Here in California we love Mexican food every day of the year, which is not surprising given the rich history of our state. Mexican favorites are often served at football game tailgate parties, Super Bowl parties and whenever friends get together. But you don’t have to be from California to enjoy burritos, enchiladas and tacos. They are filling, delicious and so easy to make all year long.
This month I cooked a small pork roast on my Char-Broil 3-Burner grill, adding a smoky goodness to the meat and enhancing the tacos I made with it. Coating the meat with a simple dry rub (homemade or store-bought) makes a huge difference.
I went to the store looking for pork tenderloins but came home with a sirloin roast instead. The two cuts are similar to a beef filet vs. a rib-eye steak. The filet is incredibly tender but doesn’t have much taste while the rib-eye is a bit chewier but full of beef flavor. I prefer the rib-eye any day.
The increased chewiness may be interpreted as toughness, but by brining the pork roast (which is the best way to help retain moisture), you can slightly tenderize the meat, improving the texture. The salt in the brine is pulled into the roast by the process of osmosis, starting to break down the proteins, loosening the strands and helping to trap in the juices as it cooks.
Because of the extremely low fat content, pork has a tendency to dry out when cooked. In addition to tenderizing, brining will help keep any cut of pork moister, protecting it during the cooking process. Even one hour in the brine will help.
Another thing that will help is the technology behind the TRU-Infrared grills from Char-Broil. The non-convection heating helps reduce evaporation and keeps foods moister.
Many of the cuts of pork available in grocery stores are enhanced (I use that term loosely) with injections or are pre-marinated. The purpose of these enhancements is to hide lower quality products from confined animal feeding operations. This changes the texture and flavor of the meat, and in many cases, adds a hidden source of gluten.
Before World War II, most pigs were raised on family farms and allowed to forage naturally outdoors. This exercise and the fat they put on naturally to survive cold winters created juicy, flavorful and tender meat, pink hued and well marbled. Those of us above a certain age will remember how much better pork tasted when we were young.
For the best flavor and to support humane treatment, buy heirloom breeds such as Berkshire, Duroc or Red Wattle. Heritage breeds are typically raised in a natural environment with the ability to root in search of food in much the same way as their ancestors did. If you do not have a butcher near you, many great options are available for purchase online.
Whenever I see heritage pork on a restaurant menu, I always order it. With every bite I am transported back to the flavors of my childhood.
With today’s recipe, you can have a delightful dinner on the table with very little fuss. While the meat is brining, you can make the dry rub, cut up the toppings and get everything ready. Then set up a buffet where everyone can add exactly what they want to their tacos without you having to be a short-order cook.
Brined and rubbed pork makes an excellent stuffing for authentic Mexican tacos.
- 6 cups cold water
- 4 tablespoons granulated cane sugar
- 6 tablespoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt, 4 tablespoons Morton’s kosher salt or 3 tablespoons table salt
- 3 tablespoons complementary dried herbs or seasonings, optional
- 1/4 cup paprika
- 2 tablespoons onion powder
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon chili powder, such as Ancho powder, or a store brand
- 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper, optional (leave out for mild rub)
- 1 tablespoon kosher or fine sea salt, preferably Diamond Crystal brand
- 1 tablespoon ground black pepper (cut this back if needed for milder rub)
- 2 pork tenderloins (not marinated or enhanced) or 1 pork sirloin roast (about 2 to 3 pounds)
- Olive or vegetable oil
- Dry rub (from above)
- 8 to 12 corn tortillas (gluten-free if needed)
- Grated cheese
- Chopped fresh tomatoes
- Finely sliced green onions
- Thinly sliced radishes
- Chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- Taco sauce or salsa, if desired
- Prepare the Brine: In a non-reactive container or large resealable plastic bag, combine the ingredients. If you want you can add any of the seasonings that will be used in the final preparation to add flavor. Stir until the sugar and salt are completely dissolved in the water. The recipe is for 1 pound of meat. For larger cuts scale the recipe up accordingly. You shouldn’t need to make more than 2 gallons of brine.
- Add your pork to the brine, seal the container, and place in the refrigerator. If the liquid doesn’t completely cover the meat, turn it occasionally as it rests. Brine the meat for 1 to 8 hours.
- Make the Dry Rub: In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients. Stir with a fork until evenly blended. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry area. Double or triple the blend and have it on hand whenever you need a rub. You can add other seasonings and herbs to it to customize it for each recipe. I keep a large jar in my cupboard and can get a meal pulled together quickly.
- Remove the pork from the brine and thoroughly pat it dry with paper towels. Coat the roast with a heavy layer of the dry rub, patting it onto all surfaces. Set the roast on the counter for about 45 minutes to come to room temperature and draw in the flavor of the rub.
- Cook the Pork: Preheat your Char-Broil TRU Infrared gas grill on high for 15 minutes. Scrub the grates clean and rub with a paper towel drizzled with oil. Brush the pork roast lightly with the oil and set on the center of the grill. Lower the center burner to low and the side burners to medium low. Close the cover and cook for 15 minutes. Turn the roast over and cook for another 10 to 20 minutes or until it reaches 140 degrees in the center.
- Remove from the grill, place on a clean baking sheet, tent loosely with foil and set aside to rest for at least 20 minutes.
- Cut the pork into thin slices and stack several of them together. Cut the stacks into 1/2-inch cubes. Place in a bowl and pour accumulated juices from the baking sheet and cutting board over the pork.
- Set up a buffet with the pork, tortillas and whatever toppings you like. Let everyone assemble their own tacos. Serve with a lightly tossed cabbage slaw if desired.