Often confused with pork tenderloin, a pork loin is a good ol’ hunk of pork meat that is perfect for smoking.
When smoked to perfection, pork loin is juicy, tender. It is ideal for sandwiches, cold cuts and sliced thinly to accompany vegetables. It is utterly delicious.
A standard pork loin can weigh anywhere between 2lbs and 5lbs. It’s a solid bit of meat and as such, it can be difficult to work out how long to cook it for.
You definitely don’t want to overcook pork loin as it becomes chewy and tough. But don’t worry, we have all the answers right here.
Pork Loin vs Pork Tenderloin
First things first, let’s make sure you’re using the right cut. Pork loin and pork tenderloin might have similar names, but they are very different cuts.
Pork loin comes from the back of the big. It’s sometimes called a center cut pork loin roast or a pork loin center cut. The center in these names refers to the fact that it comes from the center of the back.
A pork tenderloin is the muscle that runs along the spine of the pig. It’s sometimes called a pork fillet or a gentleman’s cut. Don’t ask me why.
Pork loin is a big slab of meat. It often has a cap of fat on the top and can come with or without bones. If you do have a bone-in pork loin it will generally have the ribs sticking out of the meat. This is sometimes called Frenched pork loin.
Pork tenderloin never comes with a bone. It is a much smaller piece of meat. Usually only about a pound in weight. Pork tenderloins are sold whole rather than being cut to size.
In terms of texture and flavor, pork loin is pretty lean and mildly flavored. It doesn’t have the tanginess of bacon or belly but it is still delicious.
Pork tenderloin is a very muscular cut so it is very lean. It isn’t as flavorful as pork loin but it is much more tender. In fact, when cooked right, it is the most tender part of the pig.
So, basically, you need to make sure that you have a big chunk of pork in front of you rather than a long, skinny cut.
Preparing Pork Loin
Now that we have the correct meat, we can move on to preparing the pork loin.
There are two steps to preparing pork loin. The first is brining and the second is the rub. Ideally, you’ll want to do these the day before you cook the loin so that the brine and rub have time to permeate the pork.
Brine the Pork Loin
As loin is a pretty lean cut it can become dry when cooked in a smoker. This is because it doesn’t have enough fat to keep it moist throughout the smoking. Any meat that is going to spend a lot of time cooking should really be brined first.
To brine a pork loin, you’ll need some water and some salt. It doesn’t matter what salt you use because you’re going to dissolve it anyway.
If you want to spice things up you can add fresh herbs and spices to the water. The pork will absorb the flavors as it brines.
In a large tub mix together a quart of water and ¼ cup of salt. Give it a good stir and then submerge the pork loin. The loin needs to be fully covered. If you have a big loin then you may need to increase the water and salt. Just make sure to stick to that ratio. Otherwise, you’ll have over-salted pork.
Leave the pork loin in the fridge for about 12 hours or overnight. This gives the pork time to absorb first the salt and then the water. It will add moisture to the meat. This will prevent the loin from drying out.
Once you remove the pork loin from the brine, make sure to rinse it off and pat it dry.
This isn’t strictly necessary. You can cook the pork with just its natural flavoring, but where’s the fun in that?
Rubs are a mixture of dried herbs and spices. They season the meat and give a great flavor all over. What flavor rub you choose is up to you. You could go for a barbeque flavor, a garlic and herb flavor, or perhaps a spiced rub.
There are hundreds of different brands and flavors available online and at the store. You can also create your own rub by simply combining some dried herbs.
To apply the rub, sprinkle it generously over the meat. You’ll need to cover all the pork loin so you’ll have to turn it at some point. I recommend placing the pork on a baking sheet while you do the rub. This means that when you turn the meat, it picks up the seasoning that falls to the sheet.
Once you’ve sprinkled the rub, you’ll need to rub it in, duh! You might want to use gloves for this part. You’ll need to make sure that every inch of the pork is coated. If you have a fat cap, make sure to get the rub underneath it as much as you can.
Smoking Pork Loin
You’ll need your smoker to be at around 250°F before you put the pork in. It will also need to stay at this temperature so have a thermometer handy.
Place the pork on the grill rack with the fat facing up. If you put the fat directly onto the grill it will end up at the bottom of the smoker. This is a pain to clean and you lose the flavor of the fat.
Your pork loin will need to stay in the smoker for half an hour per pound of meat. On average, it’ll need about three hours to cook.
You can check whether it’s done by using a meat thermometer. Stick it into the loin and check for a temperature of between 140°F and 160°F at the center. You must check the center temperature, not the outer edges.
Once it’s cooked you can slice it up and enjoy! You might notice that the center is a bit pinker than the rest of the meat even after checking with the thermometer. This is ok. A bit of pink is not dangerous.
Pork loin is an underrated smoking meat. It’s versatile, juicy, and when done right, lovely and tender.
You can serve it up straight from the smoker or you can let it cool and have cold cut sandwiches. What more can you ask for?