Smoked pork loin is one of the quicker things you can barbecue, taking just under two hours to achieve smokey perfection.
This recipe is sponsored by the National Pork Board.
Why smoke a pork loin?
The pig is no stranger to the smoker. Whole hog, ribs and pork shoulders are some of the most iconic items in American BBQ history. Heck, even bacon is finished on the bbq pit to achieve it’s signature smokey aroma. But all these items come with pretty long cook times, and sometimes it’s nice to be able to enjoy the flavors of the smoker without the extended wait. That’s where pork loin comes in. A whole section of loin is a fantastic option to serve to a crowd, and slices beautifully for presentation. Best of all, it’s ready in just under two hours. Even less if you use a smaller portion. For this recipe, I used boneless loin, but you could also use bone-in rack of pork (which would be perfect for a holiday meal). I recommend using at least 3lb of whole loin – if your piece is too much smaller you may encounter issues with dry meat.
Make time to brine before smoking.
The one thing loin needs a lil’ helping hand with is making sure it doesn’t dry out. It’s a much leaner cut than shoulder, and doesn’t have as much fat to protect it during the cooking stages. But there’s an easy step you can take which will not only help keep your pork super moist, but also introduces awesome flavor to the delicate loin: brining. Brining is the step of soaking the meat before cooking in a special saline solution, which helps to keep it super juicy while it’s getting a smoke bath in the bbq pit. A basic brine consists of water, sugar and salt, but you can replace some of the water with fruit juices to boost the layers of flavor. I recommend apple, cranberry or even peach nectar.
Mix up your flavor options.
To pair with the sweet brine, I’ll be using mustard, savory BBQ rub and a tangy vinegar mopping sauce. Both mustard and vinegar are classic ingredients of Carolina BBQ, which is all pork based. The mustard gives you another great opportunity to experiment with different flavors – I used American mustard but you can easily use dijon or honey mustard if you prefer. And if you’re into heat, mix a little hot sauce in to your mustard slather to spice things up a bit. To achieve a vivid color and crusty bark, I used my own Hardcore Carnivore Red seasoning, but you can use your preferred seasoning of choice.
Wood, Pellet or Charcoal will work!
I have a bunch of different smokers at my disposal, and while I love my wood-fired offset cooker for longer cooks, the convenience of a pellet grill cannot be beat. Because this loin cooks so quickly, I opted for my pellet cooker to just get it done fast. You could also use a charcoal grill set up for two zone cooking, and slowly cook the loin over indirect heat, throwing in some wood chips or chunks for added smoke flavor. I chose cherrywood pellets, but any sort of fruit wood or maple will compliment the pork really well. The smoke helps to firm up the crust of the mustard and bbq seasoning, and picks up a bunch of extra flavor.
Pay attention to temperature.
I always tell people – the most important tool a meat cook can have (aside from great meat!) is a thermometer. It’s particularly important when you are cooking pork. First, pork needs to be cooked to a safe temperature of at least 145f. Secondly, by knowing exactly when your meat hits this mark, you can avoid overcooking and drying it out. In this case, I remove the loin just a few degrees before it’s ready (usually 140-142) so that it climbs to the final 145f temp during the rest, and I’m not cooking it more than I need to. You can use a probe style thermometer which sits in the meat during the entire smoking process, or a quick-read thermometer which gives you an instant reading. Either way, just make sure you’re paying attention to that internal temp!
They’re not leftovers, they’re plannedovers.
The idea of leftovers is nowhere near as fun as the idea of ‘planned overs’- which is purposefully cooking more than you need to use the meat for later in the week. Basically, your present self is saving your future self extra work. So, you’re welcome. While loin is a leaner cut, there are still some great ways you can repurpose smoked pork loin in another dish. My favorite is to create a melt. I thinly slice the pork (nearly like deli meat), then layer it on top of a bun or bagel half, top with a slice of provolone and then pop it in the oven until the pork is thoroughly reheated and the cheese is melty and gooey!
Smoked pork loin with vinegar mopped crust
4 lb whole pork loin
For the brine: 1/2 cup kosher salt, 1 cup brown sugar, 24 oz fruit juice, 2 quarts cold water
2–3 tablespoons mustard
2–3 tablespoons Hardcore Carnivore Red seasoning
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup bbq sauce
- Start by making the brine. Pour two cups of water into a small saucepan with the sugar and salt. Place over low heat, stirring frequently until dissolved. Allow mixture to cool, then combine with remaining water and juice. Place pork loin in the brine solution and refrigerate for 2-4 hours.
- Fire up a smoker, pellet cooker or indirect charcoal grill to run at 225-245f.
- Remove the loin from the brine, and use paper towels to completely dry the surface on all sides. Apply the mustard, coating the loin thoroughly. Sprinkle on a generous coating of seasoning, then place the loin into the smoker to begin cooking. If using a probe thermometer, insert it now.
- In a bowl, combine the vinegar and bbq sauce. After the loin has been cooking for 30 minutes, gentle baste with half of the mop sauce. Be careful to lightly touch the surface so you don’t smear the mustard. Cook a further 30 minutes, then repeat the mop with remaining vinegar mixture.
- Continue to cook pork until it reaches an internal temperature of 140-142f. It will continue to climb to a safe temperature of 145f during the resting stage. The entire cook should take 1.5-2 hours.
- When the pork is ready, remove it to a board and cover loosely with foil (don’t disturb that beautiful crust!). Rest for 10-15 minutes, then slice and enjoy.