Pork tenderloin isn’t hard to cook but going into it without the requisite knowledge is a recipe for disaster. Here you’ll find the perfect recipe for success, as well as a few techniques all good chefs will find useful for variety. But first, let’s save you a whole world of pain by making sure we avoid an all too common, embarrassing, and potentially expensive mistake.
It all starts at the butcher
Your recipe calls for pork tenderloin, but the butcher only has pork loin. That’ll probably do, you think. But stop. There’s a crucial difference you need to understand here.
There’s a clue in the name. Pork tenderloin is the most tender part of the much larger and fattier pork loin. If you were to compare the two cuts side by side, you’d notice that not only is the pork loin much larger than the tenderloin, but that it’s also much paler. That’s because it contains so much fat. In contrast, the tenderloin is a more reddish pink. This shows that it’s a much leaner cut of meat.
But what does this mean when it comes to cooking? Well, a pork loin is more suited to slow cooking, whereas a pork tenderloin is cooked hot and fast.
So what if the butcher only has pork loin? Well, there’s no need to worry. As mentioned, the tenderloin is part of the full loin, so just ask the butcher if he’ll cut you a piece.
Now let’s learn how to cook pork tenderloin. We’ll focus on cooking it in the oven first, then explore a few other techniques.
How to roast pork tenderloin
Pork is commonly considered to be a meat that needs to be cooked well-done in order to eat safely, but that’s not strictly true. So long as you’re buying good quality pork from a trusted supplier, you can treat it as you would a steak, cooking it to your preferred taste, tenderness and juiciness.
That said, you do still need to cook it at a safe temperature. That means the centre of the cut should always reach at least 145°F / 63°C. That means, unlike beef steaks, pork tenderloins really shouldn’t be cooked rare.
145°F / 63°C will be enough to cook your tenderloin medium-rare. For medium, cook it till it reaches 150°F / 66°C, 155°F / 68°C for medium-well, or 160°F / 71°C for well-done.
There are many great pork tenderloin recipes out there so we’ve narrowed it down to a few of our favourites.
The Kitchn shows you how to cook pork tenderloin in the oven here. Although they use a cast-iron frying pan (or skillet) in their method, if you don’t have one then there’s no reason why you can’t use a baking tray for this. It’s roasted entirely in the oven, with no time spent on the stove.
Joanne at Fifteen Spatulas also uses a frying pan, although her pork tenderloin recipe actually utilises the stove top in order to cook the tenderloin nice and quickly. She finishes it off with a short roasting though, so an oven-safe frying pan will make the process easier. Of course, if that’s not a possibility, you can always transfer the pork onto a preheated baking tray or casserole dish.
Alternatively, Tiffany at Le Creme de la Crumb shares her delicious baked pork tenderloin recipe here, although given that it uses additional oil, you could argue that she’s actually roasting the pork. More on the differences between baking and roasting below.
The most common techniques for cooking pork tenderloin are roasting and baking. These methods are ostensibly similar, but there are a couple of differences. Roasting tends to mean cooking at a high temperature in added fat, such as cooking oil (often as part of a marinade in the case of pork tenderloin.
Baking, on the other hand, tends to utilise the fat already within the food by cooking at lower temperatures. As a result, cooking times differ too, but how long to bake a pork tenderloin for is not much longer than roasting. Generally you’re looking at about 35 minutes for baking compared with about 25 minutes for roasting.
How to grill pork tenderloin
Grilling will not only make you fall in love with pork tenderloin (if you haven’t already), it’s also one of the quickest methods. It only takes about 20 minutes to cook and guarantees a thin crust to complement that juicy, tender meat.
Simply prepare a quick dry rub of spices: two parts smoked paprika and salt to one part onion powder and garlic powder. Then mix four parts brown sugar to one part of the spice blend.
Pat your tenderloins down with the dry rub and set aside while you fire up the barbecue. Once your grill is ready, throw the tenderloins on for 12 to 15 minutes, then flip and cook further for an additional 5 to 7 minutes. Be careful not to char the tenderloin too much.
Let cool for a few minutes, cut into thin strips, and serve with any of your favourite barbecue sides.
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