Tender and Tasty Pork Tenderloin

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 pounds pork tenderloin
  • water
  • coarse salt
  • 2 tbsp rice vinegar (optional)
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp whole peppercorns
  • rosemary
  • thyme
  • ground black pepper
  • minced garlic

Tools

  • glass bowl for brining
  • 9″×13″ glass baking dish
  • cooking twine
  • oven-safe meat thermometer

The Background

This recipe is for pork tenderloin, not pork loin. They are two different things. The tenderloin is akin to a beef tenderloin (filet), the small very tender inside muscle. Pork tenderloins are typically sold in a package of two wrapped together, each being typically just over a pound, so a tenderloin package is typically around 2 1/2 pounds. Even though they are the “expensive filet” of the pork world, here in 2024, my red state’s local grocery store often has them on sale for only $1.99 per pound!

You may think of pork, especially pork roasts, as being rather dry and bland. The title of this recipe is “Tender and Tasty Pork Tenderloin” for a reason — it’s tender and tasty! There’s no single silver bullet to making the pork tender… there are two: brining it for a few hours, and not overcooking it. The brine makes it magically tender; and the olive oil, pepper, garlic, rosemary, and thyme help make it super tasty!

The Process

8 hours or so before cooking, strip the “silverskin” membrane thing out of the pork loins, and trim off any loose fat. To make the brine, dissolve about 2 tbsp coarse salt (1 tbsp if using regular table salt) in about 2 cups of hot water. Add the brown sugar and a healthy dose of rosemary and peppercorns. Add the rice vinegar if you so desire. You don’t want the brine to be too salty, so 1 tbsp coarse salt per cup of water is good. If you use regular table salt, use half that amount, because the coarse grid’s granules are chunkier and take up more volume (1 tbsp of fine table salt is about twice as “salty” as 1 tbsp of coarse salt).

Submerge the pork loins in the brine and refrigerate until 1 hour before cooking. You need just enough to completely cover the meat, so add a bit more water if necessary. You don’t want it to brine too long or the meat will become too salty, so 6 hours is good.

1 hour before cooking, take the pork out of the brine and rinse it. Rinsing will ensure it won’t become too salty. Let the meat sit for the hour to get to room temperature ­­— on a wire rack or in a dish that slants will ensure excess water drains away.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Pat the pork dry with paper towels and bind the two pieces together side by side into a cylinder with several loops of twine. Rub a light coating of olive oil all over the surface, including the ends. Sprinkle on some coarse salt and apply a liberal dose of ground black pepper, rosemary, thyme, and garlic, including on the ends. I intentionally don’t give the measurements for these ingredients, because seasoning a piece of meat like this is more art than science. Some people like more herb coverage, some like more garlic. Use your best judgment. Seasoning it on a cutting board and rolling it to pick up all the dry bits works great.

Insert your thermometer so that the point is embedded in the thickest part of the meat, and set it in your glass baking dish. Sure, you can use a roasting pan with a wire rack if you’d like. Pop it into the 400°F oven.

Pork is done/safe (medium doneness) at 145°F, so take it out when the temperature is a few degrees below target, because it continues to rise while it rests. It should take about 30 minutes for it to reach 138°F — taking it out then and letting it rest, covered loosely with foil and with the thermometer still embedded, for 5-10 minutes, you’ll see the internal temperature slowly creep up to 145°F. Perfectly done, and ready to slice into medallions and serve!

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