Pork makes a great addition to your meal rotation not only because it's tender but also because it's nutritious — it's about as lean as chicken breast, according to the National Pork Board.
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Although pork tenderloin is one of the most tender cuts of pork, overcooking it can make it tough and unpalatable. This is a cut of meat you do not want to cook over low heat all day long in a slow cooker or Dutch oven. Instead, the trick to ensuring tenderness is to cook it at a high temperature as quickly as possible.
Cooking it in the oven is your best method, according to Chef Larry White, owner of Lo Lo's Chicken & Waffles and Brunch & Sip in Arizona. Here's how you can go about cooking pork tenderloin to ensure tenderness.
Things You'll Need
Napkins or paper towels
Step 1: Rub the Tenderloin or Let It Marinate
It's up to you whether you want to marinate it or not: "It isn't a requirement to marinate your tenderloin to get that perfect amount of flavor," White says. "For the most part, pork tenderloin is cooked quickly and easily, with no brining needed."
Rub: You can create a rub of salt, pepper and your choice of spices in a small bowl. Then, rub it on the tenderloin, making sure you cover all sides of the tenderloin, White says.
Marinade: Marinating is another option if you prefer going that route: White recommends a marinade of orange zest, olive oil, rosemary and garlic. Mix your marinade in a small bowl and put it in a resealable bag with the tenderloin to sit for 1 to 4 hours.
It's important not to let it sit for too long. "Marinating it overnight can destroy the structure of the meat," White says.
Step 2: Preheat the Oven and Prep the Pan
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, get your pan ready.
The best method of cooking is to use a large cast-iron pan, White says. Use a little bit of cooking oil and swirl a thin layer around the inside of the cast-iron pan.
Step 3: Pat the Pork Dry
"Make sure the pork is dry by patting it with napkins or paper towels before putting it in the cast iron," White says.
Step 4: Cook the Tenderloin
Place the pan in the oven and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes. This short cooking time is best for keeping the tenderloin moist — longer cooking times can dry out and toughen a tenderloin, according to White.
This is why he discourages people from cooking pork tenderloin in a slow cooker. "Although it can work for pork shoulders or pork butt, it can dry out tenderloins as it cooks for a long time at low heat," he says.
You'll know your pork tenderloin is done when your meat thermometer shows an internal temperature of 140 to 145 degrees. "It's perfect when it has a tiny, soft pink center," White says.
You can also make good use of the drippings. “The pork juice that is released from the tenderloins while cooking is perfect to put on top of rice or mashed potatoes,” White says.
Why Is My Pork Loin Tough?
Your pork tenderloin might be tough because it was cooked for too long. Despite your best efforts, you might accidentally overcook your pork tenderloin, but don't let it go to waste.
In this situation, White recommends putting it into the food processor with your choice of sauce: try barbecue sauce, Buffalo sauce or lemon-pepper sauce. Then, put the processed pork on a sandwich. "You can also use it for potstickers and egg rolls," he says.
Avoiding toughness and dryness is paramount to a good tenderloin. To up the moisture content of your tenderloin and avoid toughness, White recommends pouring apple cider vinegar over the pork. This will not only help it stay tender but also add a blast of flavor.