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How to Cook Pork Tenderloin

Bacon-Wrapped Barbecue Pork Tenderloin
It’s easier than you think to make an elegant dinner of pork tenderloin. Learn the basics of grilling and pan roasting this succulent cut of meat, and you’ll always have a show-stopping dinner at the ready.

Introduction

Pork tenderloin is one of those dinners that’s impressive enough for special occasions but easy and quick enough for a weeknight dinner. There are several ways to prepare pork tenderloin including grilling, roasting and panfrying. You can even cook it in your slow cooker. The flavor options are just as numerous as the cooking methods thanks to marinades, seasonings, stuffings and side pairings. If you’ve ever hesitated to make pork tenderloin in the past or you’re in need of a new way to enjoy it, here’s everything you need to know.

What is Pork Tenderloin?

Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Garlic and Lime

Pork tenderloin is a tender cut of pork that comes from the top of the animal’s rib cage. Because it is smaller in size and lacks excess fat, cooking pork tenderloin is relatively quick and easy and there are a variety of ways to do so, from the way it’s prepared to how it’s flavored.

What is the Difference Between Pork Tenderloin and Pork Loin?

Pork tenderloin is frequently mistaken for pork loin. Pork loin is a larger cut of meat and comes from the backbone of the pig and while pork tenderloin is also from the backbone, it’s much smaller in size, and more tender. The two cuts of meat look very different from one another, but it’s easy to confuse the two while reading a recipe or during grocery shopping. Pork loin is noticeably wider than tenderloin so the methods of cooking it are entirely different. Pork loin is best cooked by grilling or slow roasting while pork tenderloin is typically cooked over high heat. Therefore, the two should not be used interchangeably in a recipe.

What to Look for When Choosing a Pork Tenderloin

Pork tenderloin can be found prepackaged in the meat department at the grocery store. It’s typically sold whole and weighs around a pound. Tenderloin can also be purchased as a two-pack which is about three pounds, and since many recipes call for two tenderloins, the two-pack option is convenient. There is also the option to buy plain or pre-marinated tenderloin, depending on your preference. Choose a tenderloin that’s pinkish in color and avoid pale or gray meat. Marbling, or little streaks of white fat, indicates that the meat will be more tender and juicy when cooked.

How to Season Pork Tenderloin

As mentioned, pork tenderloin can be purchased plain or flavored. There are several methods and recipes for dressing up your pork tenderloin with added flavor. You can season your tenderloin with a dry rub, marinate it, brine or glaze it. We’ll talk about all of those options and how to execute each method.

How to Marinate Pork Tenderloin

Marinating is the process of soaking raw meat in a seasoned liquid in order to impart flavor. The marinating process should always be done in the fridge. Depending on the recipe, you can marinate your pork tenderloin for a couple of hours or even overnight.

To marinate, mix your marinade ingredients together in a glass bowl and then add the mixture to a sealable plastic bag before adding your pork tenderloin. Follow the recipe for time guidelines, but never marinate longer than 24 hours. Flip the tenderloin over occasionally to ensure even coverage.

After you’ve removed the meat from the plastic bag, you can use the remaining marinade as a sauce. You should heat the marinade to boiling in a one-quart saucepan and let it continue to boil for at least a minute. Do not use as a sauce unless it has been boiled.

Check out five of our favorite marinades. We love that they use ingredients that we almost always have on hand!

How to Dry Rub Pork Tenderloin

Using a dry rub on your pork tenderloin is another easy way to flavor your meat. A dry rub is a blend of spices and herbs mixed with sugar or salt that is rubbed onto the meat prior to cooking. It’s best to apply the dry rub about 30 minutes prior to cooking.

To make a dry rub, simply mix the seasonings called for in the recipe together in a small bowl. Brush your pork tenderloin with two tablespoons of olive or vegetable oil and sprinkle the mixture all over the tenderloin. Rub the mixture in using your hands until the entire piece of meat is thoroughly covered.

There are countless seasoning mixtures to try, but our 5-star Grilled Chili-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin is a guaranteed hit.

Grilled Chili-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin

How to Brine Pork Tenderloin

Brining is a method that will enhance the juiciness of your pork tenderloin. It involves soaking the meat in a saltwater mixture and refrigerating. You can add spices and herbs to the mixture to further enhance the meat’s flavor.

