The loin of any meat is widely considered to be the Rolls Royce of cuts, and the one that you find just above the rib cage a pig is no exception. Pork loin can be cooked in any number of ways, and can also be used to make British-style bacon.
How to find the best loin
It’s always best to do a little ground work when trying to source the best meat in your area. Have a quick chat with one of the guys behind the meat counter and get a few leads. You don’t have to go all Sherlock Holmes, but you might be surprised at what’s available if you ask the right people the right questions.
Preparing the pork loin
Once you have a nice pork loin, let it warm up to room temperature. This ensures it doesn’t get overcooked on the outside before the middle is done. Please be brave and allow for a slight pinkness is the center. If mom wants hers well done, by all means give her the option, but it’s also nice to allow others to chose a juicy slice of meat so everyone can be happy.
Score the meat beforehand with a good, sharp knife. If you don’t have a good, sharp knife, either sharpen up one that you do have, or put one on your shopping list. If it’s a larger loin, you may wish to butterfly it. Open up the pork by slicing a deep cut along its length (but not from the skin side).
Get some salt into the skin of the pork loin. A beautiful crisp crackling and deep brown color will be your reward for a little extra time spent during preparation.
Meat thermometers for checking doneness
Thermometers are a good way to be sure the internal temperature of loin has entered the stage where it’s safe to eat, and cooked to the level of doneness preferred by you and your dining companions.
The two main drawbacks of using a meat thermometer are that you may not have one (see this post for some help in that regard), and that by piercing the meat some of the juices will inevitably escape. These escaping juices will take as much flavor with them as they can carry.
You might want to consider purchasing an infrared thermometer, which can measure surface temperature without piercing the meat.
How to check whether meat is done without a thermometer
Pork should be cooked to at least 160° Fahrenheit (72° Celsius)—about as hot as a cup of coffee. If you use a knife or fork to get to the center of the loin, you will be able to test how hot it is when you take it out. This can be done by placing a sample of the meat on the back of your hand (do be careful).
You can also check by feeling the meat and comparing it to the firmness of the fleshy tissue underneath your thumb. Poke the cooked loin with your finger and make a mental note of the firmness.
- Raw meat will feel like the fleshy area between your thumb and the base of your palm when your hand is relaxed.
- Touch the tip of your index finger to the tip of your thumb. Rare meat has the same firmness as the area below the thumb when your hand is in this position.
- Touch your middle finger to your thumb. Now feel that fleshy spot again. This is medium rare.
- Medium feels like the flesh below your thumb when you press the tip of your ring finger to the tip of your thumb.
- Well done is as firm as the area below your thumb when you press the tip of your pinky to the tip of your thumb.
Ask for help!
A rough guide to cooking pork loin is about 20 to 25 minutes per pound. However, I recommend having a quick chat with the gentleman behind the counter (or the farmer himself) as you’re buying the meat. He’ll be happy to tell you how long a particular piece of meat will take to cook, and at what temperature you should cook it.
If you’re really lucky, he may even give you a couple of tips on how to prepare and serve the pork loin you just bought. These are the guys in the know when it comes to meat, and I have yet to talk to one that did not want to share their knowledge and expertise with me. Take advantage of this opportunity to learn from the best!