It’s July and we’re well into the heat of the summer. One of the best parts of outdoor grilling is that you don’t have to heat up your kitchen! This stuffed pork loin fits the bill for a weeknight family dinner (or for a hungry crowd if you grill two).
Pork loin is very lean and its lack of fat can yield dry results. Knowing when to pull the roast from the grill is critical to achieving the juicy main dish you’re after. This cut of pork can go from succulent to moisture-depleted and stringy in a matter of just a few degrees. To find out the key temps and techniques you need and put this delicious dish on your summer grilling menu, keep reading…
Cooking on a Grill with Indirect Heat
Grilling is a high-heat cooking method that would surely overcook the outside of a large roast to a blackened crisp before the internal temperature reaches its target, so how do we achieve the proper ambient cooking temperature for a roast on the grill? The solution for this dilemma is simple:
- Set up a two-zone fire to create a moderate temperature inside the grill, and
- Place the roast over the indirect heat side of the grill. (Directions on how to set up a two-zone fire are in the recipe’s instructions below.)
Two-Zone Fire Setup for Charcoal or Gas Grill
Charcoal Grill Gas Grill
The moderate ambient grill temperature with indirect heat cooks the meat more gently, and is a perfect setup to turn your grill into a smoker for large, tough cuts like pork shoulder and brisket, as well! Indirect heat on the grill is also best when preparing sweet foods like pineapple or meats with sweet sauces to avoid burning the sugars, allowing them to cook to their sticky-sweet best.
The most essential concepts an outdoor cook needs to understand [are] the importance of temperature control, the differences between direct heat and indirect heat, and how to use a 2-zone setup. —Meathead Goldwyn, AmazingRibs.com
The key to any indirect heat cooking zone is temperature control. Not only do you need to keep an eye on the temperature to know whether it’s getting too hot, but monitoring low temperatures is critical for grill-roasting and smoking success. The high and low alarms of the ChefAlarm® are necessary to keep the grill’s temperature in the necessary temperature window. (The ChefAlarm is the only leave-in probe thermometer in its class that includes a low alarm feature!)
The words “grilling” and “barbecuing” are often used interchangeably, but they are actually different cooking techniques. Whereas grilling works best with quick-cooking foods that are smallish in size or foods that are individually portioned, barbecuing and grill-roasting work best with larger, slower-cooking foods. It may help to think of grilling, grill-roasting, and barbecuing along a cooking-time continuum. —Master of the Grill, America’s Test Kitchen
Flavorful and Juicy Pork that’s Also Safe!
Center-cut pork loin has a satisfying meaty texture, but its lack of fat can cause it to dry out in a flash. In this recipe the addition of a flavorful, moist filling helps to ensure a juicy end result. While the filling helps to combat the potential dryness, knowing exactly what internal temperature to pull the roast from the grill is the best way to be sure the meat doesn’t end up dry and tough. As heat transfers through the pork, protein fibers tighten and squeeze out their juices. It’s important to remove the meat from the grill before too much moisture is gone while still reaching the USDA’s safe doneness temperature of 145°F (63°C).
Butterflying is a simple butchering technique used to even out the thickness of meat prior to cooking. An overall even thickness helps to ensure even cooking, avoiding areas of meat that are overcooked and dry.
Pounding meat with a meat mallet is another method of thinning out thicker parts of a meat either by itself, or used in conjunction with butterflying. Chicken breasts are often pounded or butterflied because of its irregular thickness to avoid overcooking the thinner end of the meat. Butterflying and pounding = even cooking = more moist and flavorful meats!
This center-cut loin is a great candidate for butterflying because it is a solid muscle that cuts very cleanly and stays together once thinned out. Opening up the pork loin into a thin layer of meat allows the filling to be layered with the meat as it is rolled into a roast, more than it would if the loin was just sliced in the center giving it one pocket for the filling.
Tie it up! After butterflying and filling the pork, it is secured tightly with kitchen twine to hold it together in its roast shape, allowing for even cooking throughout. Check out the video at the top of this post to see how we butterflied our roast.
The Cook: Grill-Roasted Sweet Stuffed Pork Loin—Serves 6
This recipe is from America’s Test Kitchen‘s newest grilling cookbook, Master of the Grill. The expert tips and thoroughly-tested recipes in this book will have you grilling something new all year long, regardless of your skill level.
**Note: The pork loin we used was about 5 lbs. We used nearly a full double batch of the filling recipe listed below, and overall the cooking time was approximately 30 minutes longer than recommended in the recipe to achieve the internal temperature needed. The recipe
- 1-1/2 cups (4 ounces) dried apples
- 1 cup apple cider
- 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1 large shallot, halved lengthwise and sliced thin crosswise.
