Pork provides the perfect blank canvas for infusing a variety of smoky flavors.
With summer fast approaching and sports schedules ramping up, BBQ season is soon to arrive. Operators need to be prepared, because consumers love BBQ – 96% of them, in fact, eat BBQ occasionally or frequently.1 And what else do they love? Smoky flavors – especially if smoke is paired with pork, as 60% of consumers are likely to order smoked pork applications.2
Smoking meat can be intimidating. There’s a lot that can go wrong, like oversmoking, undersmoking or pairing the wrong wood flavor with the wrong protein. But Texas BBQ expert Chef Brian West, formerly of Smoke: The Restaurant in San Antonio, says the key to being successful with smoking is not to overthink it.
“When it really comes down to it, smoking is just the fundamentals of roasting. Go with your instincts as a chef, as a person that understands food and cares about food and knows how to prepare food, and think of smoking as just adding this extra element to the roasting process,” he said.
Thankfully, if there is a good protein that lends itself well to experimenting with smoking, it’s pork. There’s an abundance of cuts that can be roasted or smoked without drying out, some of which no other protein can offer (smoked pork belly, anyone?). What’s more, pork meat has quite a neutral flavor, so it serves as the perfect blank canvas for chefs to infuse signature flair, while it is also able to stand up to the robust taste of smoke.
“Pork is the most forgiving in flavor when it comes to injections and wood selection when smoking. Even with tea. You can use pork with tea and turn out such a great product because it’s very forgiving,” said Chef Ernest Servantes, Pitmaster at Burnt Bean Co. “I haven’t found anything that pork doesn’t go with when it comes to smoke. Tea smoke, cinnamon smoke, oak smoke. It’s fun to play with, and that’s the one thing I love about barbecuing in general – we get to play and be creative.”
In addition to the traditional BBQ wood flavors, like oak and hickory, pork can easily showcase the subtle nuances of fruity wood flavors, like apple, peach and cherry, whereas those flavors might get hidden when smoking with a protein like beef. Because pork can carry fruity flavors, it’s an easier protein to work with when trying to avoid oversmoking.
“I’ve tried to oversmoke pork with fruit woods, and I’ve never been successful. So, for people starting out who are worried about oversmoking, I think fruit woods and pork are a good place to start,” said Chef Jeff Thalrose, Pitmaster at MeatBoneZ BBQ. “Really there’s nothing to be afraid of. Smoking is really the original way our ancestors cooked.”
Debating testing out some smoked menu items at your operation? Take a chance with pork – it’s sure to live up to great expectations!
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1. Datassential, Food Bytes, 2015.
2. Technomic, Center of the Plate Report, 2017