Pork tenderloin is very tender and juicy when cooked properly, but there are a couple of challenges that make it easily prone to overcooking. We have two different cooking methods that thermally optimize this cut of meat for perfect doneness. Keep reading and learn how to cook up the juiciest pork tenderloin ever!
Pork tenderloin is very lean—much like a chicken breast. It’s very important not to overcook the pork for it to remain juicy and tender. For food safety, pork needs to reach a temperature of 145°F (63°C). We pull our pork tenderloin at 140°F (60°C) and allow the rise in temperature after we pull the tenderloin from the heat source (carryover cooking) to bring it to its final doneness temperature.
Pork Tenderloin Challenges
1. Unevenly Shaped
Pork tenderloin is an unevenly-shaped cut of meat. Thick at one end and tapered at the other, it is very similar to a boneless, skinless chicken breast. Left as-is, this cut will be dry and overcooked at the tapered end by the time the thicker end reaches its pull temperature.
In our Baked Chicken post, we butterflied and pounded the chicken breasts to a uniform thickness for quick and even cooking. This preparation works very well for quick, high-heat methods of cooking such as broiling and grilling.
2. Very Lean
Also, much like boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pork tenderloin is very lean. Fat contributes to the feeling of juiciness in cooked meat. Lean meats easily become very dry when overcooked by even a couple of degrees. Tracking the internal temperature of the meat is critical to avoiding dry, unpleasant pork.
Fat also contributes greatly to the flavor in meats, not just the sensation of moisture. The richest tasting cuts of meat are those that are marbled with fat. Because of its leanness, pork tenderloin should be properly seasoned for full flavor. We used a delicious marinade recipe from Epicurious.com for our pork tenderloin.
How to Cook Pork Tenderloin 2 Ways
1. High-Temperature Grilling
For our first cooking method, we applied the same principle we used with our boneless, skinless chicken breasts to achieve a uniform doneness with our pork tenderloin: Even out the thickness of the pork with butterflying and pounding, and then grill the meat.
The pounded tenderloin has a more uniform thickness, allowing the internal temperature to rise more evenly across the entire mass of the pork while grilling.
2. Low/Moderate-Temperature Smoking
The second method we used to solve the problem brought on by this unevenly shaped cut was to tie two tenderloins together, with opposite ends facing each other. This creates an evenly shaped roast that will cook uniformly. This larger cylindrically-shaped roast will take longer to reach its pull temperature, so it’s important to cook it at a more moderate temperature rather than over very high heat. We smoked our tenderloin roast at a temperature range of about 300-325°F. The cook time will be a bit longer at this moderate temperature as compared to the high heat cook for the butterflied and pounded pork tenderloin.
Cook the pork tenderloin roast in your smoker or set up your grill for a two-zone fire and cook the pork over the indirect-heat side of the grill.
Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Molasses and Mustard
Recipe from Epicurious.com.
- 2 pork tenderloins, about 1-1/2 lbs. each
- 1/2 cup mild-flavored molasses
- 4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup dijon mustard
- 1/5 cup coarse-grained mustard
- 1 Tbsp. salt
- 1 tsp. ground black pepper
Other Equipment and Supplies
➤ For Both Methods
- Trim away silverskin from the surface of the meat. Silverskin is an elastin membrane that covers the muscle.
- Elastin does not dissolve like collagen does, so it’s important to remove this membrane before cooking.
Make the Marinade
- Whisk together all marinade ingredients in a small bowl to combine. Set aside.
➤ For High-Heat Grilling
Prepare the Pork
- Butterfly the pork tenderloin by slicing the meat in half laterally and open it like a book.
- Place the pork into a zipper-lock bag or between two sheets of plastic wrap. Pound to an even thickness with a meat pounder.
Marinate the Pork
- Place butterflied and pounded pork tenderloin into a zipper-lock bag and pour marinade over the meat. Press out all of the air, seal the bag and massage the bag to work the marinade around to coat all sides of the meat.
- Place the bag into a container or onto a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate for 4 hours.
Preheat Your Grill
- Preheat your grill to high heat.
Grill the Pork
- Remove the pork from the marinade and remove the excess marinade.
- Place the pork on the grill and cook, flipping occasionally to maintain even cooking, until the internal temperature reads 140°F (60°C).
- Spot-check the internal temperature periodically with a Thermapen Mk4 to verify its temperature.
Rest, Carve, and Serve
- Once you have verified a temperature of 140°F (60°C), remove the pork tenderloins from the grill and transfer to a carving board. Cover with aluminum foil and let rest for 5 minutes.
- Carve into 1/2-inch thick slices and serve.
➤ For Moderate Heat Smoking or Grill-Roasting
Prepare and Marinate the Pork
- Leave the 2 pork tenderloins whole and place them into a zipper-lock bag. Pour the marinade over them. Remove the air from the bag and seal tightly.
- Place the bag of pork into a container or onto a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate for 4 hours (same as above method).
Prepare Your Grill
- Preheat your smoker (or grill set up with a two-zone fire) to maintain a temperature range of 300-325°F (149-163°C).
- Use a thermometer like a ThermaQ to monitor the internal temperature of your cooker.
- Set the high alarm for one channel to 330°F (166°C) and the low alarm to 295°F (146°C).
- Add wood chips to your grill or smoker. Close the lid and give the wood about 15-20 minutes to develop smoke.
Prepare Your Pork Tenderloin Roast
- Remove the excess marinade from the pork tenderloins.
- Drag a fork down one side of each of the pork tenderloins. This will help the tenderloins to adhere to each other while cooking so they don’t fall apart after untying the roast.
- Lay the tenderloins at opposite ends from each other on a cutting board.
☼ Pro Tip: Tuck in the Ends
There’s a good chance that your two pork tenderloins aren’t the exact same length. Chris Grove of NibbleMeThis.com likes to tuck in the skinny end of the tenderloin when tying it together to make an evenly-shaped roast. Excellent tip.
- Tie the pork tenderloins together with butcher’s twine about every 1 to 1-1/2 inches to create an evenly-shaped roast.
Cook the Pork
- Place your ThermaQ‘s Smokehouse Penetration Probe (included with the ThermaQ Kit) into the thickest part of the center of the roast.
- Place the roast in the cooker and close the lid.
- Set the meat channel’s high alarm to 140°F (60°C).
- Once the meat’s high alarm sounds, spot-check the internal temperature of the pork with a Thermapen Mk4.
- If a lower temperature is found, replace the Smokehouse Penetration Probe to read the lowest temperature found, and continue cooking the pork until it reaches an internal temperature of 140°F (60°C).
Rest, Carve, and Serve
- Once you have verified an internal temperature of 140°F (60°C) with a Thermapen Mk4, remove the pork tenderloin roast from the grill and transfer to a carving board. Cover with aluminum foil and let the meat rest for 10-15 minutes.
- Carve into 1/2-inch thick slices, and serve.
The method of preparation you choose impacts how juicy your pork tenderloins will be. The key is to form the meat into a uniform thickness before cooking to ensure even cooking. Whether you’re cooking at a high or low temperature, even cooking and careful temperature tracking will result in tender, juicy meat every time. So long, dry, overcooked pork!