There’s something I love about grilling with charcoal. It requires a bit more effort and a bit more patience, it practically demands you slow down. You can’t fire up the grill and have dinner on the table 15 minutes later - you need to wait for the coals to reach the right temperature. In that intermission, as the coals turn from black to red to white hot, I like to just sit by the grill. It’s a time for quiet reflection, a time to just be. Grilling with charcoal is a leisurely, weekend pursuit, and that’s exactly why I love it so much.
Memorial Day Weekend is the unofficial start of summer and of grilling season (although I’m very much pro-year-round grilling) and is the perfect time to pull out your charcoal grill. Whether you’re feeding a crowd or just cooking for your family, you can all hang around the grill as the coals do their thing, chatting about summer plans and enjoying a cold beer or glass of rose.
This recipe is one where quality ingredients and simplicity rule the day. Here in the South we’re at the tail end of strawberry season, but in much of the rest of the country they are still going gangbusters. The kick of a black pepper crust on the pork loin contrasts beautifully with the sweet notes of the strawberry gremolata, and since virtually everything is grilled it can all come together quickly in the end. (Tip - since the strawberries will be grilled, this is a great chance to use up any ones that are bruised or slightly past their prime.)
If all you have is a gas grill this recipe will still turn out wonderfully, but if you have access to a charcoal grill and good quality hardwood charcoal I really suggest you go that route. Embrace the wait and let the fire do its thing!
Black Pepper Pork Loin with Strawberry Gremolata
One 1-2 lb pork loin
2 Tbsp fresh ground black pepper (NOT powdered)
1 Tbsp Kosher salt
4 whole scallions
1/2 lb fresh strawberries
1/4 of a medium red onion, cut into a wedge
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh parsley
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Good olive oil
Good Balsamic vinegar (optional)
Mix the salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Pat the pork loin dry with some paper towels. If one end is significantly thinner than the rest of the loin, cut it off to make two portions (the smaller will grill faster). Rub the loin all over with olive oil, and then coat with the pepper mixture. Set aside at room temperature.
Prepare a charcoal grill for direct and indirect cooking. If using a gas grill, just preheat one side of the burners and leave the opposite side off.
Wash and dry the strawberries, onion, and scallions. De-stem the strawberries.
Once the coals are ready carefully brush the grill grate with a little oil and then put the pork on the grill, directly over the coals. Let the meat sear for about 2 minutes on each side, and then move to the opposite side of the grill for indirect cooking.
Once the pork has been seared off place the onion, scallions, and strawberries directly over the coals. Close the grill and let char for 2-3 minutes, then flip/turn them (carefully with the strawberries) and let char on the other side for another 2-3 minutes.
Once the fruit and veggies are nicely charred remove them from the grill and check the pork with an instant-read thermometer. I shoot for 145-150F for medium rare, knowing that pork will continue cooking for a bit once I remove it from the heat. (Read below for why I like my pork to be a little pink.) Pull the pork from the grill and set aside to rest, loosely covered with some foil.
While the pork rests you can prepare the gremolata. I like to do this in a mortar & pestle for a chunkier gremolata, but if you prefer a smoother sauce you can make it in a food processor (directions below). First roughly dice the two cloves of raw garlic and the grilled onion. Place in the pestle with a big pinch of kosher salt. Pound the garlic and onion into a paste. Next, roughly chop the grilled strawberries and scallions and add that to the garlic and onion mixture with about a teaspoon of olive oil. Gently pound the mixture together for a minute before switching to a spoon or spatula. Mince the parsley and add that to the mixture along with the lemon juice and zest. Stir everything to combine and taste for salt. (I don’t add any extra pepper since the pork is quite peppery already.)
If you want to use a food processor for the gremolata place the onion and garlic in the processor with a pinch of salt and pulse until chopped up. Then add the strawberries, scallions, one teaspoon of olive oil, lemon juice and zest, and parsley. Pulse until everything comes together and reaches your desired consistency.
Slice the pork into 1/2-inch thick pieces and arrange on a platter. Spoon some of the gremolata over the pork and put the rest in a bowl to be served alongside. (The recipe makes more gremolata than you will probably need - it will keep for about a week in the fridge and is great on grilled or roast chicken, salmon, or even turkey burgers.)
Why I eat my pork pink: for years food scientists recommended cooking pork until it was well-done to prevent trichinosis. However that advice has become outdated as its been discovered that the trichinae are actually killed at temperatures above 137F. When I buy good quality, local pork I can confidently serve it medium-rare to medium, 145-155F, with no need to worry about illness.