Pork loin is one of the simplest cuts of pork to smoke - it's basically as simple as taking it out of the vacuum packing, applying your dry rub, and putting it on the smoker.
You also don't have to take the meat to higher temperatures and stop at around 145F internal.
Pork loin takes well to dry rubs and is super moist when smoked correctly.
While pork loin and pork tenderloin have similar names, they are not the same thing and can't be substituted for each other in this recipe.
The pork loin comes from the upper back of the hog along the back-bone.
While, the pork tenderloin comes from along the central spine (ventral to the lumbar vertebrae).
Apart from their different locations on the hog, the most obvious difference is that the pork loin is a huge cut of meat - typically weighing anywhere from 8 - 12 lbs. A pork tenderloin is a small cut of meat, usually weighing 1 - 11/2 lbs.
Tenderloin works best with high heat methods of cooking - like roasting, pan searing, sautéing, or stir frying; This is because there is very little marbling. Pork tenderloin also cannot be overcooked without ruining its texture.
Pork tenderloin will also have a rather obvious looking silverskin that needs to be removed before cooking.
Pork loin works quite well when grilled over moderate heat or slow roasted. In our case, we're slow cooking it on the smoker and then quickly searing it at the end.
A pork loin is a rather large muscle - weighing anywhere from 8-12 lbs. Most folks don't want or need this much meat. In a grocery store you'll find the pork loin sold in two ways - either whole or halved.
For this recipe, I used half a pork loin.
Apart from picking one of the appropriate weight (the above was 4.92 lbs) - you should also realize that since there are two halves, they can also cook differently.
For instance, the above pork loin is from closer to the shoulder/butt area of the hog. The reason we know this is because of the structure of the meat and the fat cap.
To illustrate, this end is closer to the shoulder.
Where-as the other side is where it was halved. We have more structural integrity and way less intramuscular fat; Which is indicative of loin meat.
The above cut is my personal preference as the shoulder end has more internal fat and is more tender.
Whenever I make a pork loin like this, I like to use the loin end as sandwich meat (thinly sliced) and the shoulder end as 1/2 inch slices to be eaten with fixin's or as a standalone.
The only other consideration is bone-in or boneless. I'd recommend buying a boneless pork loin for this recipe.
I'd also avoid what's called "enhanced meat." An enhanced pork loin is injected with a solution of water and other ingredients like salt, phosphates, and flavorings.
Loin meat is already really tender and you're also paying extra money for the added enhancement.
Pork loin doesn't have a super forward porcine flavor, similar to other cuts of pork like baby backs or even pulled pork. However, it does take quite well to spices/rubs.
I like to experiment with pork loin as it's a super cheap cut of meat. However, I do have a fairly standard mixture of spices I tend to use.
For this pork tenderloin recipe, I used the following:
Note: I quite like the spices from Burlap and Barrel. All of the above apart from Kosher salt, Turbinado Sugar, and Dry Mustard were sourced from them.
Something I bring up a lot is how A LOT of recipes online will tell you to use paprika. However, more often than not, the paprika they're using is of super poor quality. To the point where it only exists to impart color.
Personally, I'd rather have my smoke impart the color and get actual flavor from the paprika - which is the case with Burlap and Barrel's Sweet pepper paprika.
The first thing to do is take the pork loin out of the vacuum packaging.
Once removed from the package, discard the vacuum packing and purge (the liquid inside the package) in the trash.
DO NOT rinse the meat or dump the purge down the drain. Doing so will contaminate the sink and potentially other surfaces.
Use a paper towel to pat-dry the meat.
Now, depending on which of the two loins you purchased, you need to make 1/4" slices into the fat cap to allow spices to further penetrate.
Since I bought the loin closest to the shoulder, this side doesn't tend to have much of a fat cap. The cuts I made look like this:
If you bought the other loin, you'd make these cuts on the entire back-side of the loin - the entire fat cap.
Once the loin is prepared, you can apply your dry rub. The dry rub I used for this recipe is outlined above.
The goal is just to cover all surfaces of the meat - including the fat cap side. You don't have to worry about "over-seasoning" as it's a rather large piece of meat.
This is also a reason I said to avoid enhanced loins as most of those liquids are salt-based. As you can imagine, applying a commercial barbecue rub or even using my ingredients list would add even more salt; The result would be a salty pork loin.
I really like using fruit woods with pork, especially cherry; Any hardwood would do.
To start, I put the pork loin in the opposite zone of the fire. I also oriented the fat cap towards the fire and angled the shoulder end of the loin as far away as possible.
The reason for this is that this end will cook much faster than the other.
I only added a cherry wood chunk twice throughout the cook. One at the start, and one after an hour on the smoker.
After an hour, the meat looked like this:
Roughly 40 minutes later I opted to quickly temperature check the meat just to get an idea of how close we are.
As luck would have it, the meat was right at 146F.
With pork loin you want to be at around 145F; Any higher than this and you'd simply dry out the meat.
When I probed, I only temperature checked the meat closest to the fire - again, the shoulder end will finish much faster.
The thermometer above is ThermoWorks Thermapen One.
Once you reach 145F internal, it's time to sear the meat in order to develop the bark.
Sear on both sides for roughly 30-60 seconds.
Once done, you can take it off the smoker and allow to rest for 15 minutes.
However, something I like to do is use a glaze of some sort. In my fridge I had some of Kosmos Q's Cherry Apple Habanero Glaze.
I simply put the meat back in the indirect zone of the Weber kettle and painted some of the glaze on top. I then covered the lid and allowed the glaze to set for 5 minutes.
Once done, take the pork loin off the smoker to rest for 15 minutes.
Slicing pork loin is fairly straight-forward. Simply cut against the grain.
Pictured below is the grain direction of pork loin (in green) - you then would slice against the grain (in white).
I really like pork loin sandwiches so I had a few thinner slices for sandwiches and thicker slices to eat with other fixin's.
Pork loin is a cut of meat that is really overlooked. When smoked properly, it's wicked tender and juicy. It also smokes quite quickly at around 2-3 hours and the above meat only cost me $11 for 4.92 lbs of meat.
If you're looking for something to feed a crowd on a budget, pork loin is a great option.
It also tastes wonderful!