Charcoal Roasted Pork Loin

There are certain people (and we’re eagerly awaiting comments from you all) who think that cooking meat on a gas grill isn’t “real” grilling. Personally, we’re a little more lenient and admit there are times when the instant and easily controlled heat of a gas grill suites us just fine. We do agree, however, that if you always cook on a gas grill you haven’t truly experienced what separates grilling from all other cooking methods.

Meat cooked over charcoal (or regular wood) has a smoky flavor that simply cannot be achieved by cooking over a gas flame or in an oven. It’s not that gas grilled meat doesn’t taste good, it just doesn’t have that subtle but addictive smokiness that complements pretty much any type of meat so well. People who claim that meat cooked on a gas grill has a smoky flavor are often mistaking “burnt” for “smoky” – a blackened exterior is not ideal for your health or for the flavor of your food. Meat cooked over charcoal, in our experience, also cooks more evenly and is less likely to become dry and stringy.

So if charcoal-grilled meat really does have a more complex and tender flavor, then why do so many people use gas grills? One word: convenience. Light a match, turn a valve, wait five minutes for the grill to heat up and you’re good to go.  Preparing to grill over charcoal does take longer, but not as long as you might think. In 15-20 minutes your grill will be ready, which gives you just enough time to mix together a spice rub and season your meat.

Before lighting up your charcoal grill, choose your heat source wisely. Avoid briquettes made from wood by-products (i.e. industrial waste) and additives that guarantee that your food will taste like it’s been doused in chemicals. Instead, choose charcoal that is made from 100% wood with no chemical additives or fillers. For a more pronounced smoky flavor, soak a few 3-5 inch chunks of wood in water for an hour then place directly on top of the briquettes before you begin to cook.

To light the grill, use a chimney-style charcoal starter, which is the fastest and easiest way to get charcoal good and hot quickly without lighter fluid. Turn the chimney upside-down and stuff two or three sheets of crushed newspaper in the bottom. Flip the chimney back over and fill with charcoal. Place the chimney on the lower grill grate and light the newspaper on fire. Smoke will begin to billow out – don’t panic, just wait a few minutes and the smoke will mostly clear except for a little bit coming out of the top. In 15-20 minutes small flames will be coming out of the top of the chimney and the edges of the coals will have turned white. Dump the coals out into your grill and have your meat nearby, because you’re ready to grill.

A charcoal grill can go well above 500 degrees, perfect for searing meat at the beginning, but also perfect for over-cooking meat if you’re not careful. For the best results set up a hot zone (direct, high heat (see pic below)) and a cool zone (indirect, medium or low heat) by stacking most or all of the charcoal on one side of the grill. Instead of using a temperature knob to control the heat like on a gas grill, you move the meat back and forth from the hot zone to the cooler zone as needed. Because there aren’t any high flames, flare-ups rarely happen on a charcoal grill, making the dreaded “raw on the inside, burnt on the outside” phenomenon less likely. If you make use of a medium or low heat zone, meat can be slow-roasted for hours, another reason that a charcoal grill makes more sense than gas grill if meat cooked slowly until it falls apart is what you’re after.

Any type or cut of meat can be grilled over charcoal. We figure you’re comfortable with steaks and chicken so let’s talk about a hunk of protein that can be a little trickier: pork loin. Pork loin can be really, really good but it can also be really, really dry, especially when grilled over gas. It’s a cut that is remarkably more tender and juicy when cooked over charcoal. The heat from the charcoal caresses the meat, coaxing it into doneness rather than scorching quickly with a flame. Follow our easy recipe for Charcoal Roasted Pork Loin and you’re guaranteed a succulent, tender cut of pork seasoned with fragrant, toasted spices and flavored with that subtle smokiness that makes charcoal grilling worth the effort.

We should also mention that in addition to the great taste of the meat there is something satisfying about cooking over charcoal. It feels more primal, less modern: more relaxed, less rushed. Cooking over charcoal feels…how should we put this…it feels, well…we have to admit, it really does feel more like real grilling.

Approximately 4 servings


  • 2 pounds pork loin roast – look for a blade end roast, which is the part of the pork loin closest to the shoulder and tends to be thicker and the most fatty
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teasooon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper


Remove the meat from refrigeration.

