Reasonably priced and bearing enough meat to feed the whole family, pork tenderloin is the obvious choice for many households when planning a meaty main dish. Still, if not prepared thoughtfully, pork tenderloin can go dry and dull — not what you want after spending all that energy in the kitchen. When it comes to pork tenderloin, there are a couple tricks to achieving a moist, tender roast.
What is pork tenderloin? Is that different from pork loin?
Pork tenderloin and pork loin are not the same thing. The former (also known as pork fillet or pork tender) is long and thin, cut from the muscle running along the spine; the latter (also known as a pork center rib roast or a center-cut pork loin roast) is a heftier slab of meat with a fat cap, cut from back by the ribs (you may know it better sliced, as a pork chop). Perfect for those "I need dinner in an hour" nights, pork tenderloin cooks up tender and quickly when properly prepped.
How to cook pork tenderloin
Unlike thicker, fattier pork roasts, which can cook low and slow for hours to yield pull-apart-tender meat, leaner pork tenderloin is best cooked quickly at a high heat. Overcook it, and pork tenderloin will be chalky and chewy. To impart the most flavor, consider marinating the meat first, in addition to seasoning it well with salt and pepper. From there, you can roast, grill, or sauté the tenderloin, sliced or whole (let it reach 145°F to ensure it's cooked through).
Porky, tender (ahem) pork tenderloin recipes
Pernil in 30 minutes?! With pork tenderloin, it's possible. "In an ode to her mother, a working parent who always preferred her meats light and lean, Diaz seasons and marinates tenderloin like pernil, a Puerto Rican dish that's traditionally made with pork shoulder and roasted low and slow for several hours," notes Kristin Miglore on this Genius Recipe, adapted from Diaz's cookbook "Coconuts & Collards."
You probably have most, if not all, the ingredients you need for this flavor-packed pork and vegetable dinner already in the pantry. As the recipe title suggests, this dish relies heavily on dry spices. Once coated, you'll sear the tenderloin in a skillet, then transfer it to the oven to roast for 20 minutes, before slicing it into medallions to serve with tender sautéed cabbage.
This Crockpot pork tenderloin glazed with brown sugar and balsamic vinegar is Food52's most popular recipe of all time. But why? you may ask. We wondered, too: "Since its publication in 2013, this simple slow-cooker pork tenderloin with brown sugar and balsamic glaze is the most popular recipe in Food52 history," writes Eric Kim. "Of our nearly 50,000 recipes, it's had the most page views of all time — not to mention the glowing comments and 100-plus reviews." Sounds like it's worth a try, huh?
"As I continue foraging through recipes, I've been focusing on meats. Honey and mustard combos specifically," writes Food52 community member Brussels Sprouts For Breakfast. Though you'll need to marinate the pork tenderloin for 3 hours first, once you actually get cooking, this pork can be quickly seared, then finished in the oven in just 10 minutes.
A wet brine is the simplest way to avoid drying out pork tenderloin. "While salt plus water is classic, there's nothing stopping you from swapping in feta liquid or pickle juice or, in this case, kimchi brine," says Food Editor Emma Laperruque. "This bonus ingredient is as bright in color as it is in flavor — equal parts spicy, salty, and funky." Crunchy kimchi, plus sweet apple and tender pork for dinner? Yes, please!