Smoking center-cut pork leaves it with the signature smoked pink color and a salty and earthy flavor. Smoking helps preserve the meat and gives it a tenderness that allows it to be served equally easily as a warm dish for dinner or cold on sandwiches. Because smoking is a method of slowly cooking the meat, it's important to consider safe handling and preparation of the meat, as well as careful temperature control.
Prepare the Meat
Soak the center cut pork in a solution of salt and water equal to 1 1/2 cups of Kosher salt for every gallon of water. This process, called brining, differs from marinating or seasoning the meat and uses cellular osmosis to keep the meat juicy and flavorful during the smoking. Add flavors to the brine such as whole herbs and spices or an acid such as lemon juice or apple cider vinegar, if desired, to enhance the flavor. Keep the meat cold in a refrigerator while brining.
Brine the center-cut pork for up to 2 hours for pork chops or up to 8 hours for larger pieces like a roast, allowing the brine to infuse the entire portion of meat. Over-brining center-cut pork makes it mealy and salty, so remove it from the brine promptly when finished.
Rinse the brine from the pork with cold running water, pat dry and season as desired. Try rosemary and thyme for a traditionally seasoned center-cut pork loin or roast. Create spicy smoked pork chops with cumin, cayenne pepper and chili powder.
Allow the seasoned meat to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Allowing the center-cut pork to come to room temperature briefly before smoking gives the seasonings time to set into the meat. Don't leave the meat at room temperature for longer than 1 hour since bacteria can grow during that time.
Prepare the Smoker
Buy or gather cleaned wood chips from hardwood trees for smoking. Avoid using wood chips made from conifer trees since they will lend a bitter flavor to the pork. Soak the wood chips in water for at least 1 hour.
Preheat the smoker or grill to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Leave room to add additional coals as needed to maintain the temperature throughout the entire cooking period.
Pour water into the water compartment in the smoker and add wood chips to the appropriate compartment. If using a charcoal grill instead of a smoker, add water to a foil pan and the soaked wood chips to a second foil pan. Place both foil pans on the charcoal and replace the grate.
Smoking the Meat
Place the center-cut pork in the smoker or on the grill grate. If using a charcoal grill, place the pork on the grate over the foil pans so that it won't be over the direct heat source.
Place the grilling thermometer in the center-cut pork if applicable. Using a remote grilling thermometer allows the meat to smoke in the smoker or grill without lifting the lid, which reduces the temperature and increases the smoking time.
Smoke the center-cut pork for 2 hours per pound, adding 15 minutes to the total smoking time for each time the lid was raised during the cooking. Center-cut pork loin reaches doneness at an internal temperature of 145 F. The meat may still appear pink, so rely on temperature for doneness.
- National Center for Home Food Preservation: Curing and Smoking Meats for Home Food Preservation
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service: Smoking Meat and Poultry
- The University of Wisconsin-Madison Food Safety and Health: USDA Revises Recommended Cooking Temperatures for All Whole Cuts of Meat to 145 Degrees
- Use the vents on the grill or smoker to help control its temperature. Open the vents to let in oxygen, fueling the fire and raising the temperature. If the grill's temperature reads too hot, close the vents a little to lessen the oxygen and cool the grill.
- Never rely on appearance to determine the doneness of smoked meat, since the appearance can be different than meats prepared other ways. Always take the temperature using a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the pork.
Andrea Lott Haney writes articles and training materials for food industry publications. Having studied foodservice sanitation, nutrition and menu planning at Purdue University, Lott Haney has more than 10 years of experience as a catering and event planner for luxury hotels and currently tours the Midwest as a corporate customer service trainer and consultant.