Fill the chimney starter to the top with charcoal and light the chimney starter.

Rub the meat with oil; sprinkle with spices and rub into the meat.

When the coals in the chimney starter are white around the edges (after about 15-20 minutes), dump them onto one side of the bottom grill grate. Put the top grate in place over the charcoal.

Put the lid on the grill and let it sit for five minutes so the grate becomes hot.

Remove the cover and place the meat directly over the hot coals for about 2 minutes per side, turning so all sides are seared and browned.

Move the meat to the other side of grill so it is close to the charcoal but not directly over it. Position it so the longest side of the loin is closest to the charcoal.

Put the cover on the grill, open the vents halfway, and let the meat cook for 15 minutes.

Remove the cover and turn the loin so the side that faced the coals now faces away from the direct heat. Replace the cover and continue cooking until an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of roast reads 140 degrees, about 15-30 minutes depending how thick your cut of meat is. Check the temperature at regular intervals, as it can rise quickly.

Transfer meat to cutting board and let rest 15 minutes. Internal temperature should rise to about 150 degrees. Slice and serve.

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40 thoughts on “Charcoal Roasted Pork Loin”

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  1. I love this post, and I have been waiting for a while to see something with grilling here on MDA.
    There are a couple of things that I would like to add:
    If the pork loin seems a bit dry after cooking, consider a brine first. A simple solution of 1 liter of water with 25g salt, a bit of maple syrup, and some seasonings overnight will ensure that the meat is nice and moist after cooking.
    The new guidelines for pork suggest that you can serve your pork at 145F I don’t mind going down to 140F myself. That means that you would pull it off at 130 or 135F, and let it rest to 140. It should be slightly pink.
    I also like to throw a few fresh rosemary branches on the coals while cooking with the cover on. You can get awesome results using dried sage leaves as well.
    Finally, if you don’t do charcoal, you can emulate it by throwing soaked wood chips into a foil package, poke holes into it, and place it over the gas burner while your barbecue is heating up. At least you’d get the smoking effect.
    Happy grilling!

  2. Have you ever grilled on a Big Green Egg?! You’ll never go back to using a Weber again! 😉

    1. I’ve been looking at the BGE and other versions of the kamado grills for a while now… really need to make the leap!

  3. Mark, I am of the opinion that you are just scratching the surface with this terrific post! After embracing the primal lifestyle, I was turned onto charcoal smoking using the highly acclaimed Weber Smokey Mountain. This smoker has reached occult status amongst believers. It has a bit of a steep learning curve, but once you get it down, nothing beats it. The weber brand is much more expensive than other charcoal smokers, but the design really is exceptional and makes for a highly efficient cooker! If any of you are interested in exploring this further, I suggest checking this link: Also, A BBQ guru has a wonderful book out that will coach you through the learning process: Gary Wiviott:

    The best thing about a smoker is that you can take cheap cuts of tough meat and turn them into magic, making your own rubs sans sugar, and it is absolutely amazing what you can do. Pork shoulder, loin, spare ribs, brisket, chicken, the list goes on and on. I will do a long cook with a pork shoulder and this cooker will cook using indirect heat for up to 18 hours (35 lbs of pork shoulder cooks nicely and falls apart when pulled). Spare ribs, 6 hours, etc. Gary coaches you with his step-by step lessons on how to become a pitmaster in your own home. With the pulled pork, for example, I will cook a bunch at one time, then after pulling, use plastic containers and freeze roughly 12 oz packs. Then, thaw and you have delicious meat to put on salads, etc. My favorite work-lunch is kale, mushrooms and a dab of coconut oil with pork on top, microwave at work and voila, a primal meal that doesn’t get boring! Ribs are simply outstanding, and I just did my first brisket to perfection recently. The cooker itself can go for 6-8 hours without needing tending- reloading coals or the water pan, etc. Finally, I want to make a plug for my ‘wood guy’, lives right here in Portland, and will ship kiln-dried cooking wood: He has many varieties that will bring different flavors to the meat– my fav is using peach wood to smoke pork. Last thanksgiving, I smoked a 24 pound turkey and it turned out incredible (recipe on the virtual weber bullet website). I met a guy who has a commercial bbq business and has an army of the bigger models- and he has a tatoo of the WSM on his shoulder! Cult following, my friends… Anyway, if you are the least bit curious, check this thing out…
    Grock on!

