Pork is the culinary name for meat from the domestic pig and is one of the most commonly consumed meats worldwide, with evidence of pig husbandry dating back to 5000 BC.
Since the animals are now bred to be lean, the meat is higher in protein and about 30 percent lower in calories, saturated fat and cholesterol than the pork produced in the 1970’s.
With so many lean cuts of pork to choose from, many pork cuts are comparable to skinless chicken cuts. A 3-ounce serving of pork tenderloin is as lean as a skinless chicken breast. It contains 120 calories and only 2.98 grams of total fat. Pound for pound, pork is one of the most economical buys in the meat case. Not only will you be getting nutritional value of B vitamins, zinc and iron; but pork’s financial value will leave you a little extra cash in the pocketbook.
Common Cuts of Pork for Grilling
The meatiest chops are cut from the center of the loin: The two most common types are loin chops, which look like miniature T-bone steaks with a bit of the tenderloin attached and rib chops, without the tenderloin (see Pork Tenderloin). Because they dry out quickly during cooking, it’s especially important not to overcook lean boneless chops. Choose cuts that are at least an inch thick so they stay juicy.
Buy this large cut (from the back of the pig) without bones, which makes it easier to slice. Stuff it and cook it as a roast or slice it into 1-inch chops for pan-frying and grilling.
This lean, very tender cut from the end of the loin is long, narrow and tapering at one end. It is much smaller than a pork loin roast, so it cooks quickly and is a good choice for weeknight dinners. This cut of pork is the most healthy cut of pork. Cut from the back of the pig, it has virtually no fat. This fact also makes it easy to dry out and for that reason technique is important: grill it on hot grates and grill it quickly. Tenderloins also absorb marinades really well.
Made from ground pork, sausages come in a variety of sizes and seasonings. Flavors range from sweet to savory and spicy. Sausages can be used in sauces, stews or as a pizza topping. Grilled sausage makes an excellent sandwich.
Small and meaty, these curved slabs are taken from the pig’s rib cage near the backbone. Prized for their juicy meat, they cook quickly. A full rack has at least 8 ribs. For the tenderest meat, select a rack that weighs 2 pounds or less (which should feed 2-3 people).
Although not as meaty as baby-back ribs, spare ribs rely on a generous amount of fat for flavor. Large and irregularly shaped, they come from a pig’s underbelly or lower rib cage (also the source of bacon). A full rack has at least 11 ribs and weighs 3 to 4 pounds (which should feed 3 or 4 people).
Ham is taken from a pig’s leg. Some hams are sold fresh for baking, but most are cured with brine, salt and spices, making them juicier. Some are sold fully cooked and some are smoked, which imparts a more intense flavor. Hams are sold boneless, semi-boneless and with the bone in. Bone-in hams usually yield the best flavor, while boneless are easier to cut. Ham steaks are best for the grill.
Grilling is ideal for cooking smaller pork cuts, such as chops, steaks, ham slices, tenderloins, ribs, ground pork patties, sausages and kabobs. Because grilling uses high heat and short cooking times, it tends to toughen the meat, so it is best to use the most tender cuts available. Lean pork cuts will benefit from marinating before they are grilled.
Pork steaks and pork chops that are going to be grilled should be a minimum of 3/4 to 1 inch thick because the high heat will cook the meat quickly. If the cuts are thinner than this, it is easy to overcook the meat, causing it to dry out. The meat must be watched carefully while grilling. Coating the pork with a little oil or marinating it before cooking will help keep it moist. It is important that the grill be properly preheated so that it seals the juices into the meat quickly. The temperature at which the pork is cooked and the distance it is placed from the heat source are both important for providing tender, juicy, properly cooked pork.
Using a meat thermometer is the most accurate method for testing doneness. A regular meat thermometer is inserted before placing the meat on the grill and it remains there throughout the cooking time. An instant read thermometer is used to check for the recommended temperature once the meat has been cooked.
Whether the grill is charcoal or gas, how you use the heat is key. Understanding the two grilling styles, direct and indirect, are essential for creating perfectly grilled meat. There are instances when either direct or indirect methods are appropriate. The direct method cooks foods directly over the heat source. Grill pork chops, ground pork burgers, pork kabobs and anything less than two inches in thickness over direct heat. Indirect heat cooks at a slower rate, as the heat source is off to the side, to prevent burning the outer area of the food while cooking evenly throughout. Grill larger cuts of meat, like pork shoulder and roasts, using indirect heat. (See photo above for direct/indirect heat method.)
