This is part of a series of recipes we did for the Joe Bonwich and the St. Louis Post Dispatch that incorporated soda in cooking recipes, or in this case, grilling. The impetus for this endeavor was an article Joe was working on about the Ski soda company which is an icon in Southern Illinois. You can read the article here and see this particular recipe here, that is if you don’t want to go out and buy an actual newspaper.
We also did wings in an orange soda/hot sauce glaze. Since I normally brine my pork tenderloins in apple juice, garlic, black pepper and salt, this seemed like an easy transition.
I actually did a side by side between tenderloins brined in root beer and those brined in orange soda. I’m only going to discuss the root beer one because the flavor of the orange soda didn’t transfer to the finished product. The one done in orange soda was really good, but we couldn’t taste the orange soda in the finished product. We could definitely taste the root beer.
2 (12-ounce) cans root beer
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/4 cup salt
2 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
2 (1 pound) pork tenderloins
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground clove
1 tsp granulated garlic
1 tsp smoked paprika
First a little about brining. What is a brine? In the simplest term it’s salt water. But doesn’t salt dry things out? Normally it does, but in this case it does the exact opposite. See, the salt forces water out of the salt water solution and in this case into the meat submerged within. So it makes meat juicier. Salt water also begins breaking down connective tissue and thus makes meat more tender. If you stopped there you would be ahead of most people. But there’s one more step to take to another level. What if that fluid moving from the salt solution into the meat had added flavor? In this case root beer, garlic, pepper (or whatever you want to use in your brine). Then it also adds flavor. So when people ask me if they should brine, I always say, “Absolutely. It moisturizes, tenderizes and flavorizes the meat.” If you’ve never brined, please do a side by side some time and I guarantee you will always brine from that point on.
Back to the grilling recipe. Combine the root beer, minced garlic, fresh ground black pepper and salt in a bag and seal. Swish the fluid around until the the salt is dissolved and then put the pork tenderloins in and put in the fridge overnight. You can do this for as little as two hours for as much as 12. I don’t recommend much more than 12, but the longer the better. Here are my pork tenderloins ready to be removed from the bags:
Remember, I did orange soda too. Guess which one is in front. Like I said, the orange didn’t have much flavor in the finished product of the soda so I’m not going to focus on it. All it did was turn the tenderloins orange and make them sweeter:
As opposed to the reverse seared pork tenderloins brined in root beer:
As you can see I have two loins for each. Usually pork tenderloins are sold two to a package. They are very, very lean, and thus can dry out pretty quickly, even with the added moisture of the brine, so I always recommend tying two together so they insulate each other and don’t dry out. And always go fat end to to skinny to keep the meat a uniform thickness. See above where the bottom loin tapers to the left? And how the top one tapers to the right? Tie them together with cooking twine and then you have a nice, standard thickness for the tenderloin and thus it will evenly cook:
I stopped buying my cooking twine locally because it is so expensive for the most pitiful little rolls. I got mine on Amazon with a stainless holder that I can refill again and again for the cheap. If you just want the ball of cooking twine, they have that too.
Now time to make the rub. Combine the dry rub ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Pat dry the tenderloins with a paper towel before applying a rub. If the loins are wet, a lot more of the rub will stick to the cutting board than it will to the meat.
Here are both sets of pork tenderloins tied off and rubbed down (root beer in the forefront):
Set up the grill for indirect grilling with coals on one side and nothing on the other. For this I used the greenest Bradford pear I possibly could. At 9 that morning the wood was still attached to a tree. At 2:00 pm, it was smoking my pork. Most people think that ornamental fruit trees are not the same as regular fruit trees. And most people think wood has to be dry and aged to be used for smoking. This is to show that both are myths. Myron Mixon uses the greenest peach he can when he grills and he’s done pretty well. And use your crab apple or double blossom cherry branches. They both smoke just as well as regular apple and cherry wood.
Here I have the meat on the right and coals on the left with the pear chunks:
It took longer for the pear to get smoking, but after it got going it was fine.
After an hour in a 250 degree grill my tenderloins are ready to go over to the hot side of the grill for the reverse sear method. What is the reverse sear method? Many folks sear meat, and then smoke it, but once the outside skin of the meat reaches between 140–160, it won’t allow any smoke penetration. Here we smoked for an hour, and then seared. That way I get my smoke flavor added and the nice flavor crust. It’s the best of both worlds and adds depth to the flavor profile of the finished product.
At this point, if you are doing this at home and you push your tongs into the tenderloins you’re thinking these things aren’t close to being done. And they aren’t. They should be around rare right now. Finishing the reverse sear will take them up to between medium rare and medium because it’s not just a sear on the top and the bottom. It’s a sear all the way around:
Here are the reverse seared pork tenderloins off the fire and back on the side with no coals:
You will see a lot of blackening. Don’t let that scare you. The brown sugar blackens quickly, but the meal will still be great.
You could pull the tenderloins at this point, let them rest and serve. Or you could leave them on for another 10 minutes or so to get them to a solid medium. I normally pull them after the sear, but the sides weren’t quite ready so I left the reverse seared pork tenderloins on the other side of the grill with the lid open for about 15 minutes before pulling them and letting them rest for about 10 minutes.
Why rest the meat? Because when the meat leaves the grill the juices are in an excited state and moving a million miles an hour. If you cut into it right away, all the juices are going to run out all over the place. Let the meat rest and the juices slow down and redistribute throughout the cut. For a cut this size, about 10 minutes is all that’s needed. Here it is sliced for the buffet line:
The orange soda brined tenderloin was really good, we just couldn’t taste the orange. If it’s all you have, it will make a fine brine fluid to tenderize and moisturize as it was definitely moist and tender, but the root beer could be tasted throughout the other reverse seared tenderloin and was deemed the better of the two by the many taste testers that day.
If you have any questions about reverse seared pork tenderloin brined in root beer, feel free to shoot me an email or leave it below and I will get back to you as soon as I can.
If you are interested in other pork dishes we’ve done on the grill, click here.
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I posted some pictures on the facebook page of all the grilling we did that day. You can find the album here.