To brine your pork tenderloin, mix together water, salt, and any other ingredients called for in the recipe in a large container or stockpot. Submerge your tenderloin in the mixture and allow it to sit in the refrigerator for eight to 12 hours. When you’re ready to cook your tenderloin, remove the meat from the mixture and discard the brine.

You will find that the brining method will significantly tenderize your tenderloin and bring out its flavor. This Grilled Brined Pork Tenderloin uses maple syrup and cider vinegar for the brine, resulting in a delicious dinner that’s cooked in 30 minutes.

How to Glaze Pork Tenderloin

Adding a glaze to pork tenderloin not only adds exceptional flavor, but it is an excellent way to recover your tenderloin in case you’ve overcooked it. You can glaze your pork tenderloin with almost anything syrupy, from barbecue sauce to fruit jam or juice.

You will cook the tenderloin prior to adding the glaze. Once the tenderloin is cooked to the appropriate temperature, you can spoon it over the top. Other recipes call for the tenderloin to be sliced into medallions, cooked in the skillet and then adding the glaze directly to the skillet during the final minutes of cooking.

Our Apricot-Glazed Pork recipe allows you to add the glaze ingredients right in the skillet along with the pork so you only have to use one dish. The glaze only requires two ingredients: apricot preserves and oyster (or hoisin) sauce. 

  1. Slice the tenderloins into ½-inch slices.
  2. Heat wok or 12-inch skillet over high heat. Add oil and rotate wok or skillet to coat the sides.
  3. Add the pork and stir fry 4 to 5 minutes until no longer pink.
  4. Add frozen vegetables and continue to stir fry for an additional 2 minutes.
  5. Stir in preservers and oyster sauce. Stir for about 30 seconds or until thoroughly heated. Serve over rice.

How to Clean and Trim Pork Tenderloin

Before cooking pork tenderloin, you need to trim any silverskin from the outside of the meat. Silverskin is a sheer, whitish-gray layer that is actually connective tissue. To remove it, slide a long, narrow knife under the silverskin; hold silverskin tightly with one hand while slicing under the membrane. Peel and discard any removed skin.

How to Stuff Pork Tenderloin

Stuffing pork tenderloin makes for an impressive and elegant dinner. The technique, although it may appear intimidating, is really quite simple. This quick video shows just how easy it is to make our 5-star Chorizo-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

How to Slice Pork Tenderloin

Pork tenderloin can easily and quickly be cooked whole in the oven or slow cooker, but there are a few techniques and recipes that call for slicing the tenderloin. You can butterfly your meat so you can stuff it like our Spinach-and-Basil-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin, you can cut the tenderloin into medallions which cook quickly on the stovetop like with our Caribbean Pork and Jasmine Rice recipe, or you can slice it into a steak cut which is optimal for grilling.

How to Cook Pork Tenderloin

Although pork tenderloin can be cooked a number of different ways and with different flavors, one of the easiest ways is to bake it in the oven. You can season, glaze or marinate it however you’d like and with 30 minutes in the oven, dinner is done. Follow these simple steps to learn how to make one of our 5-star recipes in the oven.

What you’ll need:

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1.  Heat oven to 425°F. Line 15x10x1-inch pan with heavy-duty foil; spray foil with cooking spray.  

2.  Microwave the bacon between layers of paper towels on a microwavable plate for 3 to 4 minutes or until the edges are browned, but soft and pliable. Cut each piece in half crosswise.

3.  Season both tenderloins with salt and pepper and place into the pan. Place the bacon pieces diagonally over the top of the tenderloin, pressing bacon over the sides.

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4.  Using a small bowl, mix barbecue sauce, chipotle chile and cumin. Brush the tops of both tenderloins with the glaze.

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5.  Bake tenderloins for 30 to 35 minutes or until the meat thermometer reads 145°F. Let stand for 10 minutes before slicing.

