Brine, Smoke and Meal Prep: Rediscovering the pork loin
Smoking ribs, pulled pork and briskets is a lot of fun sure, but they’re specialty cuts that you will only do so often. However, let’s be honest for a minute, they can’t be the foundation of your weekly diet.
What about those Monday morning diners and all of these “last minute” meals we all need to figure out.
Lately, I’ve brought back an old routine of mine which is meal preparation. This consists of simply investing half a day a week in cooking a lot of food to save time during the rest of the week.
Meal prepping is also about saving a few bucks so that you can treat yourself during the weekend. This got me thinking about ways to leverage “cheap” cuts of meat, reinventing myself as a pit master and trying to elevate those entry-level hunks of meat into something worth craving for.
The pork loin is a perfect candidate for this quest as it’s bland by nature, super cheap and allows you to cook a lot of it all at once.
It’s easy to call yourself a pit master when you’re doing steaks and fancy stuff, but only real pit masters will find a way to turn anything into gold.
Surprisingly enough, forcing myself into this thought process brought up a lot of opportunities and reminded me of how great pork loins are for beginners looking to up their game.
To get the most out of a 6lb pork loin, I decided to inject, brine and smoke.
Injections work great with most meats, provided the cut is not too dense. In order to be able to retain the injection, your meat needs to be soft to hold in the added juices. Pork loins being lean and somewhat dense, they’re about the measuring stick of what not to go beyond with injections.
Using Butcher BBQ Pork Injection and an injector, inject every inch in a criss cross pattern to pack as much juice in your loin as it can physically take in. Injections add depth and flavor to meat from the inside out. Once injected, it’s time to take care of the outside.
For those who are unfamiliar with brining meat, the process is fairly simple. Brining requires a salt and water solution, to which you can add aromas for flavor.
The intent with brine is to keep the food moist throughout your cooking process and add texture.
Depending on the meat you are brining, this process usually takes between a few hours up to a few days.
At its simplest form, a brine is composed of 1 cup of kosher salt per gallon of water.
I’ve added to my brine different ingredients to add flavors to the pork loin and give it more personality. Loin is traditionally very bland so it needs something to stand out. This is why I add 1 cup of brown sugar, 1 cup of maple syrup, 1 cup of soy sauce, 4 garlic cloves and a decent amount of HOBE California spices..
Using the sac-a-zip bags or an extra large pan, I added my loin in the cold brine and let sit for 20hr in the fridge.
Once brined, you can pull it out and let it air dry at room temperature for 1hr.
At this point, your loin should have stiffened up considerably and started to develop dark colours. Smaller cuts could require you to rinse off the brine but pork loins being so big and dense, I decided to smoke mine as it was. Spoiler alert: it was the right call.
I smoked my loin at 275 for 1h on a Yoder YS640 using a mix of cherry and sugar maple pellets, then cranked up the heat to 355 for the rest of the cooking process. In a normal situation, I would have pulled the loin at 143F and let rest.
For this specific loin, I knew going in that I wanted to use most of it for cold cuts. Therefore, I let it cook up to 155f internal before I pulled it out.
I added an extra light dash of California on top, I let it cool down gradually and threw it in the fridge overnight.
I only sliced it the next morning. The loin was juicy and savoury, the exterior had a nice glaze touch of maple and garlic.
This recipe got me rediscovering the good old pork loin. It sure needs extra loving, but at the price it sells for, mastering this cut makes total sense for those who are looking for quick and easy meals to prepare in advance.
Whether you use it for Cuban Pork Sandwiches, Ramen Bowls, Mediterranean Pork and Yogourt Pita Wraps, Fried Rice or a simple Sautéed, getting your loins right will save you lots of time and money moving forward.