Sweet and Spicy Apricot-Glazed Pork and Pineapple Kebabs
I would say the majority of my kebab recipes rely on a marinade or glaze to impart the complimentary flavor to go with whatever meat has been skewered. This is all fine and good, but I got to thinking what if I were to up my skewer game—what might that look like? I thought a good first step would be to apply some barbecue standards to these quickly grilled skewers by doubling up on seasoning by using both a rub and glaze. This ended up being a fantastic idea with concrete proof in these sweet and spicy apricot-glazed pork and pineapple kebabs.
I've been making the move from loin to shoulder as my choice pork cut for kebabs. This came after realizing that, if prepped correctly, pork shoulder is more flavorful, more cost effective, and can still be tender when grilled over direct heat. The prepping correctly part is a bit of a pain though because it entails carefully cutting out excess fat and connective tissue, of which there is a ton in pork shoulder.
To make life a little easier on myself this time around, I regressed to pork loin, whose prep into cubes is so much more efficient than shoulder. The only problem with the loin is that its lack of fat makes it more susceptible to drying out, which is why I like to give it the added insurance of a brine to up the moisture level of the meat.
The half hour brine afforded me the time to put together my sauce and rub. When thinking about barbecue, I always consider the sauce and rub as a whole—both bring their own flavors that can compliment and contrast each other to make a final, complex, and cohesive flavor profile. With these skewers, I wanted the rub to bring the spice and the sauce to bring the sweet and the heat.
So I started the glaze off with a sugary base that included apricot preserves and honey. To that I added Dijon mustard for bite, soy sauce for savoriness, rice vinegar for tang, and chipotles in adobe for a smoky heat. I let this combination of ingredients simmer in a small saucepan until it was slightly thickened and syrupy.
Then for the rub, I went with what would be considered a fairly standard barbecue combination—paprika, salt, black pepper, sugar, cayenne, garlic powder, onion powder, and cumin. This would provide an earthy quality and new layers of spice that weren't present in the sauce.
After the pork was done brining I cut each chop into 1-inch cubes—larger chunks also help avoid overcooking due to the fact that they just take longer to grill, giving a larger margin for error. I then tossed them with the rub until that pale pork was deep red with a liberal and even coating seasoning all over.
One aspect of the skewer that you don't usually get in barbecue is accompaniments by way of fruits or veggies. I thought pineapple would be the most apt choice to go with here—it would amp up the fruitiness started with the apricots, add another distinct sweetness, and its freshness would contrast with the earthy rub.
All skewered up, it was time to hit the grill. Having used pork loin, my main concern with grilling was to not to overcook them—even with the added protection of the brine, bringing these past their doneness could result in dry, disappointing results. So more than looking out for an ideal sear, I monitored the doneness of the meat and moved them over to indirect heat when they were about 10°F shy of my target 145°F medium doneness.
Once over indirect heat, I applied the glaze. Saucing the skewers over indirect heat affords enough time for the glaze to set, allow the meat to slowly finish cooking, and help ensure the sauce doesn't burn, which can happen easily over hotter direct heat.
By layering first with the rub and then with the glaze, I was able to produce really nuanced, deep flavors: the kebab may look simple and straightforward, but it tasted incredibly complex, mingling the rub's earthy and spicy profile with the sweet, fruity sauce. It's definitely a direction I should be taking my kebab making, which is going to go into full swing as the Meatwave season kicks off and I'm back into the business of big backyard barbecues.
Sweet and Spicy Apricot-Glazed Pork and Pineapple Kebabs
- Yield 4-6 servings
- Prep 40 Minutes
- Inactive 30 Minutes
- Cook 15 Minutes
- Total 1 Hour 25 Minutes
- For the Brined Pork Chops
- 2 quarts ice cold water
- 1/3 cup kosher salt
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 pounds (1 1/2-inch thick) center-cut pork chops
- For the Rub
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- For the Glaze
- 1/2 cup apricot preserves
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped chipotle chiles in adobo
- Wooden skewers, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes prior to use
- 1/2 pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
- To Make the Brined Pork Chops: In a large bowl, whisk together water, salt, and sugar until solids are dissolved. Place pork chops in brine and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes.
- To Make the Rub: In a small bowl, mix together paprika, salt, black pepper, sugar, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and cumin. Set aside.
- To make the glaze: In a small saucepan, whisk together apricot preserves, honey, mustard, soy sauce, vinegar, and chipotle chiles. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until slightly thickened, 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Remove pork chops from brine and pat dry with paper towels. Cut pork into 1 1/2-inch cubes, trimming any large pieces of excess fat. Coat pork cubes liberally with spice rub.
- Thread pork onto skewers, alternating with pineapple cubes.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Grill skewers over direct heat until pork is well seared on all sides, about 3 minutes per side.
- Move skewers to cool side of grill and brush with glaze all over. Cover grill and continue to cook until center of pork registers 140-145°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 5 minutes onger. Transfer skewers to a serving tray and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve immediately.