garlic, and chili flakes to pan and cook 2 minutes, breaking up sausage into small pieces. Pour in 1 cup cider, bring to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  2. Whisk together yogurt, 2 tbsp cider, mustard, lemon juice, and a couple pinches each salt and pepper.
  3. Divide sausage among lettuce leaves and top with carrot, radish, apple, and yogurt sauce.

Nutrition (per serving): 261 calories, 16g protein, 21g carbs, 12g fat

Why we like it: Eating chicken sausage instead of pork saves at least 50 calories/serving (brilliant hack when making muscle-building meals). Radishes contain an antioxidant that fights colon and prostate cancer.


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5. Braised Greens

Makes: 4 Servings


  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 cup hard cider
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 large bunch curly kale, stems removed and torn into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 tsp salt


  1. Place a large skillet over medium heat and add the oil. Add shallot and garlic; heat 1 minute. Add cider and lemon zest to pan and bring to a simmer. Add kale and heat until wilted. Season with vinegar and salt.
  2. Place kale on serving plates and garnish with walnuts.

Nutrition (per serving): 179 calories, 6g protein, 19g carbs, 9g fat

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