In my continuing crusade to make you all buy smokers, I’ve recently written a general primer about smoking meat, blogged about smoked salmon (which I maintain is the easiest and best meat to smoke for a beginner) and smoked turkey (which is one of the harder meats to smoke right, surpassed only, in my experience, by beef brisket and pulled pork, which I haven’t blogged yet). But second only to salmon for the winning combination of ease and tastiness is probably pork loin.
To be clear, I’m not talking about the big, fat pork loin roast, but rather the longer and skinnier pork loin (frequently sold two at a time in a vacuum pack). Preparation is remarkably easy. Some people always cut off the “silver membrane”, and some don’t. I usually make an effort to get it off, but don’t kill myself trying. Really you can use any dry bbq rub, whether a spicy chili powder-based rub, or a sweeter rub with brown sugar in it. I’d let that sit anywhere between 3 hours and overnight to adhere nicely to the meat, and then put on a bbq sauce about a half hour before you take it off the smoker (I used to always put it on in the beginning, as seen in the pics below, but now I do it near the end instead)–once again going spicy or sweet, depending on how you rubbed it. You can even go just with the rub or marinade or just the sauce without going too wrong. I would think that some of the fruit glazes might conflict with the smoke, but you can choose what you want based on your own tastes.
My personal preference is to soak it for a few hours in Stubb’s Pork Marinade (though I have no problem using a rub if I don’t have the marinade on hand), and then use Woody’s Sweet-n-Smoky BBQ Sauce (used to be called Sweet-n-Sour, but I guess they didn’t want to confuse people) 30 minutes before taking off the smoker. Both of these are regularly available at regular grocery stores if you keep your eyes open, but there are plenty of other substitutes that work just fine. I tend to prefer the sweeter sauces for pork loin, and the sauces turn into almost a glaze in the smoker, which is nice…
From there, it is as simple as smoking gets. A 1 1/2 to 2 pound pork tenderloin will take about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, and sincethey usually come in packages of two, I usually do both together, with no additional cook time. For a two hour smoke, you will likely need to add new coals (and a few more chunks of wood) halfway through the cooking time, to keep up the heat, but you are very unlikely to have to add anything to your water pan. If you’ve kept the temperature at 225 to 275, I can nearly guarantee it will be done by two hours. You can generally tell whether it is done based on the firmness of the meat, but those who like to follow safety standards and are using a meat thermometer (preferably one that constantly reads the temperature without having to open the smoker) can take it off when it hits 145 degrees (old rules said 155-160!), and wrap it in foil on the cutting board for 5-10 minutes afterwards. If you did it right, it will still be pink! The pink around the outside is called the “smoke ring”, and it is prized for its appearance, tenderness, and taste.
Slice it into quarter inch rounds, and you will have an amazingly tasty, tender, and very lean (for pork) treat. You can generally serve a family of 4 with one loin, and I usually save the extra to chop up for bbq pork sandwiches or to put into chili, but none of it has ever gone to waste.
- 1 or 2 pork tenderloins (1.5-2 pounds each)
- ½ cup marinade (I prefer Stubb’s Pork Marinade) or dry rub (I prefer one with brown sugar)
- ½ cup bbq sauce (any sort that won’t conflict with your rub or marinade)
- 4-6 wood (hickory for a stronger flavor, pecan, cherry or apple for something milder) chunks, or 2 cups of wood chips (in foil packet, if chips)
- Cut silver membrane off pork loin, if you feel like it.
- Marinade or dry rub pork loin (can be done overnight, but citrus based marinades should only be done 2-3 hours max).
- Drain marinade (if used) and place pork loin on smoker.
- Smoke approximately 2 hours at 225, replacing charcoal (and adding new wood chips) once, or as needed, to maintain temperature.
- About 30 minutes before taking it off the smoker, baste with BBQ sauce, if using.
- When the meat reaches 145 degrees, take off smoker and wrap in foil for 5-10 minutes.
- Slice thinly and serve with more bbq sauce on the side or with a chutney.