Pork tenderloin is a cut of meat that delivers big or dies hard. It can be juicy and flavorful or dry and chewy. While everyone prefers the former, all too often we end up with the latter. Most of the time, the problem lies in the misconception that pork must be cooked to well done, which simply isn’t the case.
It’s true that years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommended that we cook our pork to a well-done 160 degrees. No hint of pink was allowed, which meant no hint of moisture was left, either. No wonder that pork chops, pork loin and pork tenderloin used to get such a bum rap. At those temperatures, they never stood a chance.
However, the recommendation has changed and now we feel free to serve our pork a happy medium (145 degrees, which means the center can stay juicy and pink). To make that happen, it helps to own a good meat thermometer.
A meat thermometer, for me, has meant the difference between a perfectly cooked piece of meat and one that’s overcooked or undercooked more times than I can count. I rely on it to tell me when to pull a steak or keep cooking a crown roast. Without it, you’re simply guessing. If you’re experienced enough, it might be a good guess, but it’s still just a guess. When dinner is on the line, I’d rather know for sure.
So why pork tenderloin? It’s the go-to piece of meat when you need to get dinner on the table fast, you want it to be special, and you don’t want to spend a fortune. During the summer, I’m likely to throw my tenderloin on the grill.
I like the grill for the pork tenderloin because the grill delivers a welcome smokiness to its flavor profile.
Before the meat gets to the grill, though, it needs a rub. A traditional pork rub would work fine, made with ground dried chile, spices, sugar and salt, but I like the flavor profile that comes from Provence, in the form of garlic, rosemary, fennel seeds and orange zest.
We cook with lemons and limes so much that it’s almost surprising to see another citrus in a recipe, but orange plays so beautifully with the subtle, licorice-like flavor of fennel seeds that it makes perfect sense. Rosemary and garlic round out the flavors, and the combination of the rub and the smoke turns a neutral piece of pork into a powerhouse of flavor.
It’s time to give pork tenderloin a chance this summer with lower temperatures and big flavors. It won’t let you down.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @meredithdeeds.