This past Christmas I decided to try something new for dinner. It was something I had seen in the past at butcher shops around the holidays I was curious about it. Once I became aware of the pork crown roast I had always wanted to make it someday. But I feared it was rather difficult to both prep and cook, as well as very expensive. As it turns out, I was mistaken. What little prep you do is a breeze and the cook is simple too. It was a little bit on the pricey side, although not when compared to say Beef Wellington or a standing rib roast, which was my usual holiday bill of fare. It seems I'm not the only one who thought this was a difficult roast to make. When I've shown pictures of my results to people, everyone seems to have a similar reaction. It looks amazing, they would love to make it themselves, it looks too hard, and they could never get a piece of pork looking like that. The reality of the situation is quite different. It is the intent of this blog entry to describe the process from start to finish so you can see how truly easy it can be to make this unique and wonderful meal. My focus will be doing it on my grill, but you can do it in the oven. The only thing you will be missing is the ability to add wood smoke. This is a meal that people remember and talk about for a long time. It truly looks as amazing as it tastes!!
WHAT IS A PORK CROWN ROAST?:In general a crown roast can be made from beef, lamb, or pork. A pork crown roast is made from one or more bone-in pork loin roasts. The portion of the roast with bone is French cut to expose the bones. The roast is then bent around in a circle to form a donut shaped roast. The roast is tied horizontally in two or three places to retain the donut shape. Traditionally the center portion of the roast is filled with some sort of stuffing. This can be done during the cooking process or at the end when the roast is served.
HOW BIG A ROAST DO I NEED - Appearance?:The answer to this question involves several issues. The bigger the roast, meaning the more bones in the roast, the more "ideal" shape it will have when shaped and tied off. Many times two roasts (or even three) are actually used. They get formed into two semi-circular halves which are tied together when the roasted is shaped. The less bones you have, the harder it is to form the roast into the desired circular shape. For a big crown roast, with many bones, the outer membrane can be scored vertically to help shape the roast. For smaller roasts, with less bones, it is actually necessary to make vertical cuts through the membrane which extend beyond into the meat in between the bones. Just like in woodworking these “kerf cuts” allow the roast to be bent into the required circular shape. The use of these deeper cuts seem to be a plus or minus situation dividing people into two distinct camps. On the plus side having the cuts extend into the meat, gives you more surface area to apply a tasty spice rub to. The minus here is many people do not like the way the roast looks with the deeper slits in it. I would say I fall into the camp that doesn’t like the deeper slits. No matter how you slice it: Appearance wise, it is much easier to get a nice even circular shape with the larger roast with more bones. For me, this roast was being made for a special occasion: Christmas dinner. The appearance was as important, if not MORE important than the number of servings I needed. For that reason I went with a bigger roast than the number of people I was serving would actually require.
HOW BIG A ROAST DO I NEED - Number of Servings?:The full pork loin roast has 12 bones and weighs between 8 to 12 pounds (3.6 to 5.4kg). The rule of thumb for this cut is 3/4 to 1 pound (0.34 to 0.45kg) per person. This conveniently works out to one rib per person. Most folks will have one rib and be satisfied, although you may have one or two people with a real hearty appetite who’ll want more. In my case I went with a 16 bone roast. Technically this worked out to two roasts cut down to 8 bones each. This was over twice the size I needed based on number of servings, but I wanted a nice looking roast to present at the table. Plus I figured I would have no trouble moving the leftovers. This proved only too true.
COST:When I started doing some preliminary research about this roast on the Internet, I found the prices were all over the map. They ranged from ridiculously cheap to ridiculously expensive. I normally get a prime grade standing rib roast to make for Christmas dinner. My thinking this year was as long as the price of this roast didn't exceed my cost for a standing rib roast, I would be happy. I went to a local high-end butcher shop and was pleasantly surprised that the price worked out to about nine dollars a pound. I ordered a 16 bone roast which weighed a little over 10 pounds (4.5kg) and worked out to just under $100 This was quite a bit less than the standing rib roast and I was getting more meat to boot: win-win.
This is how the crown roast came from my butcher. It was butchered, tied, & wrapped in plastic food wrap. They took it a step further by placing the roast is a special plastic container with an opening in the top to let the bones poke through. It was also on a bed of lettuce which I could have lived without, but no harm.
