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Spanish Pork Kebabs

A union of spices and char flavors pinchos morunos. But for juicy meat, separation is key.
By Published July 25, 2019

My Goals and Discoveries

Juicy, well-seasoned pork

Choosing country-style ribs (which are cut from the part of the loin that is close to the shoulder) means the kebabs are a little more forgiving on the grill. Brining the pork helps draw moisture into the meat and helps it retain this moisture during grilling.

Well-charred exterior

Grilling on high heat lets the exterior cook quickly without overcooking the interior.

Perfectly cooked light and dark meat

Separating the ribs into light and dark pieces allows them to be cooked to two different temperatures (140 degrees for the light meat and 155 degrees for the dark) so that the light meat doesn’t overcook and the dark meat isn’t chewy.

If you’re not familiar with pinchos morunos, let me fill you in: The dish consists of chunks of pork that are heavily seasoned with a bright, heady spice paste (lemon, garlic, smoked paprika, cumin, and coriander are common components); skewered; charred over hot coals; and served as part of a tapas spread. Pincho (“spike” or “thorn”) points to cooking the meat kebab-style; morunos (Moorish) refers to a Moorish influence. I’ve become such a fan of the dish that I’ve taken to serving pinchos not just as a tapa but as the center of a meal.

Getting to a great recipe required overcoming the inherent challenge of pork kebabs: The cuts that are typically used—tenderloin and loin—are lean, which means they are unforgiving on a hot grill and can easily turn dry and mealy. But there is another choice that’s easy to find and fashion into bite-size pieces: country-style ribs. In an early test, this cut showed promise, so I decided to move forward with it.

Senior editor Andrew Janjigian plates pork pinchos for tasting during preliminary testing of a new recipe for these Spanish pork kebabs.

A salty marinade helped the pork retain some moisture, but the meat needed all the help it could get to stay juicy, so I opted for a brine, which would draw water into the meat. I would incorporate the seasonings from the marinade in the form of a spice paste applied just before grilling.

The Dark (and Light) Side of Country-Style Ribs 

Country-style ribs are cut from the backbone where the shoulder meets the loin; therefore, they contain meat from both regions. Because the shoulder muscle uses energy for extended periods, it’s rich in fat, which acts as fuel, and the red protein myoglobin, which accounts for its darker color. The lesser-worked loin area is leaner and lighter. Given these traits, the dark meat can be cooked to a higher temperature and still stay juicy, but the leaner light meat needs to be a cooked to a lower temperature lest it dry out.

As I worked, I noticed that the pork behaved a lot like chicken: Even when I left it on the grill long enough to char, the darker meat stayed juicy, thanks to its more abundant fat and collagen, whereas the leaner, lighter bites were dry. We cook light- and dark-meat chicken to different temperatures, so why not do the same with pork? I placed two skewers of dark meat over the coals. Six minutes later, I added two skewers of light meat. At 155 degrees, the dark meat was well charred yet still tender and juicy; the light meat was lightly charred and beautifully moist at 140 degrees.

Finally, I perfected the spice paste. Lemon, garlic, and spices (such as cayenne and black pepper for heat) offered complexity. Ginger added zing, and fresh oregano—mixed into the paste and sprinkled onto the cooked kebabs—contributed herbal freshness.

A sprinkle of fresh oregano finishes off kebabs coated in lemon, garlic, ginger, cayenne, and warm spices.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.