Grilling Guide: Pork

Grilled pork is the perfect canvas for these six delicious summer-friendly recipes


Pork is probably the second most commonly grilled meat, probably the most common if one were to mistakenly include barbecued meat here as well; fighting words in much of the country. Just to set the record straight, grilling is cooking meat on a grate over an open flame while barbecuing is using direct heat to slowly cook meat while imbuing it with the smoke of aromatic woods. It’s sort of like the distinction between roasting and braising, yes the techniques and equipment can look similar, but the finale results are worlds apart.

Pork is similar in some ways to chicken in that it has a somewhat neutral flavor, though it is more pronounced than that of chicken. It’s a meat that really rewards brining, since it has little intramuscular fat to keep things moist on its own, and takes on the flavors of rubs and marinades very well. The key to great grilled pork is to adapt your cooking to the cut at hand; ribs need to cook longer, so shoot for a lower temperature than a chop or tenderloin. Do yourself a favor and don’t over cook your pork. A little pink is fine, and perfectly normal at 140 degrees, which is a safe temperature to serve pork at, though this is the time to break out the old instant read since cooking by touch is not a reliable way to judge how well cooked your pork really is.

Grilled Giant Pork Chops with Adobo Paste

Grilled Giant Pork Chops with Adobo Paste

Big, thick pork chops can be the centerpiece of a cookout, and when they take on the fiery red hue of Mexican adobo, they light up both your table and your palate. While this recipe calls for paprika and red pepper flakes, the dish is made more authentic if you grind up your own ancho or pasilla chilies.

The flavors of this dish are assertive, though tempered in part by the thickness of the meaty loin chops that the recipe calls for. All the chili flavors call for a wine that has bright fruit, but also endowed with a touch of its own pepperiness. With only modest fat and a decent amount of spice here, you really want to stay away from wines that are particularly tanic. A great option to explore would be a fine Cabernet Franc, a wine with a lighter texture than Cabernet Sauvignon, filled with red berry fruit and a distinct, earthy, chili nuance.

Two to Try

2010 Domaine Bernard Baudry Chinon Les Grezeaux

2010 Tamarack Cellars Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley

Coffee-Rubbed Grilled Pork Tenderloin

Coffee-Rubbed Grilled Pork Tenderloin

Yes, on first glance this is a little weird. Coffee is an unusual, but not unheard of ingredient in savory cooking; red-eye gravy anyone? While adding a touch of bitterness to the finished dish, coffee also contributes a toasted note to this dish, along with aromatic nuance. It’s an unusual twist to grilled pork and really creates an intriguing flavor when melded with the smoky sweetness of the grill.

And therein lies the key to an effective wine pairing with such an unusual recipe. Look for a wine that has a smoky sweetness. The pork tenderloin has relatively subtle flavors, so you’re going to be pairing your wine with the coffee and something a bit funky. A South African Cape Blend with a touch of Pinotage has just the right mix of sweet fruit, smoky notes and coffee overtones to work perfectly with this recipe.

Two to Try

2007 Warwick Estate Red Blend Simonsberg Stellenbosch Three Cape Ladies Cape Blend

2010 Beyerskloof Synergy Cape Blend

Grilled Pork Rib Chops with Fresh Herb Rub

Grilled Pork Rib Chops with Fresh Herb Rub

This is a classic Italian style preparation, bringing together herbs, garlic and fennel seeds. You can be creative with the blend of herb you use here, adding in some thyme and lavender would give this a distinctively provencal touch while mint would give it that Agean kick. In any case, it’s a wonderful recipe where the seasonings are more like aromatic top notes, allowing the flavor of the meat to really take center stage.

This is one of the most food-friendly grilled pork recipes I could imagine, easily paired with just about any white wine and many lighter bodied red wines, but I’m going to take my cue from its Italian roots and break out the Chianti. With zesty red fruit that will compliment the intensity of pork flavor and just a hint of herb to knit everything together, it really is an ideal match.

Two to Try

2010 San Giusto Rentennano a Chianti Classico

2009 Chianti Classico Le Trame Le Boncie

Grilled Pork Chops with Sweet Lemongrass Marinade

Grilled Pork Chops with Sweet Lemongrass Marinade

I love this recipe, it creates a dish that builds layers of rich flavors over the base of sweetened pork goodness. There’s a lot of sugar in the marinade, but by grilling these chops, and adding a touch of charred bitterness, the final product is not quite as sweet as you might think based on the ingredient list alone.

You’ll need to select a wine with some sweetness to pair with this dish, and I would suggest sticking to something white and with citrus acidity to pair with the flavors of the lemongrass. At the same time you’ll need to find something with rather assertive flavors to match up with the notes of the fish sauce and garlic that make these chops so attractive. This sounds like a job for Riesling, something with noticeable sweetness and power, like a wine from one of the warmer regions of Germany: the Nahe or Pfalz.

Two to Try

2011 Reichsrat Von Buhl Riesling Kabinett Armand

2011 Donnhoff Oberhauser Leistenberg Riesling Kabinett


Charcoal-grilled Pork Shoulder

Charcoal-Grilled Pork Shoulder with Fresh Herbs and Roasted Garlic

With this recipe we veer dangerously close to creating real barbecue, though the use of briquets pretty much makes a mockery of that notion. Everyone knows you can’t ‘cue with briquets! But still, this recipe shares some traits with barbecue, from slow cooking over indirect heat that concentrates the meats flavors, to a lightly smoky note coming from the grill. The use of a meaty, fatty pork shoulder here is what helps to make this recipe work, preventing the meat from completely drying out.

This dish will feature joyously rich flavors of pork, gently accented with a light provencal touch that could be mistaken for something a bit Spanish. The brine, filled with savory spices, will add incredible depth of flavor, so look for a wine that can deliver the same. Considering the recipes roots, I’m looking to Grenache to pair with this dish, either a robust Cotes du Rhone or something from Spain would be great, as would a Cannonau from the island of Sardinia which has the typical playful nature and red fruit of the grape with the added bonus of more assertive herbal notes.

Two to Try

2011 Domaine de Cristia Cotes du Rhone

2011 Attilio Contini Cannonau di Sardegna Tonaghe


Apple-Bacon Barbecued Ribs

Apple-Bacon Barbecued Ribs

If the previous recipe was approaching barbecue, this one rolls right up to the door and knocks. Knocks with the sticky, spicy hands that we all tend to associate with ‘cue, but trust me even this is not ‘cue. It is, however, a mighty tasty recipe and as close to ‘cue as you’re likely to get without a real smoker.

This recipe is a sort of amalgam, using both a dry rub to impart flavor to the meat as well as a sweet and smoky sauce. I’ve always brined my ribs, adding in apple cider vinegar to help give the meat a nice kick of tartness, which is helpful when dealing with sweet glazes or sauces. There’s a lot going on here, with the classic layers of sweet, spicy, smoky and meaty flavors that really epitomize what grilling can achieve. With such an intense dish you’ll need an intense wine, and you’ll have to look no further than the all-American roots of this recipe for inspiration. This is Zinfandel country; powerful, fruity, a touch sweet and a bit spicy, it’s one of the few wines with the blend of soft richness and bold flavors that can do justice to this pairing.

Two to Try

2008 Elyse Zinfandel Howell Mountain

2010 Klinker Brick Old Vine Zinfandel

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