  4. Wow, this looks amazing! I’ve only had so-so results with pork loin on the grill, so I’ve stuck to Michael Ruhlman’s pork tenderloin recipe (well worth looking up).

    But this sounds fantastic. I may try a pork loin again after all.

    We do usually gas grill at my house, because it’s easy. But if I take a little extra time to do the charcoal (plus wood chips, yum) the results are definitely tastier!

    1. Spiced my 3lb pork loin up the night before with garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper & rosemary. Wrapped it up in freezer paper & stuck it in the fridge. Next day, cooked directly over the coals with a firebox at the other end of the grill that had soaked pecan & cherry wood chips.
      After an hour, cut the roast in half and rotated the open ends to face the coals, turning every 10 minutes. Bathed the meat in beer on several occasions during the entire process. 1 1/2 hrs later it was at 140, let it rest 10 mins, sliced & whole family said….FANTASTIC!

  5. What a timing!
    I just bought a pastured pork roast today at the local farmer’s market and was going to make pork stew.
    I think I’ll change my mind, this looks pretty darn appetizing.

  6. Can I gut my old gas grill and turn it into an open fire grill w/lid?
    Open pit fires aren’t allowed in my area and I don’t want to dish out money to buy a whole new charcoal grill.

    1. Absolutely. I found an old Charbroil grill in the garbage, and I did exactly that. The only modification you will need is to get yourself a charcoal grate on the bottom to hold the coals. Other than that, it’s the same deal.
      I may have to make a DIY post on that.

  7. I love to use my smoker, it has an offset fire box. I use hard wood logs to fire my smoker, hickory is my favorite. Low and slow is the key to some wonderful meats. I keep my smoker around 225-250. I spritz the meat about once an hour with apple cider vinegar, or some other flavored liquid to keep the exterior nice and moist. When people end up with dry meat, they either cooked it too fast, or to too high a finish temp. I like to cook my pork loin to 140 and then let it rest in foil for 15-20. The meat will be supper juicy, for some the lower finish temp surprises people. The texture is very different than most expect pork. It is more like a good steak cooked medium rare. Ever since we changed to solid hardwood logs, we have had some tremendous meats, and have no plans to go back to either gas or charcoal. At any rate, meat cooked on a grill is great!

    1. What kind of offset smoker do you use? I was looking to buy one, but they looked kind of cheap. I was considering building my own…

      1. I too love the real BBQ flavor you get from a smoker. Although the offsets are considered the best I just don’t have the real estate. So I have a Weber Smoky Mountain Cooker or the Weber bullet as it’s more commonly know. It’s a water smoker meaning there is a water pan between the fire and the cooking grates. IMHO, the meat I make rivals that of any offset smoker and only takes up 24″ of my small patio. There are a lot of resources out there as the bullet has quite a cult like following. Hope this helps.

  8. I like to eat grilled, BBQ, fried, fire-cooked etc. food but lately I’ve been cooking almost all the meat I eat in water. It seems to be the fastest, easiest, and healthiest method (nothing burnt = no polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or at least very few I’m guessing). I started by boiling but due to some broth boiling over, which is a hassle to clean off the stove, usually I just cover it, put the heat dial somewhere around medium (tweaking later if necessary) and let it simmer until it looks just ready enough to eat. The meat ends up juicy and fairly tender; the only downside is that much of the fat often ends up hard and extremely chewy, which I find a bit unpleasant, so I end up swallowing bite size chunks and hoping my enzymes can do the chewing for me.
    Sometimes I add spices to the water and use the broth later to make a soup, drink it after my meal feels sufficiently digested, or just pour it in a bowl and give it to my dog, who loves it.

    1. I do not wish to be offensive, but I am not sure why anyone would want to boil their meat. You listed several reasons not to boil, and there are many others. But if it works for you, go for it!

      1. I think cooking with fire definitely yields the best tasting meat. I cook in water just because I find it more convenient overall and to avoid carcinogens. (I’ve exposed myself to lots of hazardous chemicals via irresponsible recreational activities so I’m a bit paranoid about toxins these days.)