I DON'T HAVE THE SKILLS TO BUTCHER THAT ROAST:This was one misconception I found many people had. They figured they were going to have to do the cutting and tying to create this roast. I had seen these beef, lamb, and pork crown roasts in various butcher shops and high-end meat departments, so I knew better. You typically see them around the holidays. The beauty of this roast is you go to a butcher or high-end meat department in a supermarket and order the roast. You tell the butcher how many bones you want and that is the extent of your work. If you don’t know this, simply tell the butcher how many people you plan to feed and they can make a recommendation. The only "inconvenience" is you need to remember to order the roast several days or a week in advance. When you pick it up the crown roast is Frenched, fully formed, tied off and just about ready to go into the oven or on the smoker. My butcher took it a little farther. The roast was not wrapped in butcher paper like I expected. Instead the roast was packaged in a special plastic container which was open at the top to allow the bones to project out. The roast was shrink-wrapped and set on a bed of lettuce garnish. This last part was overkill for me, but so be it. The roast itself looked amazing!
CHOOSING THE PROPER RECIPE - Theory: The hardest part of making this meal may actually be choosing the recipe. There is certainly no shortage of recipes for pork crown roast. The way I found my recipe was kismet. I had already been thinking of doing something new and different for Christmas dinner this year. I was at the supermarket and there was a new issue of the Cook’s Illustrated Holiday Entertaining Guide on the magazine racks by the checkout stations. Featured prominently on the cover of this issue, was a beautiful pork crown roast. This was certainly a sign, if I ever saw one. I grabbed the magazine and knew at once, if I was to make a pork crown roast this year, this would be the recipe.
One of the things I love about recipes from the America’s Test Kitchen family of magazines, is you KNOW they've worked out all of the details in advance. All you need to do is follow the directions and you're guaranteed a great meal. This recipe spent some time discussing cooking problems associated with pork crown roast. They also came up with two solutions to the issue. The first part of the problem was the roast cooking unevenly because the stuffing was being cooked in the roast. Having the stuffing in the middle prevented air circulation through the opening in the middle. This resulted in the roast being cooked from the outside in. According to them, this resulted in a roast that was overdone on the outside and sometimes underdone in the middle. They solved this problem by cooking the stuffing separately from the roast. To achieve the more traditional looking pork crown roast, they suggested you could fill the roast just before serving it to your guests. They were still having cooking issues with the roast and they discovered that by starting the roast with the bones pointing down, and using high heat, it solve their problems. The higher temperature airflow through the normally hard to reach center portion of the roast, cooked the middle of the roast first. When the roast was flipped to the bone side down position, the airflow to the center was cut off. The outside of the roast was allowed to cook slowly so as not to be overdone.
CHOOSING THE PROPER RECIPE - Adapting to the Big Green Egg: So the recipe went something like this: The roast was rubbed with an herb rub the night before. The stuffing consisted of: New potatoes, shallots and pieces of apple, the last of which were intended to be used in the gravy. These were tossed with a mixture of oil and some of the herb rub and were placed in the base of a roasting pan. The roast was also placed on the roasting pan, bones down. This served to elevate the roast up off the bottom of the pan, which allowed the air to circulate through the bones and up the middle of the unstuffed roast. The roast was cooked bones down at a temperature of 475 degrees (245C) until an internal temperature of 110° (43C) was reached. At this point The oven (or in my case grill) was turned down to 300° (150C) and the roast was finished bones up until it reached an internal temperature of 140°F (60°C). The roast was tented loosely with foil. The pan drippings and the apples were removed and used as the staring point for a gravy.
The solution to dropping the temperature for the second part of the cook, was to fire up my second Egg. I cooked some BEST AMERICAN BEST DINNER ROLLS at 400 degrees (205C) and was able to drop it down to 300 degrees (150C).
As you can see this recipe was actually quite simple and easy to execute. The biggest problem I had was dealing with having to turn the Big Green Egg down 175 degrees (97C) to finish cooking. On my gas grill or smoker I could shed that much heat somewhat quickly. With the great insulating properties of the Egg, I realized it would take forever to drop the temperature 175 degrees (97C). Fortunately, having a second Big Green Egg at the ready help solve this problem nicely and also nicely fit into the big picture this day. I fired up both Eggs at the same time. One was set to 475 degrees (245C) for the first part of the crown roast cook, while the other was set to 400 (205C) and was used to make two batches of BEST AMERICAN BEST DINNER ROLLS also from the same Cook’s Illustrated Holiday Entertaining Guide. I started the rolls right away, before the crown roast went on the other Egg, so the two batches of rolls finished up well before the roast was ready to be cooked at 300 degrees (150C). As soon as the second batch of rolls finished up, I closed down the dampers and began the process of dropping the temperature to 300 (150C).
The roast was rubbed with an herb & spice rub the night before, rewrapped & placed backing in the fridge.
