This is the best baked pork tenderloin recipe, with all of the info you need for it to be juicy, tender, and flavorful, in under 40 minutes.
What Is Pork Tenderloin?
A pork tenderloin will usually have the word tenderloin on the packet or on the label. It is sometimes called a pork filet or pork tender, but this is rare. The tenderloin is a long, slim, boneless cut of meat that runs along the backbone. It’s a lean cut of meat that doesn’t have marbling or much fat, if any at all. It does have a silverskin that runs along it, and that needs to be removed either before you buy it or before you cook it (instructions below), otherwise it can be tough.
Is Pork Tenderloin Already Marinaded?
Sometimes pork tenderloin is sold in a packet that contains seasonings or a flavored liquid, marinade, or brine. If this is true of your pork tenderloin, you can follow the time and temperature guidelines below, but do not brine or season the meat unless the package instructions tell you to do so. Otherwise, you can end up with an overly flavored meat.
Difference Between Pork Tenderloin and Pork Loin
A lot of people confuse pork tenderloin and pork loin with each other, so make sure you have the right cut of meat. Here is a good explanation of the difference.
Basically, a pork tenderloin weighs less than a loin cut and is a slimmer piece of meat. A pork tenderloin usually weighs less that 1.5 pounds and is less than 3 inches in diameter. A pork loin will typically weigh at least 2 pounds but usually 3-5 and will be at least 4 inches, but usually more, in diameter.
If you have a pork tenderloin, you are in the right place and should proceed with the instructions below. If you have a pork loin, do not proceed with the below instructions. Instead, head over here for how to cook a pork loin.
How Do You Cook Pork Tenderloin?
Here’s A Video Showing How To Cook Pork Tenderloin
Unlike pork butt and pork shoulder, which roast up nice and juicy as shown here, pork tenderloin can end up dry when cooked. That’s because it’s such a lean cut of meat. Cooking it can therefore be challenging, it’s not impossible though. You want to cook it fairly quickly over high heat so that it isn’t in the drying oven for very long.
How Long To Cook Pork Tenderloin
How long you bake pork tenderloin for depends on what temperature you want it to be. The guidelines for cooking pork have changed in the last decade or so. It used to be the case that pork had to be cooked to 160F, but the USDA found that this was unnecessary and changed their recommendation to 145F.
To get your pork tenderloin to 145F, you’ll cook it in an oven pre-heated to 350F. It will be in there for about 20-27 minutes, depending on size. You’ll want to check the temperature with an instant-read thermometer to be sure. Start checking it at the 20 minute mark and then every 3 minutes after that. Once it’s at 145F, let it rest for 5 minutes before slicing and serving.
What To Do If You Don’t Like Pork That Is A Bit Pink
Cooking your pork tenderloin to 145F will result in it being very tender and juicy. However, many people don’t like the touch of pink in the middle of their pork, probably because they’re used to the old guidelines of 160F. I grew up with that guideline too and so I understand the aversion to the pink in the middle.
If that’s you too, the solution is to brine the pork tenderloin for as little as 15 minutes before cooking it. That will help to season the pork right inside, but also to make it a bit more juicy and tender. I’ve done side-by-side tests with chicken breasts and have found that while 15 minutes makes a bit of a difference, 30 minutes to an hour in the brine does an even better job though. If you want to cook your pork tenderloin to 160F, brining it for 15-60 minutes is the key to making it tender, juicy, and flavorful.
Another thing that you can try is to add butter to the pork, getting some right inside. I do that over here in this Garlic Butter Pork Tenderloin Recipe by making holes in the meat and putting garlic butter inside, all along the pork. It really helps to make it juicy inside. Even if you like your pork at 145F, a brine and/or the garlic butter will still add flavor and juiciness, so be sure to give those a try.
To get your pork tenderloin to 160F, put it into the pre-heated 350F oven for 25-35 minutes, depending on size. You’ll start checking it with an instant-read thermometer at the 25 minute mark and then every 3 minutes after that. Once it’s at 157F, take it out and let it rest for 5 minutes before cutting. It will raise to 160F in that rest time.
What Spices and Sauces To Use On Pork Tenderloin
The recipe below is very basic and doesn’t give recommendations for herbs and spices, so I’ll do that here.
If you’re brining the tenderloin, do not add any salt to the meat before cooking, and make sure that if you’re using a seasoning blend, it doesn’t contain salt either.
Having said that, you can add all kinds of different flavors to your pork. Popular pork seasonings are rosemary and thyme. I also like chili powder, garlic powder, and a touch of smoked paprika. A touch of cumin would go well in there too, and even a little brown sugar. Italian seasoning or some dried oregano and basil are nice with pork too.
In general, you’ll want to use about 1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon of any one seasoning for a pork tenderloin, and a maximum of 3 seasonings. The exception would be if you’re using something really potent like cayenne pepper. Mix just 1/4 teaspoon of that with other seasonings in a small bowl before sprinkling it on the pork so that it disperses better.
As to sauce, I really like a simple gravy with pork tenderloin. You’re not going to get a lot in the way of pan juices or drippings though, so I would go with a recipe that doesn’t require those, like this one. Another idea is to use a store-bought honey mustard sauce that you like the taste of, and pour that over the tenderloin before baking it. Or you can dip it in the cold honey mustard sauce when you’re eating it. A good dijon mustard works as a dip as well. Same goes for BBQ sauce, either poured over it or brushed on before baking or served alongside to dip.
You can also serve some lemon wedges on the side for people to squeeze over their pork. That will work even if you’re using a different sauce.
