New Year’s Day we had the best pork we can remember, and I made it (does anyone remember the “Shake ‘n Bake” commercials from 70’s?)! How that’s for braggin’? Well…was it really me, or was it the brine? “We” made a brined pork loin which was absolutely fantastic, and highlighted by great flavoring, incredible moistness and a very evident smoke ring (more later).
As an admitted “brinaholic” I have already dedicated two posts to the process; one on brined turkey and another on brined pork chops. Brining is the process of soaking meat or vegetables in a saltwater and/or seasoned water bath, and has been around for centuries to preserve meats when refrigeration wasn’t available. Brining is best for lean meats such as poultry (chicken, Cornish hens, turkey), pork (roasts, tenderloin, chops) and shrimp that tend to be mild flavored, more easily over-cooked and prone to drying out.
I concocted a “best of” brine New Years’s Eve morning in my new dedicated brining cooler (perfectly sized for a 15 lbs. turkey). The brine included:
2 gallons water
1 12 oz. UFO Hefeweizen (wheat) beer
1 cup kosher salt
3 TBSP molasses
3 TBSP Malabar Table Grind Black Pepper (store brand will work too)
1 TBSP crushed red pepper
4 bay leaves
A 3 lbs. pork loin was put in the brine for 24 hours. The next afternoon I fired up the trusty Weber kettle grill. The pork was placed center grill at 2:00 with charcoal and coffee wood burning in the side rails. The vents were opened about half way.
I basted the pork at one hour with olive oil. At 1 and 1/2 hours I put the pork in a throw away pan with a 12 oz UFO Hefeweizen. The pan was sealed with aluminum foil and the vents were closed. In another hour I brought the pan inside to allow the meat to rest, as they say. The meat was still warm and moist when I carved and served it at 5:45.
So what is a smoke ring? A smoke ring is a pink discoloration of meat just under the surface crust (called bark). It can be just a thin line of pink or a rather thick layer. The smoke rings is caused by nitric acid building up in the surface of meat, absorbed from the surface. This nitric acid is formed when nitrogen dioxide from wood combustion in smoke mixes with water in the meat. Basically it is a chemical reaction between the smoke and the meat.