Grilling & Barbecuing Basics
Check out our grilling and barbecue advice to ensure your pork experiences are full of mouthwatering meals and happy guests – anytime of the year!
Grilling is the method of cooking pork over direct or indirect heat on an electric, gas or charcoal grill.
Direct grilling is when pork is cooked on a grate directly over a dry heat source. Direct grilling can be done on a gas or charcoal grill and is the best method for tender, quick-cooking cuts of meat. Ideal direct grilling pork cuts include:
Because pork cuts will cook differently depending on the cut size and thickness, it is important to monitor pork with a digital thermometer. Pork cuts such as chops and tenderloin are best enjoyed between 145 degrees F. (medium rare) and 160 degrees F. (medium), with a 3 minute rest time after leaving the grill. Ground pork should always be cooked to 160 degrees F. For cooking guidance based on cuts, see our handy pork temperature cooking chart.
Barbecuing is the long, slow roasting of pork using charcoal, hardwoods or gas as both a heat source and an addition of flavor. Barbecue as a technique is ideal for large and less tender cuts.
The delicious outcome of barbecue can be achieved with indirect grilling (or grill roasting), when a grill is used and the pork is placed to the side (not directly over) the heat source. Indirect grilling avoids burning meat on the outside while cooking through on the inside. If using charcoal, create an empty space between charcoal mounds in the center of the grill to place a foil drip pan. Place the pork cut in the center of the grate over the drip pan. Keep the grill covered and adjust grill vents to maintain the desired temperature. When using a gas grill, light one side of the grill but keep the other side off. Place the drip pan on the unheated side and the pork on the grate over the drip pan.
The best pork cuts to grill indirectly include:
- Loin roast
- Shoulder roast
- Back ribs
- St. Louis-style ribs
- Country-style ribs
- Fresh ham roast
Using Wood for Barbecue and Smoking
A great way to enhance the flavor of grilled pork is smoking it with wood. A mainstay of traditional barbecue, smoking is done by placing uniquely flavored woods, such as apple, hickory, mesquite or oak, on the hot coals or heat source. The rich, deep flavor of the wood is brought out by slowly cooking the meat in a covered grill at a constant temperature of approximately 250 degrees F. Keeping the temperature low gradually cooks the meat and allows ample time for smoky flavors to develop. True smoking often means waiting several hours (from 1 to 2 to 20 or more!). If that time isn’t available, you can still enjoy smoky flavors without the wait by adding wood chips to the fire.
- When using a charcoal grill, place wood chips presoaked in water for at least 30 minutes directly on heated coals after the flames have subsided and the coals are gray, or place in a smoker box.
- When using a gas grill, put presoaked wood chips in a smoker box provided by the manufacturer or wrap the wood chips in aluminum foil and punch small holes in the foil to release the smoke. Do not put wood directly on burners or it will burn too quickly and leave ash in the grill.
- Start with a small amount of wood chips, especially if experimenting. The recommended amount to start is ¼ cup of wood chips.
- Add the wood chips at the same time that you place the pork on the grill.
Grilling and Barbecue Cooking Tips
- To prevent pork from sticking to the grate, scrub grates clean and coat with vegetable oil or a nonstick vegetable oil spray prior to using.
- Do not use sharp utensils that may pierce the pork when flipping, as piercing allows flavor-filled juices to escape. Use other utensils, such as spatulas or tongs, for turning.
- Make sure the propane tank is at least one-third full before you begin grilling. Having an extra full tank of propane on hand just in case is never a bad idea.
- “Heat is good, flame is bad.” Frequently flipping pork on a cooler area of the grill is better than accidently burning it on an area that is too hot.
- A hot grill will cook thin cuts quickly, so have your necessary ingredients and sauces handy before you begin grilling.
- Sugar-based sauces (many commercial barbeque sauces) tend to burn if applied too early. Baste during the last few minutes of cooking.
- To check cooking temperature when using charcoal:
- Low – Ash coat is thick, red glow less visible
- Medium – Coals covered with light-gray ash
- High – Red glow visible through ash coating