Pork tenderloin comes from the loin of the pig, which runs along the side and back of the spine from the shoulder to the hip. Sometimes called pork fillet, the tenderloin is very tender with little to no fat, so overcooking it can lead to dry, leathery meat that has a chalky texture. To keep a pork tenderloin moist, do not overcook it and experiment with marinades. Experiment with various cooking methods as well such as seared in a skillet on the stovetop, roasted in the oven, grilled and even pan-fried.
The Right Temperature
A pork tenderloin is perfectly cooked when a quick-read thermometer, inserted at the thickest part of the cut, reads 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Although 160 degrees Fahrenheit is the traditional standard for cooked meat, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has determined that pork cooked to between 140 and 145 F is still safe to eat. Cooking meat to 160 degrees Fahrenheit can lead to very dry meat. Though the meat should not be cooked until it is tough and dried out, avoid undercooking pork as well to keep from any illnesses caused by eating undercooked meat.
Turn Up the Temperature
The hotter the oven, stove or grill, the less time it takes to cook a tenderloin. Because it is a narrow cut of meat, a pork tenderloin is well-suited to a high cooking temperatures. The higher temperatures associated with broiling, roasting and grilling give the meat a chance to brown and sear on the outside without becoming overcooked. For example, cook a tenderloin in an oven heated to 450 F to quickly roast the tenderloin. For more even browning -- with any method -- pan sear the tenderloin first in a hot, heavy-bottomed pan.
To roast a tenderloin, season the meat with a marinade or dry rub, if you like. Marinate the meat in a mix of oil, acid and seasonings, such as a prepared steak spice, olive oil and white wine vinegar. Another option is to rub the meat with dried, ground spices -- such as cayenne, garlic powder and paprika. The spices form a flavorful crust during cooking. Preheat the oven, and take the tenderloin out of the marinade and pat it dry. Coat the bottom of an oven-proof pan with oil and heat it until the oil is shimmering. Place the tenderloin in the pan to sear it on all sides, then place the pan into the oven. Roast it for roughly 15 to 20 minutes for a 3- pound tenderloin, testing every two minutes for doneness after the first 15 minutes. Let the tenderloin rest, tented with foil, for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
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Testing for Doneness
Although a quick-read thermometer is the only way to guarantee that your pork is cooked to exactly the right temperature, other visual cues are helpful. Slice into the thickest part of the loin and check that the tenderloin is pale with juices running from the cut. Look for meat that is mostly white with a slight hint of pale pink. The juices should run mostly clear.
Rachel has worked professionally as a chef and writer on food since 2010. In addition to a Bachelor of Arts degree, she holds a diploma in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute. She has an active interest in wine, fine dining and sustainable agriculture.