When done right, pork loin is low cost, big flavor. Done poorly, you can end up with a dry, flavorless slab. But give this roast some special treatment with a dry brine and slow applewood smoke, and this inexpensive cut has a high payoff with lots of flavor and tender results.
Pork loin is a relatively low-fat cut, so it needs to be treated delicately with low heat and plenty of salt for flavor and to keep it juicy. And choose the right wood for smoking to get the flavor just right.
Make enough for leftovers! Pork loin feeds a crowd or makes extra to use as sandwich meat, in tacos, in a creamy pasta dish, on a salad and however else you can imagine.
The Difference Between Pork Loin and Pork Tenderloin
While pork loin and pork tenderloin might sound super similar, they're actually quite different. They come from different parts of the animal and there's a difference in the size, texture and fat content. Pork loins are much larger and are often either used for roasts or cut down into smaller portions as chops. They are great for feeding a crowd and are quite inexpensive. Pork tenderloin cooks very quickly because it's smaller; this is the most tender part of the animal and is also great for the smoker.
Keys for Success
- Season early with a dry brine of kosher salt and a spice rub. Use 1 teaspoon Diamond kosher salt (or ¾ teaspoon Morton kosher salt) per pound of pork. Seasoning at least a day in advance, and up to 2 will make a big difference.
- Cook low and slow using indirect heat for even cooking, and to keep it juicy and tender.
- Don't overcook it! Pork loin is a relatively lean cut that gets dry and tough as soon as it overcooks. It's best to cook to a medium temperature of 145° F, pulling it out of the smoker 5 to 10 degrees before that target temp as there will be some carryover cooking.
- Use a sweet fruit wood like apple or cherry wood for the smoke.
- Don't skip the all-important rest for at least 15 minutes before slicing to allow the juices to redistribute after it's cooked; it may be counterintuitive, but this will keep it juicier.
- Slice against the grain with a long sharp knife for the most tender bites.
Ingredients You'll Need
- Boneless Pork Loin Roast - The size of your roast doesn't really matter since we're cooking by temperature and not by time. Loins can range anywhere from 2 to 5 pounds. It depends on how they were cut and if the fat cap is left on or not. Whatever you have will work great for this recipe. Heritage breed pork is going to be the best (it's a premium but you can taste the difference). When buying, figure about 8 ounces per person.
Fat cap on or off? Either will work. If the fat cap is left on, great! You can choose to trim it off if you prefer or leave it on and score the fat with a crosshatch pattern using a very sharp knife. Just go through the fat and not the flesh of the pork. Scoring it will help the fat render and allow more flavorful smoke and the dry rub to penetrate the meat.
- Kosher Salt - I prefer Diamond Crystal brand.
- Dry Rub - A simple dry rub with brown sugar, black pepper, smoked paprika and dark chili powder will be great. You can customize it, using whatever you have in your pantry. **Note that if your dry rub already contains salt, you will want to reduce or eliminate how much salt you add separately.
- Wood for Smoking - Apple and pork are amazing together, but feel free to choose your own. Use chunks for a charcoal smoker, chips for an electric smoker and pellets for a pellet smoker.
- Oil - either canola oil or olive oil are a nice binder to help the rub stick, but it's totally optional.
See the recipe card for quantities.
- A Smoker - Any type will work. I used my Weber SmokeFire EX4 pellet smoker for this one.
- Remote Thermometer Alarm - I love the Thermoworks Smoke so I can monitor the temperature of the meat and the smoker remotely and get notified when it reaches the temp I set.
- Sharp Knife for slicing the cooked roast and for trimming or scoring the fat.
How to Smoke Pork Loin
Let's go step-by-step for how to make the juiciest and most flavorful smoked pork loin. Whether you are using a Traeger or similar pellet smoker, a charcoal smoker like a Big Green Egg or even an electric smoker, the method and technique are the same.
- Prep and Season (1 to 2 days in advance): Trim off excess fat and silver skin from the loin. If the fat cap is on it, great! Score it with a ¼" crosshatch pattern and it will get melty delicious. Drizzle on some canola oil and season with Kosher salt and a sweet dry rub. Cover and refrigerate.
- Remove the pork from the refrigerator to temper for 30 minutes prior to cooking. Insert a remote probe thermometer into the side of the roast to remotely monitor the internal temp and know exactly when it's done without having to open the lid.
- Set up your smoker to cook with indirect heat and preheat to 225° F.
- Smoke the pork loin until the internal temperature reaches 135°F, which will continue to rise 5 to 10 degrees for a diminished target temperature of 145° F for a medium cook.
- Transfer to a cutting board and rest for 15 minutes before slicing and serving. Tip: I like to only slice off what will be served immediately to keep the rest as juicy as possible.
Times and Temps
The internal target temp for smoked pork loin is 145° F (63° C), which means we need to remove it from the smoker 5 to 10 degrees prior to it reaching that temperature. In a 225° F smoker, figure about 30 minutes per pound cooking time, but that will depend on the size of your roast and its starting temperature.
Make It Bacon-Wrapped and Glazed
As great as it is brined, dry rubbed and smoked, it can get even better when you bacon-wrap it and slather it with a maple-bourbon glaze. You can follow this pork tenderloin recipe, just use your pork loin.
How to Store It
Tightly cover and refrigerate the smoked pork loin for up to 5 days, or vacuum seal and freeze for up to 6 months.
Sweet woods like apple, cherry, maple, pecan, hickory or a combination of a few are best for pork. Learn more about the best woods for smoking.
Smoke a pork loin at 225° F for approximately 30 minutes per pound, or about 1 ½ hours for a 3-pound roast. Use a thermometer and cook by temperature and not by time for best results.
Think low and slow. Dry brine at least a day in advance. Don't overcook it. Let it rest. Combine all those and you will have the juiciest pork loin that doesn't dry out.
What to Serve It With
- Creamy Coleslaw
- Creamy Mashed Potatoes
- Smoked Baked Beans
- Creamy Scalloped Potatoes
- Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
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Smoked Pork Loin Recipe
- 2 to 4 lb boneless center cut pork loin roast
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- Kosher salt per pound of pork (see note)
- ¼ cup sweet dry rub
Prep the Pork Loin (up to 2 days in advance)
- Trim off excess fat and any silver skin. If the fat cap is on the loin, you can leave it on and score in a ¼" crosshatch pattern.
- Drizzle on the oil and apply the salt and dry rub. Cover and refrigerate.
Smoke the Pork Loin
- Remove the pork from the refrigerator to temper 30 minutes before cooking. Insert a remote probe thermometer.
- Set up your smoker for indirect heat cooking and preheat to 225° F with apple wood for smoke (see alternative woods in notes).
- Place the pork loin in the smoker and smoke until an internal temp reaches 135°F to allow for carryover cooking, which will result in a finished temperature of 140 to 145° F for medium. Plan on approximately 1 ½ to 3 hours, depending on the size of the roast.
- Remove from the smoker and rest on a cutting board for 15 to 20 minutes. Slice against the grain and enjoy!
- Season the pork at least 1 day and up to 2 days in advance for best results.
- If your pork is "enhanced," this means salt has been added and you will want to reduce the amount of salt you use.
- Use 1 teaspoon Diamond kosher salt (or ¾ teaspoon Morton kosher salt) per pound of pork loin.
- Best woods for smoking pork: Apple is my favorite, but you can also use cherry, maple, pecan, hickory or any combination of them.