If you love to grill, chances are you probably love grilled beef steaks, most any kind of grilled chicken and pork spare ribs; you may even enjoy grilled fish.
Of all those mentioned, it’s very possible that one could say that depending on how you cook your spare ribs, you’ve truly never grilled pork, for the slow cooked, “fall off the bone” type spare ribs that most people enjoy are really “barbecued” not grilled.
What’s the Difference Between Grilling and Barbecuing?
The term “grilling” refers to foods that are cooked quickly and directly over high heat. This extreme heat sears the surface of meat, sealing in the natural juices and creating a flavorful crust. A crust is a key difference. In general, the foods best suited to grilling are those which are tender and cook relatively quickly since the heat required for grilling is so intense. In general, temperatures above 300°F are typically used for grilling although grilling temperatures can typically reach 500°F or more.
“Barbecuing” refers to a slow cooking process using indirect, low-heat generated by smoldering logs or wood chips that in turn “smoke-cook” the food. Because foods tenderize when cooked slowly over low temperatures, (particularly when basted), some of the meats best suited for barbecuing are in fact the less expensive, less tender meats like ribs & briskets. The final barbecued products are tender, soft, and generally lack a crisp charred crust. The best temperatures for barbecuing are between 200°F and 300°F. If the temperature rises above 300°F, it is then considered grilling.
So let’s talk about how to actually grill pork because there are some important differences between how you grill pork and how you grill beef.
The most important difference is that pork is not marbled with fat throughout the flesh like most beef steaks are. As a result, pork can become dry and tough if not properly grilled. The very same thing can happen to fish.
What Types of Pork Can You Grill?
Now although you can grill any cut of pork, you want to choose the the most ones. And those would be Pork Tenderloin and Loin Chops.
Leaving the bone in your chops is not a bad idea either. Bones can help protect the meat around it from becoming dry and therefore tough as well.
You’ll also want to choose the right thickness of your meat.
Tenderloins are already the perfect thickness, and full of moisture, you’re all set there, we would suggest however, that your carefully slice off the silvery skin located at the thick end of the tenderloin. It is too tough to chew and is not fat, so it will not “melt” away.
Chops on the other hand need to be thick enough to retain their moisture while exposed to the high temperatures of the grill while they are being cooked to your preferred doneness. Too thin and they can become dry and tough, too thick and the outside part of the meat can also become overcooked and dry before the center of the meat is cooked the way you like it.
Ideally, for chops cooked on the grill, an average thickness of 1 inch is about right. If you like your chops more on the “medium” doneness side, you can go as thick as 1 ½”, or for more well done chops, as little as ¾”.
You may have heard that brining (the slightly sweet and salty water solution) is a good way to pre-prepare pork to be grilled and or roasted. And that is generally true. Brining hydrates the pork with moisture and flavor and gives your meat all the chances of retaining much of that while it cooks. Having said that, unless your chops are on the thicker side (1 ¼” or more), you may introduce more flavor to the meat than you may care for. A little trial and error with a brine you like and the length of time you immerse it in that brine may achieve the results you’re looking for but be cautious of trying it for the very first time with a large crowd.
Using a Rub on Pork
A rub is another way to add flavor and seal in moisture.
Rubs are applied (topically) before grilling and although they don’t hydrate the meat itself, they help to retain what is already there. Every rub is different in its suggested amounts to be applied so read the directions carefully.
For more information about Marinates, Brines and Rubs, and some great recipes, click HERE.
How to Grill Pork
So you’ve selected your cut of pork and brined it, rubbed it or left it unseasoned (which is fine). The next important thing to do is select the correct temperature for your grill, and that would be 325 F to 350 F. The reason that is a good temperature is it will allow the meat to brown nicely in the same length of time it will take to cook to a medium well doneness. You can add 25 F to 50 F more heat if you like your pork doneness more on the medium side.
If you’re a little apprehensive about cooking your pork anything less than well done, you may be interested to know that the U.S.D.A. recently changed their recommendation for the safe cooking of pork. It’s something that you may want to read before that first chop hits the grill. It’s good news!
New U.S.D.A. Pork Cooking Guidelines
A reminder that before the “meat hits the metal” be sure to clean your grill well. You may also want to give both your grill surface and meat a light spray of non-stick vegetable oil to prevent the meat from sticking to the grill. A word of caution however, spraying oil on a hot grill can create momentary flare ups. Be careful.
The moment of truth has arrived. As you grill, keep these important points in mind:
- Be sure you have all your utensils, platters and condiments in place before you begin grilling so you can give the grill your FULL attention.
- Avoid skewering the meats with a fork as you grill. Puncturing the meat lets precious juices escape and makes the meat dry and tough.
- Avoid pressing the meats down onto the grill grates as you grill, it will also squeeze the moisture out of the meats and make them dry and tough.
- Best grilling practice is to turn the meats over only once. Excessive turning and handling creates the same issues as # 2 and # 3.
- If you are unsure of the doneness of your pork, use an Insta-read thermometer (which quickly gauges the temperature) and do so nearest the time you believe it may be done to avoid excessive juice loss. Insert it into the thickest part of the meat and away from any bone to be the truest and most accurate reading. The temperature readings for pork doneness are as follows:
- 145 Medium
- 150-155 Medium-Well
- 160 and ↑ Well Done
Lastly, once your pork is grilled, allow it to rest on a warm platter for a few minutes before serving. This resting time will allow the meat to redistribute the juices evenly throughout each portion and give you a more moist and enjoyable experience.