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How to Cook Pork Tenderloin

Learn how to prepare the perfect pork tenderloin using a variety of different cooking methods.

To ensure a juicy pork tenderloin, be careful not to overcook the meat. [©Jupiter Images, 2008]
©Jupiter Images, 2008
To ensure a juicy pork tenderloin, be careful not to overcook the meat.

There are a variety of methods to consider when learning how to cook pork tenderloin. Sometimes referred to as the "filet mignon" of pork, the tenderloin is cut from the uppermost portion of the loin. Pork tenderloins are relatively small, averaging between 1 and 2 pounds. They can be cooked as a whole roast, stuffed or unstuffed, or cut crosswise into thick slices (known as medallions) and cooked on the stove top or grill.

Because its meat is melt-in-your-mouth tender and, according to America's Pork Checkoff Program, contains substantially less fat than other pork cuts, pork tenderloin has become a consumer favorite. Read on to learn the various methods for how to cook pork tenderloin.

Storing Pork Tenderloin

Be sure to store prepackaged, fresh pork tenderloin in the refrigerator and cook within 3 days of purchase. Raw meat that will not be used immediately should be stored in the freezer in heavy-duty aluminum foil or freezer bags.

Properly defrost pork tenderloin either in the refrigerator or microwave.

Preparing the Tenderloin

Before cooking the tenderloin, trim off the thin skin, called the "silver skin," with a sharp kitchen utility knife. From here, the meat can be cut in several different ways:

  • Cubed: Cube the meat by slicing it crosswise, against the grain, into equal-size pieces.
  • Sliced: Slice lengthwise on the diagonal into 1/2-inch strips.
  • Cutlets: To prepare as cutlets, first cut into 1-inch slices, then pound thin beneath a layer of waxed paper.
  • Butterfly: To butterfly a roast, lay it flat on a working surface. Starting at one end, carefully cut into the meat but do not slice completely through to the other side. Continue working the knife down towards the other end until the roast can be "opened" at the hinge.

Brining, the process of soaking meat in a salt solution before cooking, helps pork retain its natural moisture. Without brining, this moisture can easily evaporate when cooking, leaving this cut of meat quite dry and tasteless. Before roasting, grilling or sautéing, brine pork tenderloin in a mixture of hot and cold water with coarse salt and sugar for at least 6 hours, then pat dry on paper towels. For an extra boost of flavor, coat the tenderloin with a dry rub of black pepper and spices, such as garlic powder, cumin, rosemary, sage and oregano.

Dry Heat Cooking

Because it is tender, pork tenderloin may be cooked with dry heat methods, such as grilling, broiling, sautéing, pan-broiling or roasting.

  • Grill: To grill pork tenderloin, it is best to butterfly the whole roast, pound it lightly, brush with oil and lay flat on an outdoor grill, turning it after about 10 minutes.
  • Broil: Before broiling, brush medallions with melted butter and then broil about 6 inches away from the heat source for several minutes on each side.
  • Saute: To saute pork tenderloin, cut the roast into thick slices and pound to 1/2-inch thickness. Sear the tenderloin in a hot sauté pan, uncovered, for about 5 minutes on each side. For stir fries, cook the pork over high heat and stir occasionally.
  • Roast: Roasting tenderloin requires the least amount of effort. Once the meat has been well-seasoned, place it on an oven rack or directly in the roasting pan and cook in a preheated oven until it reaches the desired degree of doneness. Cover the meat and allow it to rest on a sterile work surface for at least 15 minutes prior to slicing.

Moist Heat Cooking

Though not the preferred method of cooking pork tenderloin, moist heat braising and stewing can produce a remarkably flavorful roast, as long as the cooking time is kept to a bare minimum and the right ingredients are added.

After seasoning and browning on the stove top, braise the tenderloin in the same skillet in the oven, adding beer, honey, dried fruit and spices. Pork tenderloin may also be stewed in the same amount of time as it takes to roast or braise.

Stew cubes of pork tenderloin after browning them with onions, garlic and hot cooking oil. Toss in chopped carrots, potatoes and celery, broth and dried tarragon. Then allow the pot to simmer, covered, for approximately 30 minutes

Cooking Times

Since pork tenderloin is lean, it tends to dry out if overcooked. Proper cooking times for the tenderloin vary. Chefs take extra care not to cook the meat past the medium doneness stage to ensure the meat remains moist and flavorful. According to The Daily Pork, when roasting a whole tenderloin at an oven temperature of 425 F to 450 F, a roast weighing between 1/2 and 1 1/2 pounds should be done after about 30 minutes.

According to Tyson, pork that reaches an internal temperature of 145 F is safe to eat. After removing the roast from the oven, allow it to rest on a cutting board or warm platter for at least 15 minutes before slicing. During this resting period, the temperature of the pork will rise as much as 10 degrees.

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