Grilling Recipe: Teriyaki Pork Tenderloin

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Teriyaki pork tenderloin is total comfort food for me — it appeared in my mom's cooking rotation at least once a week when I was growing up, and it was always served with a side of yellow rice and a big green salad. Yes, it was the pre-marinated pork in a bag, and yes, it was delicious. 

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Despite years of wondering if I could — and should — make it on my own, I still turned to the easy packaged version when looking for an instant dinner. Even as a recipe developer, sometimes there are days when I just throw my hands up when it comes to cooking, and that's when old habits die hard. But finally, I decided that I needed to develop my own recipe for this easy and tasty meal.

Teriyaki is a combination of two Japanese words "teri," meaning luster, and "yaki" meaning grill or broil. Teriyaki sauce is what we now know as the marinade used for said grilled meat. There are countless adaptations, but the general consensus is that teriyaki sauce contains soy, mirin (or sake), and fresh ginger. Garlic, brown sugar, honey, pineapple juice, rice vinegar, and sesame oil are also possible additions in various quantities. But for this recipe, I wanted to re-create the teriyaki sauce that I know.

The end result of my creation is a perfect combination of sweet, savory, and salty, and the teriyaki sauce pairs absolutely perfectly with the mild flavors of pork. (I have yet to try it with fish or chicken but now I'm eager to try!) I am so stoked with the fresh, flavorful — and incredibly easy — results of this recipe that I will never go back to the store bought again!

This is a great meal for a busy weekday (you can marinate it in the morning for an absurdly easy dinner), but it's also tasty enough to serve guests if you need to feed a crowd. In the summer, it's great cooked on the grill, but in the winter, just pop it in the oven. Versatile, simple, and tasty — it's my comfort food for a reason!

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Teriyaki Pork Tenderloin

Serves 4 (makes 1 1/4 cups marinade)

1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup pineapple juice
2 - 3 tablespoons brown sugar, depending on desired sweetness
2 tablespoons mirin (Japanese rice wine) or sake
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon minced ginger
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 whole pork tenderloin (about 1 pound)
Canola or vegetable oil, for the grill

Combine the soy sauce, pineapple juice, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar (3 tablespoons for a sweeter sauce), mirin, sesame oil, ginger, and garlic in a small bowl and whisk to combine. 

Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon resealable bag. Add the pork tenderloin and seal, pushing as much air out as possible. Place in a shallow pan and refrigerate, turning occasionally, for a minimum of two hours or overnight. (I also inject some of the marinade into the pork using a meat syringe. This gets deeper flavor faster.) 

Pull the tenderloin from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes to an hour before cooking and let it warm on the counter. When ready to cook, preheat the grill on medium high, about 400°F. Once hot, scrape the grates clean using a wire brush. Oil the grates very generously to prevent meat from sticking.

Remove the pork from the bag, reserving the marinade, and place on the grill. Cover and cook, flipping the tenderloin only once, until internal temperature reaches 140°F (see Recipe Note), about 5 to 7 minutes per side. 

Meanwhile bring the reserved marinade to a boil in a small saucepan and cook until reduced by half, about 5 to 8 minutes. Brush the sauce over the tenderloin during the final minutes of cooking and serve the remainder on the side.

Remove the tenderloin from the heat and allow to rest for 10 minutes; the meat will finish cooking from residual heat and the juices will redistribute for optimal flavor. Slice crosswise into thin pieces before serving. 

Recipe Notes

  • I tested with low-sodium soy sauce, and I feel regular soy sauce would be much too salty once the marinade is reduced.
  • Some people feel just fine taking pork off around 140° or even lower. The USDA health recommendations say that pork should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F. You can adjust this temperature to your own tastes and comfort level, especially if you know the pork is fresh and from a reliable source.
  • To cook in the oven, roast in a 425°F oven until the temperature reaches 140°F, about 20 to 25 minutes. Rest for 10 minutes before serving.

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(Images: Nealey Dozier)

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