My final suggestion is apple sauce, which is classic with pork dishes. You can serve the applesauce straight from the fridge, or warm it in the microwave before serving. Any way that you do it, the taste will pair perfectly with the pork.
What To Serve With Pork Tenderloin
Other than the sauces mentioned above, you can serve all kinds of things with pork tenderloin. I love it sliced and put onto a salad with spinach, apples, and red onion. If you make a gravy for it though, then I’d instead slice it and put it on mashed potatoes or rice.
As to vegetables that go with pork, it’s classic to serve it with braised cabbage. I love braised red cabbage with pork. Sauteed mushrooms are also really good over pork tenderloin, and green beans and corn are two of my favorite vegetables to put alongside it.
If you have leftovers from your pork tenderloin, which I sometimes create purpose by baking two tenderloins side-by-side at the same time. Just make sure there’s a few inches between them while cooking so that the air can circulate between them and cook them evenly.
Then, those leftovers are great in a sandwich (check out this tasty Cuban Sandwich that uses leftover pork). It also makes a great filling for tacos. Just get your favorite taco fillings ready, shred up the pork with two forks, or slice it thinly, and fill your taco shells. Pasta sauce and soup are another two easy ways to work the leftovers into your next day’s meal.
A Step-By-Step Guide To Baking Pork Tenderloin
We’re going to get into how to bake the pork tenderloin now. You’ll note from the pictures above that the tenderloin is not browned and doesn’t have a crust. That’s because it is going straight into the 350F oven, which is hot, but not hot enough to brown it in the short amount of time that it’s in there. If you want a nice sear on your pork tenderloin, it’s best to start it in a hot pan or cast iron skillet on the stove, and then transfer it to the oven to finish cooking. This recipe explains how to do that.
To bake a pork tenderloin that is juicy and flavorful, there are a few things you need to do. Here we go!
Step #1: Remove The Silverskin From The Tenderloin
There’s a bit of sinew on the outside of pork tenderloin that ends up tough when cooked. If it wasn’t removed before you bought it, you need to remove it. Don’t worry though. It’s easy to do. Learn how to remove the silverskin here.
Step #2: Brine The Tenderloin
This is not a marinade. A marinade only imparts flavor to the outside surface of the meat. A brine on the other hand has a high salt content and it penetrates the meat and makes it juicier. Learn more about brining here. The basic key though is to use 1 tablespoon of kosher salt per cup of water. You need enough to completely submerge the meat, which will be about 4 cups of water for a tenderloin. Use cold tap water.
If you have regular table salt, use 3 tablespoons of that in the 4 cups of water.
In a large bowl or ziptop bag, dissolve the salt in the water. Add the tenderloin. Cover and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, but ideally 30-60 minutes. Some people go longer but I find that that gets too salty. After the time is up, remove the tenderloin from the liquid and pat it dry with some paper towels. Discard the liquid. Note that if you do this salt brine step, do you use any more salt on the meat and be sure that any seasoning blends you use do not contain salt.
Step #3: Make The Tenderloin An Equal Thickness
Usually a pork tenderloin is much thinner on one end than the other. If you cook it as is, the skinny side can end up dry and overcooked before the thicker side is done. That’s no good. So tuck the skinny side up a bit and secure it with metal skewers or butcher’s twine.
Step #4: Season
Season with pepper and whatever else you’d like. Just remember that you already brined the tenderloin in salt so don’t add anymore here.
Put the pork tenderloin in a baking dish that fits it easily without needing to bend it at all. Put it uncovered into an oven that has been preheated to 350°F. Bake for 20-27 minutes, until the internal temperature on an instant read thermometer is at 145°F, or 25-35 minutes if you like your pork to 160F. Start checking the temperature at the lower number of minutes, and then check it every 3 minutes after that.
Step #6: Rest And Slice
Let the tenderloin rest on a cutting board for 5 minutes and then slice it in about 1/2-inch slices and serve.
I can’t wait for you to try this method for baking pork tenderloin. I just know you’re going to love how flavorful it is, and how amazingly juicy it is too. -Christine xoPrint
It can be tough to cook a juicy pork tenderloin, but we have all the tricks you need here.
- 4 Tbsp. Morton’s kosher salt*
- 4 cups cold tap water
- 1-lb. pork tenderloin
- metal skewers
- seasonings (pepper, garlic powder, etc.)
- In a large bowl or ziptop bag, dissolve the salt in the water.
- Remove the silverskin from the tenderloin and then put it into the bowl or ziptop bag with the salt water solution. Make sure the tenderloin is completely surrounded and covered by the water.
- Let it sit in the brine for at least 15 minutes. 30-60 minutes is even better. If you’re doing more than 30 minutes, refrigerate the pork in the brine for the first 30 minutes and then take it out for the second 30 minutes.
- Remove the tenderloin from the liquid and pat dry. Discard the liquid.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Tuck the skinny side of the tenderloin in and secure it with metal skewers or butcher’s twine.
- Season with any seasonings you’d like. Just remember that you already brined the tenderloin in salt so don’t add any salt or seasoning blends that contain salt here.
- Put the pork tenderloin in a baking dish that fits it easily without needing to bend it at all.
- Bake uncovered for 20-27 minutes, until the internal temperature on an instant read thermometer is at 145°F, or if you like it less rare, for 25-35 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 157F.
- Let the tenderloin rest on a cutting board for 5 minutes and then slice it in about 1/2-inch slices and serve.
*Make sure if you’re using kosher salt that it is Morton’s brand. Different brands have different sized crystals and so the measurements aren’t equivalent. If you don’t have Morton’s Kosher Salt, you can use 3 tablespoons of regular table salt mixed with the 4 cups of water instead.