When using direct grilling, the meat should be 3 to 6 inches away from the heat source and cooked on medium high heat. It is important that the heat source be accurately preheated to allow for even cooking. Pork is done at 160 degrees F. Cook larger cuts over indirect heat to an internal temperature of 150 degrees F. and allow the meat to rest for 10 minutes. The final internal temperature will continue to rise to 160 degrees F. A hint of pink in the center equates perfectly cooked pork that is not dried out.
Start with a clean grill. Scrub the grates with a wire brush removing all grease buildup and charred food particles prior to every use. Grease the grates with cooking oil before starting the grill to prevent sticking and burning of items to be grilled. To reduce flare ups, choose lean cuts of meat, such as: pork tenderloin, top loin chop, center loin chop, rib chop, sirloin roast or 96% lean ground pork. Also, trim any visible fat before placing on the grill.
Marinades can come from fruit and vegetable purees. Vinegar mixtures, citrus juice, herbs, spices and olive oil all make great ingredients for marinades. In addition to marinating to maximize the natural flavor of lean meats, such as pork tenderloin and ham, pair pork with fresh fruits and vegetables to brighten and lighten up summertime meals. Pairing meat with citrus fruits or adding sliced apples, strawberries or other fruit to your grilling skewer will increase the meal’s nutrition value. Grilled fruit, such as peaches, nectarines and plums add great flavor to pork entrees. Adding vegetables to the grill alongside the meat is a healthy alternative to fattening summer sides and it saves the cook time and work.
Grilled Pork Tenderloin
This is a master grilling recipe for pork tenderloin that works perfectly, no matter how you flavor the pork.
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 pork tenderloins (about 2 pounds total)
- 1 recipe Rosemary-Orange Glaze, see recipe below
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 recipe Orange Balsamic Sauce, see recipe below
In a medium bowl, mix salt and sugar with 1 quart cool water until dissolved. Trim the tenderloins of excess fat and silverskin and submerge them in the brine; let stand about 45 minutes. Remove the pork from the brine, rinse thoroughly, and pat dry.
Season and grill:
Rub the brined tenderloins all over with the Rosemary-Orange Glaze and then season with the pepper.
Heat a gas grill, turning all the burners to high until the grill is fully heated, 10 to 15 minutes.
Put the pork on the hot grill grate. Close the lid and grill for 7 minutes.
Turn the pork over, close the lid, and grill for another 6 minutes.
Turn off the heat (keep the lid closed) and continue to cook the pork for another 5 minutes. At this point, an instant-read thermometer inserted into the middle of the thickest end of the tenderloin should read 145° to 150°F. (If not, close the lid and let the pork continue to roast in the residual grill heat.) Remove the pork from the grill and let rest for 5 minutes before carving. Cut across the grain into 1/2-inch slices and serve with the Orange Balsamic Sauce .
To use a charcoal grill:
Prepare a two-zone fire, banking all the coals to one side of the grill. Use a wire brush to clean the grill rack and then brush it lightly with oil; close the lid and wait to let the air inside the grill get hot again. Position the pork directly over the hot coals and cook (covered), turning once, until nicely seared on both sides. Move the tenderloins to the coolest part of the grill (over no coals), close the lid, and cook for 5 minutes more. Grilling time may vary a bit, depending on how hot and consistent your fire is.
Yields enough to glaze two pork tenderloins.
- 1/4 cup frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 4 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
In a small saucepan, bring the concentrate, brown sugar and rosemary to a simmer. Simmer until the mixture reduces to about half. Set aside to cool slightly.
Orange Balsamic Sauce
Yields about 1/3 cup.
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil or olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
- 1/3 cup orange marmalade
- 4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and rosemary and cook until fragrant and sizzling, about 30 seconds. Stir in the marmalade and vinegar. Heat until warm. After slicing the pork, add any juices from the carving board to the sauce and mix well. Pass separately when serving the pork tenderloins.