    2. You should learn to sous vide. That will solve your fat problem – the fat will be soft and sweet.

      1. I never heard of that before. Thanks for the tip. I’m hesitant to cook anything in plastic but I’ll try to cook in airtight conditions by putting the meat in an upside down bowl within a pot or maybe just in a small pot with the lid on tight, with the stove on low for a long time. Tomorrow should be a good day for this since I was planning on staying home and being lazy. I’ll report on how the pseudo-sous viding goes.

        1. Chewing delicious pork as I type. The experiment went well. I filled a large pot with enough water to cover one pork chop, put two stacked up in the center, covered them with an upside down clear glass bowl to basically make a vaccuum seal, put the lid on the pot, and then turned the burner on low. I let it cook for around 4 and a half hours. I checked on it throughout. At first the water was dispersed evenly throughout in the bowl and around it. The bubbling inside the bowl was making it lift up and preventing a seal so I turned the heat down to just about minimum and lifted the bowl and then put it back down, which solved that problem, because almost all the water ended up getting sucked inside the bowl (I guess due to some convection current?), where it then stayed. The result is pork chops that were falling apart when I picked them up with the fork. The bottom one got just very slightly burnt in a few places. The fat is very tender. Some of it was floating around like shredded jelly-fish in the water and was basically liquid and one piece attached to the meat was so tender that I didn’t have to chew it at all but just swish it through my teeth. Usually pork fat ends up a bit more tender than steak fat when boiling though so I’ll have to try this again with a steak later. I didn’t today because my parents were out and they make me ask every time I cook a steak. “Beggars can’t be choosers.”

    3. Well, that’s one way to just get the protein and fat cooked and down the pipe. Yech!

  9. Charcoal grilling is the only way for me! Meat cooked over charcoal has much more flavor then over a gas grill.

    Anybody who hasn’t tried cooking over charcoal……… do it………. tonight 🙂

  10. Looks I will have to do some grilling on my next day off, this looks great. I only use charcoal and love it. Every now and then I think about getting a gas grill just for the convenience of it, but the flavor just doesn’t compare. It usually takes me about a half hour to get my grill just right, that’s not really that much time to sacrifice.

  11. Mark, do you have any comment or advice on the negative health aspects of charcoal grilling? Several articles talk about carcinogens from the smoke and fat dripping on the coals, burning and putting more negative stuff in the meat.

    1. Thank you for bringing this up — I’ve read way too many articles on the hazards of eating the black stuff that ends up on charcoal (BBQ’d) cooked meats. You’d think that if Grok cooked this way, why weren’t Grok and his cronies affected by all this nasty stuff — or were they and we’d never know?? Why would it be injurious to us (modern day peeps) and not necessarily injurious to the ancients?

      Personally, that’s the first stuff I go for when eating BBQ!

  12. Damn Mark. Could the timing be more perfect? I am going camping with my 3 siblings and my sisters fiances. Six of us. We are staying in a lodge thanks to my “clean” oldest sister.

    I will have to show this post to them all which will hopefully give us some cooking ideas.


  13. I have 2 Pork Tenderloins and 8 country spare ribs going on the smoker today. I was hungry but reading this has just made me even more so!

  14. For truly primal cooking with fire, cook your steaks directly on the coals. Its fantastic!

    1. Probably not quite as good as using charcoal (lump or briquettes) but adding a stainless smoke box (less than $10) to your gas grill will totally change the taste of your meat cooked over gas. Just add a handfull of dry chips for quick cooking stuff (steaks) or soaked chips for slower stuff (beer can chicken) It just sits on top of the burner(under the grate) on my Weber Genesis. If you lack clearance, you may have to sit it on top of the grates.

  15. Hi,
    I only read some of the page, but you’re talkin’ my talk! I’m about to go grill a huge pork loin roast on my BGE for my family. I’ll be back on this site when i find some time…

  16. No mention of temperature. Based on your cook times is it safe to say 4-425?

  17. Simple to do and I like the hints on how to prep the grill.
    One question, if one is grilling a 4# roast does it take any longer? I am thinking not much, but plan to use and instant thermometer.