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How Long to Cook Pork Tenderloin

Method

Thickness in Inches or Weight in Pounds

Approximate Cooking Time

Final Doneness Temperature

Grilling

1 to 1 ½ lb

15 to 20 minutes

145°F; let stand for 3 minutes until temperature reached 160°F

Roasting

¾ to 1 lb

20 to 30 minutes

145°F; let stand for 3 minutes

Panfrying (Medallions)

¼ to ½ inches
½ inch

4 to 8 minutes
8 to 10 minutes

Tender
145° medium; let stand for 3 minutes

How to Tell if Pork Tenderloin is Done

While it’s tempting to cut into your pork tenderloin to check if it is done, doing so will cause some of the juice to escape. Instead, you should use a meat thermometer to ensure doneness. When cooking pork tenderloin in the oven, insert the thermometer in the middle of the tenderloin before cooking. Cook the tenderloin to the appropriate temperature according to the recipe; recipes usually call for a temperature of 140℉ to 155℉.

When using a different method other than the oven to cook your tenderloin, insert your meat thermometer after cooking.

Note that your tenderloin should rest after cooking and will continue to cook after removed from the heat source. For more information on this, see the next section How Long to Let Pork Tenderloin Rest.

Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Vegetables

How Long to Let Pork Tenderloin Rest

Your tenderloin should sit for three to five minutes after roasting or baking and will continue to cook in five-degree increments while it sits. Follow your recipe for exact temperature and resting time.

Different Methods for Cooking Pork Tenderloin

How to Grill Pork Tenderloin

Grilling is one of the most popular methods for cooking pork tenderloin, especially since it cooks so quickly. When grilling pork tenderloin, follow these tips:

  1. Consult your specific recipe to determine whether your tenderloin should be cooked over direct or indirect heat. Depending on the size of your tenderloin, it usually takes 20 to 30 minutes over medium-high heat. 
  2. Turn the tenderloin occasionally (about every four minutes) until the internal temperature reaches 160ºF. The tenderloin should be a blush pink in the center.
  3. Let the tenderloin rest for 5-10 minutes after cooking.

Try this cooking method with our recipe for Grilled Lemon-Pepper Pork Tenderloin which is grilled over direct heat and ready in 30 minutes.

How to Pan-Roast Pork Tenderloin

Pan-roasting is a method in which the tenderloin is first seared on the stove over medium to high heat until it’s browned on the outside. Searing the tenderloin first gives it a caramelized exterior. After the outside of the tenderloin is brown, it’s then placed into the oven to continue cooking. For this method, follow these steps: 

  1. Preheat the oven to 425ºF. 
  2. Coat an ovenproof skillet with oil and sear the tenderloin over medium-high heat until the exterior is browned.
  3. Place the skillet in the oven and roast the tenderloin for 15 to 20 minutes until the internal temperature reads 145ºF. 
  4. Let the tenderloin sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Our Chorizo-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin uses the pan-searing technique and has earned five stars.

How to Slow Cook Pork Tenderloin

Using your slow cooker for a pork tenderloin dinner is a simple and satisfying way to cook both vegetables and tenderloin at the same time. It requires very little prep and results in a filling meal. Here’s how to make our Slow-Cooker Orange Pork Tenderloin with Butternut Squash:

What you’ll need: 

How to: 

  1. Arrange squash around the edge of a 3- to 4-quart slow cooker. Sprinkle with salt.
  2. Place pork tenderloin in the slow-cooker.
  3. Using a small bowl, mix the marmalade and garlic. Spread evenly over pork.
  4. Cover and cook on Low for 7 to 8 hours.
  5. Remove the pork and cut into slices on a cutting board. Serve with squash.

What Pairs Well with Pork Tenderloin

Pork tenderloin may seem like a fancy dinner, but many pork tenderloin recipes can be cooked in about 30 minutes, leaving plenty of time to make elegant sides to accompany it.

Here are the best side dishes that pair well with pork tenderloin:

What to Do with Leftover Pork Tenderloin

Because it’s a smaller cut of meat, leftovers are a rarity with pork tenderloin. However, it is also a popular dinner for two so in case you do happen to have leftovers, you can store it in your fridge for three to four days in an airtight container. You can easily use leftover pork tenderloin in a salad, fried rice, or pasta dish.

Other Pork Tenderloin Recipes

For another quick and easy way to eat pork for dinner, learn how to cook pork chops.

Find every pork tenderloin recipe you could ever want here.


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