Pork Chops with Marsala and Porcini Mushrooms
- 1½ cups very hot water
- 1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
- 4 pork rib chops, each 8 to 10 ounces and ¾ to 1 inch thick
- 3 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary, divided
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 12 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms, sliced
- 1 cup thinly sliced scallions (white and light green parts only), divided (9 scallions)
- 1/2 cup good-quality dry marsala
- 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- 1/3 cup half & half
Pour the water into a 2-cup glass measuring cup, add the porcinis, and stir to submerge. Cover with a plate or bowl to keep the porcini submerged. Let soak until the mushrooms are soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the soaking liquid and the porcini separately. If the porcini pieces are large, roughly chop them and set aside.
While the mushrooms are soaking, prepare the pork chops. In a small bowl combine 2 teaspoons of the rosemary, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Brush the pork chops on both sides with the oil and season evenly with the spices.
Prepare the grill for direct cooking over high heat (450° to 550°F).
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the creminis and cook until they release their liquid and become brown, 7 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the drained porcini, 3/4 cup of the scallions and the remaining rosemary. Saute for 2 minutes. Add the marsala and boil until reduced by about half, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the broth and the 1 cup reserved porcini soaking liquid, leaving any sediment behind. Boil until slightly reduced, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the half & half and boil until the liquid thickens to your desired sauce consistency, 3 to 5 minutes. Season the sauce with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the pork chops over direct high heat with the lid closed , 6 to 8 minutes depending on their thickness, turning once. Remove from the grill and let rest for 5 minutes. Spoon the mushroom sauce over the pork chops and top with the remaining 1/4 cup scallions.
- 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons minced red onion
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- Kosher salt
2 pork tenderloins, each about 1 pound, trimmed of silver skin and any excess fat, cut into 1¼-inch cubes
2 large bell peppers, 1 red and 1 green, cut into 1¼-inch squares
Whisk the marinade ingredients, including a 1/2 teaspoon salt. Put the pork cubes in a large, resealable plastic bag and pour in the marinade. Press the air out of the bag and seal tightly. Turn the bag to distribute the marinade, place in a bowl, and refrigerate for 4 to 8 hours, turning occasionally.
If using bamboo skewers, soak in water for at least 30 minutes.
Prepare the grill for direct cooking over high heat (450° to 550°F).
Remove the pork from the bag and discard the marinade. Thread the pork and bell pepper squares alternately onto skewers.
Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the skewers over direct high heat, with the lid closed, until the pork is barely pink in the center, 8 to 10 minutes, turning once or twice. Remove from the grill and serve immediately.
Ham Steaks with a Citrus Sauce
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
- Finely grated zest of 1 large orange
- 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon orange marmalade
- 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 bone-in ham steaks, each about 1 pound and ¾ inch thick
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 orange, cut into wedges
Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat (400° to 500°F).
In a medium, nonreactive bowl combine the sauce ingredients.
In a small saucepan combine the marmalade, orange juice and vinegar. Cook over low heat just until the mixture thins slightly.
Blot the ham steaks dry with paper towels. Brush both sides of each ham steak with the marmalade mixture and season one side evenly with 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the ham steaks over direct medium-high heat, with the lid closed, until they are grill marked and crispy around the edges, 6 to 8 minutes, turning once. Remove from the grill and cut into individual portions. Serve warm with the sauce and orange wedges.
Sausage Vegetable Grill
- 1 pound lean hot or sweet Italian Pork Sausage links, cut into 1/2-inch slices
- 1 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch slices
- 1 medium yellow summer squash, cut into 1-inch slices
- 1 medium sweet red pepper, sliced
- 1 medium onion, cut into wedges
- 1 cup quartered fresh mushrooms
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
- 1 teaspoon garlic salt
- 1 teaspoon paprika
In a large bowl, combine the first six ingredients.
In a small bowl, combine the oil, oregano, parsley, garlic salt and paprika.
Pour over sausage mixture; toss to coat.
Divide mixture between two pieces of heavy-duty foil (each about 14 in. x 12 in.). Fold foil around sausage mixture and seal tightly.
Grill both packages, covered, over medium heat for 25-30 minutes or until the sausage is cooked through.
Open foil carefully to allow steam to escape.
- Top-rated BBQ Rubs for Pork (barbecue.answers.com)
- Recipe Roundup: Pork Loin, 4 Ways (williams-sonoma.com)
- A Pork Loin Cooking Method (thefinishedplate.wordpress.com)
- Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Cherry Balsamic Sauce (tastylittlecrouton.wordpress.com)