Give your late-summer cookout a flavorful twist with a barbecued pork tenderloin as the main dish.
Jonathan Bennett doesn’t think of pork as an acceptable alternative to the hamburgers, hotdogs and steaks that end up on the typical summer cookout menu. As the son of a North Carolina pig farmer, he considers it the only alternative. The executive chef/partner at Moxie, The Restaurant, and Red, the Steakhouse, both in the Cleveland suburb of Beachwood, rhapsodizes about the meat’s versatility, both in terms of the variety of cuts suitable for the grill and the many ways they can be prepared on it.
“With a piece of chicken, you put it on the grill, and when it’s done, you pull it off,” he says with disdain. “But with a piece of pork!” His voice brightens considerably. “It could be a shoulder that you put on an indirect flame, and [it] sits there for the next six to eight hours until it’s fork-tender and smoky. Or it could be a tenderloin that comes off the grill minutes later.”
That versatility has been enhanced by new cooking guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that yield tastier results. The old mandate of cooking pork to 160 degrees Fahrenheit “quite ensured dryness,” Bennett says. But pork chops, roasts and tenderloins now can be safely enjoyed medium-rare by cooking to a final internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit (as measured by a food thermometer), then allowing the meat to rest for three minutes before serving. (Ground pork, like all ground meat, should still be cooked to 160 degrees; pre-cooked ham can still be reheated to 140 degrees or eaten cold.)
The Ohio Pork Producers Council notes that pork is generally much leaner than it was when the cooking guidelines were last updated 18 years ago. Bennett adds that the risk of contracting trichinosis, a disease associated with consuming undercooked pork, has been greatly reduced by strictly regulating the animals’ diet.
“In the old times, pigs ate whatever you fed them,” he explains. “That’s not the case anymore.”
Bennett says that unlike beef, the taste and texture of pork doesn’t benefit from being cooked to anything less than medium-rare. He actually prefers his pork chops and blade steaks (inch-thick slices of the shoulder) served medium, his whole shoulder “beyond well done.”
“When the proteins change and set, [the meat] just has a much better mouth feel to it,” he says.
To ensure tenderness, Bennett suggests brining, or soaking the meat in a refrigerated gallon of water to which 1-1/2 cups kosher salt has been added. The process replaces some of the protein-rich juices with salt water, in turn preventing the meat from “tightening” and forcing out the moisture during cooking. It also seasons the meat through and through. “If it’s a pork tenderloin, you might want to brine it for three or four hours,” he advises. “If it’s a larger crown roast, you might want to brine it for eight hours.” He also recommends using a very hot grill unless you’re slow-cooking a whole pork shoulder or smoking a crown roast.
“It’s so much easier to pull something over to a cooler spot on the grill once it gets enough color than it is to try to get more color when it’s starting to overcook,” he says.
Cuban Pork Tenderloin
Hog-tied for inspiration on which cut of pork to throw on the grill, let alone how to grill it? The Ohio Pork Producers Council offers the following recipe. Serves 6
1-1/2 pounds pork tenderloin, trimmed
1/4 cup orange juice, fresh
1/4 cup grapefruit juice, fresh
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1. Using a thin knife, trim silver skin from the tenderloin.
2. Mix orange juice, grapefruit juice, cilantro, cumin, oregano, garlic, salt and red pepper flakes in a gallon-sized zip-top plastic bag. Add pork, close, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours.
3. Prepare outdoor grill for direct medium-hot grilling. For a gas grill, preheat grill on high. Adjust temperature to 400 degrees. For a charcoal grill, build fire and let burn until coals are covered with white ash. Spread coals and let burn for 15–20 minutes.
4. Lightly oil cooking grate. Remove pork from marinade, drain briefly, but do not scrape off solids. Place on grill and cover grill. Cook, turning occasionally, until browned and instant-read thermometer inserted in center of pork reads 145 degrees, about 20–27 minutes.
5. Transfer to carving board and let stand 3–5 minutes.