Perfect Pork Tenderloin – A Method

There are some skills in the kitchen that, once mastered, pay off again and again. Basic techniques that can transform all of your cooking from good to great.

Proper salting is an example. Or blanching vegetables to keep them crisp and vibrant. And, of course, cooking meat so that it is tender and flavorful before any sauce ever touches it. I’ve already covered how to grill chicken, now it’s time for some juicy piggy!

Pork tenderloin is a great meat to cook at home. It’s very lean with a fat content only slightly higher than chicken breasts, you can successfully roast a small loin that will serve as few as 2 people, and it cooks quickly due to the small size. It’s also one of the most tender cuts of pork, which is especially important now that commercial pork has lost its former succulence; pigs are now bred to be very lean in order to be “the other white meat.”

Pork tenderloin is also terrifically easy to master. All you need is a standard meat thermometer. With one of these in your kitchen toolkit, you can cook perfect piggy every time.  Aim for a final temperature (after resting) of 145F, and you’ll have luscious (yet safe to eat) pork on your plate.  You can also use an instant-read thermometer, but you can’t leave that in the oven.

The easiest way to reach the optimal final temperature and also develop a flavorful brown crust is to sear first, then bake to finish.


How to cook perfect, moist pork tenderloin: 

1. Buy pork tenderloin, not pork loin. I find that people are often confused about this.  Learn the difference: pork tenderloins are relatively thin strips of meat, with a maximum 2-inch diameter and a dark color.  Pork loin is much larger, pale, and often sold as “loin roast” or cut into “butterfly loin chops”. Pork loin is not nearly as tender and is best when brined before cooking.

2. Remove the silver skin. It’s that wide piece of silvery membrane attached to the thick end and it is chewy and tough. Great video demonstration here.

3. Season well. Rub pork with a little oil and plenty of kosher salt, freshly cracked pepper, and any dried herbs or seasonings. Don’t be timid with salt or spices — the interior will not be in direct contact with the seasonings and you need to go heavier than you might think.

4. Sear on all sides in a preheated skillet set over high heat until golden brown.  Do not sear for too long or you risk overcooking the meat and making it tough. One minute per side is plenty. Sear only one loin at a time to prevent overcrowding your pan, which will create steam and reduce browning. Don’t shake the pan or shift the meat while it’s browning. Move the meat only when you’re ready to turn it over.

5. Finish in the oven and check internal temperature. Move the meat to a baking sheet or dish and roast in a preheated 375F oven until 140F internal temperature. This usually takes around 15 minutes, but measure the temp with a meat thermometer rather than relying on a time measurement, since your searing time and tenderloin size may vary. Insert the thermometer lengthwise into the thickest end of the tenderloin, as shown.

6. Let rest. Remove loin(s) from the hot pan to a platter, cover loosely with foil, and let rest for 10 minutes.  Slice and serve.

When sliced, the pork should be blushing pink in the center, not gray. Don’t worry if you’ve been warned not to eat undercooked pork — pork is safe at 145F and your tenderloin will rise to that temp while it rests. The tenderloin naturally has a slight pink color when properly cooked.

Get creative when seasoning your pork! Fresh herbs are an obvious choice, with thyme, sage, and rosemary being solid choices that also work well with many sauces. Use generous amounts of chopped herbs on the surface of the meat to ensure that the interior is seasoned well enough.

Dried spice mixes are also great; try a mix of dried coriander, cumin, and smoked paprika to take the tenderloin in an entirely different direction. You can also mix dried spices and fresh herbs — one of my favorite combinations is fresh sage, fresh rosemary, and Chinese five-spice.

Up next: A quick fruit sauce for pork tenderloin. Subscribe to receive the recipe for a luscious (and easy) Balsamic Fig Compote when it’s posted.

If you’ve got any favorite spice or herb rubs for pork tenderloin, please comment and share

15 responses to “Perfect Pork Tenderloin – A Method

  1. I like to use a blend of pumpkin pie spices and brown sugar to make a rub for our pork tenderloin at Thanksgiving that goes really well with all the usual trimmings. Could be any holiday or even everyday dinner though. My family isn’t wild about turkey, but they love pork tenderloin!

  2. PBSwine

    Hello, The CDC (Center for Disease Control) current guideline for pork, is to cook to 170f and juices run clear. Trichinellosis has become less common in the USA with about 12 cases per year and perhaps more mild cases being undiagnosed. Undercooked pork is still a problem in other countries around the world. For example, China has about 10,000 cases per year with around 200 being fatal. One thing you can do to help yourself in this regard, is to freeze those tenderloins and keep them frozen at 5 degrees f for at least 20 days. Otherwise, cooking to 140 is still taking a chance at disease, although less of a chance then in the past.

  3. darla

    PBSwine: Thanks for the info. However, my local health department requires 145F for pork, not more, and this is what you eat in most restaurants. (Who are safety trained and licensed through similar health departments.) Not sure about other parts of the world — maybe that’s why the CDC number is so high?

    I shudder to think of pork cooked to 170F. Leather?

  4. darla

    Sevedra: So glad you mentioned brown sugar, thanks!

  5. IvyFoodSleuth

    Hi Darla,

    This is exactly the way I do pork tenderloin. So good! And I can’t bear dried out pork. I remember the pork roasts of my childhood. So succulent with crispy fat. Sigh.

    I recently had a pork osso bucco, which I guess is the "ankle"? It was crispy outside and lucious inside. Have you ever made that? The restaurant is The Cookery in Dobbs Ferry. NY and everything they make is incredible.

    All best, Ivy

  6. darla

    Ivy: I’ve never had pork osso bucco, but it sounds lovely! (Decadent, but lovely!) Not sure I’ve even seen that cut available locally but I also haven’t sought out any local pig farms.

  7. I cannot believe this will work!

  8. Harry

    Wow, that’s really a detailled description. Worked perfectly when I cooked this <a href="">pork tenderloin recipe</a>

  9. What great tips! This looks gorgeous!

  10. danielle

    At the 20 min mark, My tenderloin was still only 120deg in the center. Am I doing something wrong? I had to cook it closer to 35 minutes. Could my baking dish make that much of a different in cook times?

  11. darla

    Danielle, there are several possibilities. How big was your tenderloin? (Mine tend to be about 1 lb.) Was it cooked directly out of the fridge? (The interior would take longer to cook if it was very cold.) Is the real temp of your oven calibrated with your dial properly? (It's very common to have a discrepancy.)

    Hope you had a tasty result despite it taking longer than anticipated!

  12. sara

    can I sear my pork early in the day, then refrigerate, then finish in the oven at dinnertime?

  13. Brining pork meat tends to produce juicier meat. It is especially good for pork chops, but any lean cuts can benefit from it.

  14. Carlo

    I've been cooking pork tenderloins for years. This method is on point. Trichinosis is not a concern. There have not been cases of the disease in USDA regulated pork for decades. In fact, my father in law who lives in Northern Germany by pork farms, gets fresh pork and actually makes pork tartare – yes, raw – with a little acid such as lemon juice or cognac.

    When making tenderloin I cook mine to 133-135 and remove it to rest until it reached about 140. It comes out pink and perfect. And I'm not dead yet – nor is my German father in law.

  15. itslyn

    recipe is exactly what i've been looking for – do u marinade?