The plentiful pig is a gift that keeps on giving. When it comes to pork, I have the utmost respect for the nose-to-tail movement that does not waste a bit of the animal. Pigs, or hogs, have so many edible parts with varying intensities of flavor and texture.
I am especially enamored with free range pigs that roam the countryside feasting on acorns that drop from the oak trees. Pigs that move all day have leaner meat, but still have enough fat to flavor the muscle. For this recipe, if you can get your hands on a heritage breed pork loin you will not be disappointed.
You can smoke this on either an electric or charcoal smoker. The recipe here is for both. I recommend using the Masterbuilt Digital Electric Smoker with the meat probe thermometer or the Masterbuilt Bullet Charcoal Smoker.
Loin vs. Tenderloin
There are two different cuts that come from what is referred to as the loin. Both are very lean muscles near the center of the back that actually don’t get much of a workout. These muscles are quite soft and tender, unlike the butt or the shoulder roast cuts.
In this recipe you will use the loin which has a slightly more pronounced pork flavor than the tenderloin. It is also a larger cut and better priced. The tenderloin has almost no fat, is mild in flavor, and extremely tender when cooked properly. It smokes just fine, but I really prefer the additional fat and flavor in the loin. The small amount of fat is what makes the loin juicy and a little less finicky with cook time.
Should You Brine Pork Loin?
While I am not a huge fan of brining meat, I do often brine tougher cuts of pork overnight in a water, salt, and sugar bath. Pork can dry out and become chewy if even slightly overcooked. Brining helps to control that by breaking down the muscle tissue. I take exception to a loin or the tenderloin. I don’t brine these cuts, as these muscles don’t really need any extra breaking down.
If you want to brine, then by all means go ahead. You will need 1/2 cup salt + 1/2 sugar to a gallon of water for the brine. The recipe here can be prepared with brined or fresh pork loin. Just be sure to thoroughly rinse the brine off and dry the pork before applying the rub.
Spiced Smoked Pork Loin with Apple Cabbage Slaw
Spiced Smoked Pork Loin
This recipe uses spices that are both savory and sweet to compliment the pork and the slaw. Pork is a mild meat that takes on intense flavors really well. I like to think of it as the tofu of the meat world. The wood chips can be either oak or apple, or whatever you have access to. Fruit wood is great with pork. Oak is also good because oak trees produce the acorns that hogs love to nibble on.
- 4 to 6 pound whole boneless pork loin
- 1 TBS Chinese five spice powder
- 2 tsps sea salt
- 1 tsp cracked black pepper
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg (optional)
- 2 TBS grapeseed or safflower oil
- Unsweetened apple juice
- Oak or apple wood chips
Total time: 4 hour – Prep time: 1 hour – Cook time: 3 hour
Directions for electric smoker:
1. Rinse the pork loin in cool water and pat dry with paper towels to remove all moisture. Trim any silver skin and excess fat. Do leave a 1/4″ of fat cap on for moisture and flavor. Place the loin on a sheet pan.
2. Combine the spices and herbs with the oil in a small bowl. Rub this mixture all over the loin and allow it to rest for at room temperature for up to 60 minutes. This is a good time to make your slaw so it too can rest.
3. Preheat your electric smoker to 225˚F.
4. Place 50% apple juice and 50% water in the bowl at the base of your smoker. Add the wood chips to the side tray.
5. Place the pork loin on the middle rack inside the smoker, fat side up, and insert the probe thermometer. Close the door and set the timer for 3 hours. You are looking for an internal temperature of 155˚F. Begin checking the meat at 2 hours.
6. Check the smoke every 45 minutes and add wood chips if you don’t see any smoke. Add water and apple juice as needed.
7. When the pork is smoked to the correct temperature, remove it to a cutting board and tent with aluminum foil. Allow the meat to rest for at least 20 minutes before slicing to serve. Slice thinly for sandwiches and slice into 1/2” thick pieces for an entrée portion. Enjoy with slaw and maybe some roasted potatoes.
Directions for a charcoal smoker:
1. Rinse, dry, trim, and season the meat as described above.
2. Soak the wood chips in water for 30 to 60 minutes.
3. Light the charcoal as directed in the smoker instructions in the base of the smoker. Add the wood chips when the charcoal is turning white and the thermometer reads 225˚F. Place the water bowl in next and fill with 1” of apple juice and water. Place the grill rack on the smoker.
4. Place the loin, fat side up, on the grill just above the water bowl. (You might have to cut it in half to fit properly). Close the lid and smoke until the internal temperature of the meat is 155˚F. This will take approximately 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 hours with the grill temperature at 225˚F to 250˚F. Add more wood chips at 60 minutes. You might also have to add a few more coals.
5. Serve as suggested above.
Cabbage, Apple, and Hazelnut Slaw
This is a tangy and semi-sweet slaw that pairs really well with juicy smoked pork. It doesn’t have any heavy mayonnaise to compete with the slight fat of the pork. If you aren’t a fan of hazelnuts, also known as filberts, then try walnuts or pistachios.
- 1/2 medium head of green cabbage
- 1/2 medium head of purple cabbage
- 2 large or 3 small Fuji or Gala apples, unpeeled if organic
- 2 TBS raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp pure maple syrup
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp cracked black pepper
- 1/2 cup hazelnuts, dry toasted and roughly chopped
1. Wash and drain the produce. Shred the cabbage and apples on a box grater, or slice thinly and chop into bite size pieces.
2. Place the cabbage and apples in a large bowl and add the vinegar, syrup, salt, and pepper. Toss with clean hands to combine well. Put this in the refrigerator until the pork has fully rested.
3. Toast the hazelnuts in a dry pan over medium heat, being mindful not to burn them. Give them a rough chop. Top the slaw with them just before serving.
4. Serve alongside the pork loin or as a topping on a smoked pork sandwich.
Pork Safety Tips
It used to be that we were told to cook pork until it was well down and brown throughout. This was due to the trichinella parasite that was often found in pork raised in close quarters and unsanitary conditions. Present day farming practices and better controlled production and processing have lowered the risk of the pigs and us becoming infected with trichinosis.
It is now considered alright to serve properly raised pork just slightly pink. USDA guidelines have made pork a much safer meat product. Here are a few tips for handling pork.
- Buy your pork from a reputable source, such as a local farm or knowledgeable butcher.
- If possible, buy free range, organic, and free of hormones and antibiotics.
- Smell the pork for freshness and look for a pink flesh.
- Rinse well and dry.
- Always wash your hands and sanitize surfaces after contact with raw pork.
- Store pork in the refrigerator.
- Cook pork to a minimum of 145˚F.
- Allow pork to rest before serving, as it will continue to cook and retain its juices.
Pork is so much better tasting when handled properly and cooked to medium.