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Spanish Pork Kebabs

By Andrew Janjigian Published

A union of spices and char flavors pinchos morunos. But for juicy meat, separation is key.

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.

Recipe Spanish Grilled Pork Kebabs (Pinchos Morunos)

A union of spices and char flavors pinchos morunos. But for juicy meat, separation is key.

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