THE COOK:The cook was a fairly simple one. I used a cast iron roasting pan to hold the vegetables and a V-rack to help support the crown roast, which was placed bones DOWN in the roast rack. I installed a food temperature probe for my Maverick ET-732 remote read thermometer into the deepest part of the pork. The roast was being cooked indirectly using smoke. In my case I used some Jack Daniels oak wood chips made from used whiskey barrels. These chips really smell nice when they are heated up and smoldering. The set up was the platesetter installed legs down, and on top of that I had four 1/2" plumbing T's to act as shims and get some air circulation under the roast pan. The roast, roast pan & V-rack set up on the plumbing-T shims. The high-temperature part of the cook was supposed to last for one hour or so until the pork reached an internal temperature of 110° (43 C). In my case, it took 1 hour and 15 minutes until the Maverick said the roast was cooked to that temperature.
The roast is in the roast pan, bones down, on a V-Rack and the veggies are in the base of the roast pan. A food temperature probe for my remote read thermometer in in the thickest part of the roast. The next stop is the grill .
This Corian sheet gives me a safe landing place for hot pans, grill grates or the Adjustable Rig. I don’t have to worry about thermal shock cracking the tiles of the counter top .
At this point the oven temperature was to be reduced to 300 degrees (150C) and the roast was removed from the oven. The roast was flipped so it was sitting in the V-rack bones-up and everything went back in the oven. For me things were a little different. I had the second Egg down to 300 (150C) and so I removed the roast pan, roast rack and roast from the first Egg and set it on to a Corian sheet on my counter. The Corian sheet was intended to protect the granite tiles below from the thermal shock of a hot roast pan being placed on a below freezing temperature countertop. I put on some heatproof rubber gloves and flipped the roast so the bones were facing up. Then I placed the roast onto the second Egg running at 300 degrees (150°C). At this point the roast was supposed to take another 45 to 50 minutes to finish. In my case it took 40 minutes to hit my internal target temperature of 140 degrees (60 C). I verified this with my Thermapen instant read thermometer, before bringing the roast into the Kitchen.
The roast is finished cooking at high temperature in the first picture. In the second picture the roast has been flipped to bones up to finish. I did this on the first Egg I was abandoning so as not to loose temps on the second Egg I was going to be finishing on.
When the roast was finished cooking, it went inside and was tented with foil for 20 to 30 minutes. During this time where the roast rested, the intent was that you would remove the apples and use the juices and apples as the starting point to make some apple flavored gravy. Unfortunately the apples were a bit "crispy" and there wasn't enough juice to make anything. I quickly made a batch of pork gravy for those who might want gravy. As it turned out the roast was so moist, juicy and tender that nobody wanted gravy for it. Should I make this recipe again and run into the same issue with gravy, I won't bother making any supermarket gravy. I am not sure what is up with the gravy, but this isn't the first time I've made something out on the grill and not had enough pan drippings to start gravy. And actually, I've heard of people having a similar problem using the oven to cook a roast.
END RESULTS:This roast couldn't have been better!! I always love when something that easy to cook, tastes that great. To serve the roast, I placed the veggies on a large serving platter. Then I placed the crown roast, still uncut, in the middle. This was what was presented to my guests before carving. It was an easy matter to carve up the roast. You simply placed your carving knife equidistance between two of the bones and cut straight down. I knew the roast was going to be excellent when the knife practically fell through the first slice of meat with little to no pressure from me. The meat had a nice smoke ring and very nice flavor from the oak chips. As mentioned before, the roast was so moist gravy was not needed. Even though the pieces were 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick, you could cut the meat with a fork. This was one of these great meals were people's communication skills were reduced to the primitive: Just a series of grunts, groans and mmmm's. The veggies, which were seasoned with the same herb rub as was used on the pork, was a great pairing for this crown roast. A one-rib serving was the perfect serving size for everyone there. I knew people really liked the roast when it came time to discuss leftovers.
When the dust settled after I distributed the leftover pieces, I found there was nothing left for me. The reality was, I was left with something better: That great feeling you get knowing you served your guests a meal they genuinely loved. Another way I know this is, they are still talking about it several months later. I've been lucky enough to make some standing rib roasts that my guests say were the best standing rib roast they've ever had. But the difference between the standing rib roast and this crown roast is the crown roast gives you great presentation on top of great flavor. People are still talking about the crown roast three months later. This is something I can't say about the standing rib roast. So if you want an incredible meal that combines great flavor, great presentation, and ease of prep you can't beat a pork crown roast.
SOME RELATED LINKS Here are some links to the picture entries for the food I made this day.
CROWN ROAST OF PORK
BEST AMERICAN DINNER ROLLS
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