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/8-1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 (2-1/2 pound) boneless center-cut pork loin roast, trimmed
- Salt and pepper as needed for seasoning pork
Tools and Equipment
- 2 cups wood chips
- Make a wood chip packet: soak the wood chips in water for 15 minutes, drain, then wrap in heavy-duty aluminum foil to create a packet. Cut two small slits in the top to allow smoke to escape during the cook.
- Gas or charcoal grill set up with a two-zone fire for indirect heat cooking (instructions below)
- Kitchen twine
1—Measure out all filling ingredients, place into a medium saucepan and stir to combine. Simmer over medium heat for 20 minutes (track time with a TimeStick®).
2—Strain dried fruit through a fine mesh sieve, reserving the liquid.
3—Pulse filling in a food processor until all fruit is well-chopped but still chunky (about 15 pulses). Cover and refrigerate until ready to fill pork loin.
4—Return reserved liquid to a saucepan and simmer over medium-high heat until the liquid reduces by about half and becomes thick—this will be the glaze for the roast.
5—Butterfly the pork loin. Position the roast on a cutting board. Insert knife about 1/2 inch from the bottom of the roast and cut horizontally, stopping 1/2 inch before the edge. Open the flap up. Through the thicker half of the roast, cut about 1/2 inch from the bottom, stopping about 1/2 inch from the edge. Open this flap up. Repeat until pork loin is an even thickness throughout. If the loin is uneven, cover with plastic wrap and pound with a meat mallet to even out (see video above).
6—Season the meat with salt and pepper.
7—Spread the filling evenly over the pork loin, leaving a 1/2-inch border on all sides.
8—Roll up pork loin tightly.
9—Tie the filled pork loin with kitchen twine at 1-inch intervals.
10—Season the outside of the roast with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until the two-zone fire is ready.
➤ Preparing the Two-Zone Fire
Charcoal Grill: For a charcoal grill, open the bottom vent of the grill halfway. Light a large chimney starter 3/4 of the way filled with briquettes. When the top coals are beginning to develop white ash (about 20 minutes), pour evenly over half of the grill. Place the wood chip packet on the coals. Set grill grate in place, cover, and open lid vent halfway. Heat until the wood chips are smoking—about 15 minutes.
Gas Grill: With a gas grill, remove the grill grate and place wood chip packet directly on primary burner. Set grill grate back in place, turn all burners to high, cover, and heat until the grill is hot and the wood chips are smoking (about 15 minutes). Leave primary burner on high and turn off other burners.
Track the Temp: Use a ChefAlarm with a grate clip and Pro Series® air probe to monitor the grill temperature. Set the ChefAlarm’s low alarm to 295°F (146°C), and the high alarm to 340°F (171°C). Adjust the vents or burners as necessary to maintain the grill’s ambient temperature in the range of 300-325°F (149-163°C).
☼ Thermal Tip: It’s important that the ChefAlarm’s air probe is attached to the indirect heat side of the grill. The probe’s thermal range is -58 to 544°F (-50-300°C), the transitions’s max temperature threshold is 644°F (340°C) and the cable’s max temperature threshold is 700°F (371°C). Exposing the probe or cable to very high heat will cause irreversible damage. The indirect heat side of the grill of this project’s temperature range is safely below those temperatures.
12—Place the filled pork loin roast on the grill grate on the indirect heat side of the grill. Close the lid, and set the TimeStick for 30 minutes.
13—When the timer sounds, flip the roast. Close the lid and set TimeStick for 25 minutes.
14—When the TimeStick’s alarm goes off, spot-check the pork loin’s internal temperature with a ThermoPop®. The temperature should be about 130-135°F (54-57°C). If the temperature is still below 130°F (54°C), close the lid and allow the roast to cook for a few minutes longer until the target temp is reached.
☼ Temping Tip: If you find yourself grilling after dark, we’ve got you covered: the ThermoPop has a backlight!
15—Brush the roast on all sides with the reserved glaze. Close the lid and set the TimeStick for 5 minutes.
16—After the 5 minutes are up, spot-check the internal temperature with a ThermoPop. Once the internal temperature has reached 140°F (60°C), remove from the roast from the grill, transfer to a carving board and tent with aluminum foil. Set TimeStick for 15 minutes and allow the meat to rest (while resting, carryover cooking will continue to increase the roast’s internal temperature, safely reaching 145°F [63°C]).
17—Once the pork loin has rested, remove twine, slice roast into 1/2-inch thick slices and serve.
Temperature control with the grill, and fast, accurate internal temperature readings are truly the keys to success with this cooking method and the roast’s end result. If you haven’t tried grill-roasting with indirect heat before, this is a fun recipe to try out a two-zone fire cook. Keep an eye on your temps with the right tools, and get grilling!
**Be on the lookout for our next indirect heat grilling project next week!