Cooking any kind of meat can be a fine art, especially when it comes to achieving the best taste from your cut.
This is especially true of meat like pork and chicken, where there is a distinct need to ensure it is properly cooked. As a result, you can run the risk of overcooking, and thus losing a lot of the flavor.
Smoking holds the same risks, and whilst rising in popularity in recent years thanks to an increase in affordable home smokers, many people still don’t know how long to cook their meat by the pound in order to get the best results.
Smoking Pork: The Benefits
When it comes to smoked meat, there are several notable benefits that are worth knowing.
Firstly, smoking meat makes it tender, moist and flavorful, which is the main selling point for people interested in buying a smoker.
Smoking also adds intensity and depth to the taste palette of meat, making it a more interesting experience than regularly cooked meat.
Whilst the taste of smoked food tends to be polarizing, in that people either love it or hate it, the taste difference is without question, which makes it a popular choice for meat lovers everywhere.
Perhaps less obviously, smoking is the cheapest way to cook and prepare meat. This is because it doesn’t require electricity, cooking fuel, or special equipment (other than a smoker of course).
Not only is smoked meat easier to eat, meaning your digestive system isn’t under as much strain during eating and digestion, but it has also been proven to be better for overall health, reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease associated with grilling, frying, and other cooking methods.
The Smoking Process
Of course, in order to smoke meat, you need something to smoke it in. There are countless smokers on the market, some of which are larger and fixed pieces of equipment, whereas others are designed to be portable, often having a combined grill for use during camping and cookouts.
The size of the smoker you choose is ultimately down to your needs. Larger smokers will obviously cook larger quantities of meat, and are as such better for home use.
Likewise, smaller smokers are perhaps better for personal use, or smaller parties of people, and are better for transporting.
Preparing The Fuel
Before you smoke your meat, there are a few items of preparation that need to be done. Of course, the first thing you need to know is how much wood you’ll need.
This of course depends entirely on the size of the smoker you have, and the amount of meat you are wanting to smoke. In general however, it tends to be between 100-150 grams of wood chips per hour of smoking.
The main choices of fuel to use are charcoal briquettes, wooden logs, or wooden chips, and all create subtly different flavor palettes during cooking.
Preparing The Fire
There are several ways to light your fire. This can be with a match, a wooden dowel, or a lighter. Matches and lighters work best with hardwoods, whilst dowels work best when lighting charcoal briquettes.
Choosing The Meat
When choosing the pork loin, there are several things to consider.
The Right Cut
They come in different shapes, sizes and flavors, and as such, the piece you choose is down to your personal preferences. For fattier joints, choose ones with the bones still inside, and for leaner cuts, choose boneless ones.
Thicker cuts of pork loin are better for longer cooking periods, whilst grillers seeking quicker cooking times should opt for thinner cuts of meat. Also, look out for the signs of good and bad cuts.
Good cuts will have a healthy pink color, as well as darker red spots, and intramuscular fat called “marbling”, which forms in unusual patterns throughout the cut.
Bad cuts will be (somewhat suspiciously) pale, and will generally look less healthy. Dark blotches on the fat are bad signs, as are gray or green spots on the meat itself. This either means it has been badly stored, or that the meat itself is just beginning to spoil.
The Right Treatment
Meat can be treated in different ways before it is smoked. One method used by chefs is a process called “brining”. This involves soaking the meat in salt water before cooking, making it much juicier and more tender, as the salt draws moisture into the meat.
Brining is also a good way of breaking down fat in the meat. However, this isn’t as important in pork loins, because as a rule they tend to be fairly lean.
The Right Seasoning
When smoking pork loin, a dry rub is recommended for seasoning. These can consist of salt, pepper, garlic, paprika, onion powder, cayenne pepper, black pepper, oregano, thyme, sage, bay leaves, and chili flakes, and all depend on the type of flavor palette you are looking for.
Whichever rub you apply, it should be applied liberally to the pork loin, before storing it in the refrigerator for approximately 30 minutes. After this, leave it to stand at room temperature for an additional 15 minutes, before cooking begins.
Smoking Pork Loin
Once these things have been prepared, the next thing to do is cook the meat. The smoking process can be much longer than regular cooking, and as such time should be allowed for the process to work its magic.
When smoking pork loin, there are two general outcomes you can opt for. Generally speaking, if you are wanting pork loin for the purpose of slicing, then two and a half hours would probably be sufficient. This will leave the meat tender, but still firm enough to be sliced neatly when serving.
Alternatively, those seeking pulled pork loin should leave it to smoke for an additional two hours, to ensure the meat and fat breaks down sufficiently enough to be pulled and shredded for serving.
Smoking Time Per Pound
The best, and perhaps the most common way to cook pork loin is to get the smoker to a temperature of 225 degrees.
Once you have reached this, you should smoke the meat for approximately 30 minutes per pound of meat. This means that smaller cuts will take less time, whilst weightier ones could take some time.
Typical joints of pork loin are between 2 to 5 pounds, and as such, the smoking time will be 1 hour (for 2 pounds of meat), and 2 and a ½ hours for 5 pounds. Any larger than this.
These cooking times can be influenced (one way or the other) by changes in temperature. Warmer days could increase the cooking speed, whilst cooler days could make it take longer.
The best way to ensure the right consistency is reached is to periodically check the temperature of the smoker, as well as the internal temperature of the meat.
Checking The Temperature
The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) suggests that a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees should be achieved before consuming pork.
This was revised, and is 15 degrees less than the former standard of 160 degrees, and is due to our greater understanding of what is and isn’t safe when it comes to cooking and consuming pork.
Additionally, changes to the breeding of pigs has resulted in leaner meat, which takes less time to cook. Thinner, leaner cuts of meat will generally dry out if they reach 160-165 degrees, so the new temperature was decided upon to achieve the best results.
These changes to pig upkeep, most notably better feeding patterns, have reduced the level of harmful bacteria in pork, such as trichinosis, which is a type of ringworm infection found in swine. This also influenced the lowering of cooking temperatures, as the meat is safer to eat.
And there we have it, everything you need to know about smoking pork loin by the pound.
What strikes me is the number of different methods and techniques that are available to budding smokers, and the ways and means people can achieve their desired tastes and consistencies by experimentation and trial and error. Why not try some of them yourselves? You’ll thank us later!