How to cook pork tenderloin. The great thing about pork tenderloin is it’s so easy to make. It arrives from the market ready to go– just the right size for 3 or 4 people. There’s no prep needed. You simply season it to your liking and pop it in a very hot oven (425 degrees F) for 18 to 20 minutes or until it reaches an interior temperature of 140-145 degrees F. for rosy-pink, medium-rare or 150-155 degrees F. for more uniformly cooked. That’s it. Your tenderloin will be good. Quite good. But it won’t be great.
I know you want great. I wouldn’t be posting this unless I thought I could tell you how to cook pork tenderloin and make it great. So here’s the secret about pork tenderloin. It’s as easy to cook great pork tenderloin as it is to cook good pork tenderloin. So what is “great” and how to cook pork tenderloin to deserve the term? Well read on (I may get a little preachy here so feel free to jump to the recipe– it’s great too).
Great pork tenderloin starts with a marinade or brine. Especially if you plan to grill it as I do today. That’s because pork tenderloin in unbearably lean, too lean for the grill. It’s the boneless, skinless (cheerless) chicken breast of the swine family. Easy to overcook and hard to choke down once you have. You don’t want to bring food to the table that is hard to choke down, I know you don’t.
So brine away. It’s a good first step. A general brine for pork is quite simple. I like 1/4 cup easily dissolved sea salt, 2 tablespoons sugar, a couple tablespoons dried aromatics (I like juniper, but rosemary is good too), maybe some spice like crushed red pepper and 6 cups ice water. You can get creative. Just keep the ratio of salt to liquid pretty close to these specifications. Also, let it brine (in the refrigerator) a good long time. At least 24 hours and as much as 3 days. Trust me.
2011 Artezin Zinfandel Mendocino County
Pairs well with Asian food, barbecue, beef, cheese, grilled meats, hamburgers, lamb, pizza, pork, and sausage, .
As far as marinades go. The choices are endless. Search the web for your favorite. But I will take a moment to describe what I consider to be a very traditional Italian marinade for pork. Its base is Madeira wine. I use about 1 1/2 cups of it with about 1/4 cup olive oil. I add a few aromatics and (sometimes) the zest of 1 orange. Be warned though, marinating is not brining. Don’t marinade the meat more than just a few hours. The acidity of the wine will change the texture of the meat. Also, the true flavor of the meat can get lost to the flavors in your marinade.
To make sure your pork tenderloin stays juicy and flavorful once it hits the grill, wrap it in pork fat– pancetta, prosciutto, bacon or even caul fat*. It’s the best trick I know for dealing with those troublesomely lean cuts of meat. Of course, I may have just lost plenty of readers with that statement. I understand why. But I believe sensible amounts of fat have a place in the diets of healthy people. Of course not everyone is healthy and I’m not a doctor. But when it comes to bringing great pork tenderloin to the table, pancetta-wrapped is a great way to go. (*caul fat: n. The web-like membrane of fatty material that encases the internal organs of certain animals, like pigs, sheep, and cows.)
However, the real truth on how to cook pork tenderloin is covered in the very first paragraph of this post. You must not overcook it.
About 2 years ago the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced that it lowered the internal temperature recommendation for cooking pork to 145 degrees. All I can say is: it’s about time. I don’t know why it’s taken me two years to discuss this change on my blog. I guess because it seems like a well, duh. For people like me (and a lot of chefs who may have never admitted it) this change merely sanctioned what already was a common practice. 145 to 150 degrees clearly produces a better tasting piece of pork. I’m glad the USDA has recognized that, but it seems to be taking a lot of backyard grillers some time to adjust to the idea (at least in my neighborhood). But the fact is, 145 degrees is higher than the kill temperature for the bacteria that could make people sick.
Besides the pork of today is a whole other animal. Well not literally it’s still a pig, but it’s a pig raised in a much healthier environment. The trichinosis of childhood horror stories has practically been eliminated. In fact there were only eleven known cases between 2007 and the time the decision was made to change the temperature guidelines. All of those cases came from eating wild or home-grown animals.
Still, the old myths die hard.
If you made it this far in the post, you probably deserve a drink. My brother Grant has paired this recipe (yes there’s a recipe with this sermon) with a 2011 Artezin Zinfandel from Mendocino County . GREG