When most people think of cured pork, they think of the two champions of the cured-pork world: bacon and ham. But the Cajun dish Tasso (sometimes referred to as Tasso Ham) beats these two famous counterparts in another way — you can’t beat its affordability and ease. Because Tasso is made with shoulder or loin, it’s much cheaper to prepare than bacon (pork belly) or ham (pork leg), because the former is much more expensive, and the latter is hard to find in its unprocessed state.
This is a two-step process: first, you cure the pork to remove its moisture and to impart its characteristic pink hue. Next, you smoke it at a low heat (under 180F if possible). The process is a little involved, but the end product is super versatile; I use it in my gumbo, jambalaya, or any dish that calls for bacon or salt pork.
You’ll want to cut the shoulder into smaller pieces — my rule of thumb is that each piece should be the size of a baseball. This gives you more surface area to work with, so that you can imbue it with all of that cajuny goodness.
Tasso – Cajun Smoked Pork (Gluten-free, Primal, Paleo, Keto)
3 lbs boneless pork shoulder or loin, cut into six roughly 8oz pieces about 2” thick
3 tbsp black pepper
3 tbsp garlic powder
2 tbsp paprika
2 tbsp onion powder
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp pink curing salt (prague powder #1) or celery juice powder
1 tbsp organic cane sugar or coconut palm sugar
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1. Pat the pork dry with paper towels. In a small bowl, combine the seasonings, then generously rub the seasoning mixture all over the pork. Pack any leftover seasonings on the pork. Transfer the pork to a airtight container or resealable plastic bag then refrigerate for at least 3 days, but up to 5 days. On the night before cooking the Tasso, open the bag or unseal the cover so that the pork can air-dry in the fridge overnight.
2. Prepare your smoker or grill for indirect smoking. If using a smoker, prepare it as directed by the manufacturer. If using a gas grill, fill two smoker boxes or small aluminum pans with hickory, cherry, or apple wood chips and wood chunks. Add about 1/2″ water to the wood chips. Place the smoker boxes on the side of the grill that will be hot, under the grates if possible. As the wood chunks burn and smoke, the water in the wood chips will evaporate and eventually burn and smoke, but usually after the wood chunks have burnt out. When smoking with a charcoal grill, you can add wood chunks directly to the charcoal, adding more as they burn out.
3. Smoke the pork at a low heat, about 150F-160F, just enough to keep the smoke going, for 2 hours. Increase the heat to 180F and smoked until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 160F, about 2 more hours, adding more wood as needed – your goal is to penetrate the meat with as much smoke as possible before the pork reaches 160F. The outside of the pork will appear almost like jerky when it has reached the optimal temperature.
4. Place the pork on a wire rack to cool for one hour, then store in the fridge for up to two weeks. For best results, vacuum-seal any unused Tasso and freeze it for up to six months.
*** It will be a challenge to keep a charcoal grill below 180F, which is fine – in the end, just try and get as much smoke into the meat as possible before it reaches temperature.
*** Tasso can also be made in the oven. To so do, preheat the oven to 180F. Rub the pork with 1 tsp hickory liquid smoke and place it on a baking sheet lined with a wire rack; bake until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 160F, about 5 hours, then proceed to Step #4. Rub the pork with more liquid smoke after the first hour of cooking, then again after the second hour of cooking.