Picture this: You've got guests coming over for a cookout in less than an hour. What can you grill that will be both impressive and quick? The answer is almost always pork tenderloin. It's also the answer for quick weeknight dinners from the grill when you've run through the usual hot dog and chicken breast routine already. Hearty enough to serve four or more, pork tenderloin cooks up faster than you can whip up burgers with all the fixings.
Pork, especially the tenderloin, takes incredibly well to the smoky char of the grill. With just a smart dry rub of sugar, salt, and spices, pork tenderloin grills up with a thin, tender-crisp crust, while being incredibly juicy and, well, tender in the interior. Pork tenderloin is so crave-worthy that you'll be making it a regular on your dinner table this summer. Here are the four things you need to know for cooking juicy pork tenderloin in under 30 minutes.
Grilling Pork at a Glance
We want to get you grilling pork tenderloin as soon as possible, because it's a relatively inexpensive cut of meat that looks just as impressive on the plate as it is delicious to eat.
Here are the highlights:
- Learn how to prepare pork tenderloin for grilling
- Learn how to prepare the grill for pork tenderloin
- Get the down-low on direct versus indirect heat
- Finally figure out how to tell when your pork is done
An obvious, but helpful, note before we start: Pork tenderloin and pork loin are not similar cuts of meat and therefore require different preparations. Pork tenderloins are longer and skinnier than pork loin and cook far faster.
How to Prepare Pork Tenderloin for the Grill
Many recipes will ask you to remove the pork tenderloin from the fridge for at least 30 minutes before grilling. That rest time is baked into this process here, so we don't call it out in addition to the 30 minutes that will accrue during which you'll remove the silver skin, make the dry rub, and wait for the grill to heat. But you should definitely remove the silver skin — a connective tissue that doesn't break down during cooking — while the tenderloin is cold, so do this step first.
After removing pork tenderloin from its packaging, pat it down with paper towels. Using a sharp knife, slip the tip under the silver skin at one end of the tenderloin and slowly guide the knife from one end of the tenderloin to the other, pulling away the silver skin with the other hand. You may need to turn over the tenderloin and repeat this step on the other side to ensure it's completely removed.
Once the silver skin is removed, make a quick rub for the tenderloin. Salt and sugar are required for seasoning and encouraging caramelization, but you can adjust the other spices as you desire. Dry rubs flavor tenderloin and keep it moist, without preventing the crisp crust from forming (as a marinade might).
How to Prepare Your Grill for Pork Tenderloin
For grilling pork tenderloin, we are going to use a grill technique sometimes referred to as zone cooking. One area of the grill will be turned to high, while the other will be low or unlit. The high-heat area will be used for direct cooking (i.e., getting a crisp crust and char); the low-heat area will cook the pork tenderloin to the correct internal temperature over indirect heat.
Know the Difference Between Direct and Indirect Heat
Direct heat will get you great grill marks over a fast flame, while indirect will cook your meat evenly without burning. Direct heat means to cook the food directly over the heat source (whether charcoal, gas, or wood), while indirect cooking refers to cooking adjacent to the heat source.
If you're cooking with a gas grill, light one side to high or medium-high heat and leave the other side unlit. For a charcoal grill, pile the coals on one side of the grill and leave the other side empty.
When Is Grilled Pork Tenderloin Done?
The ultimate goal for a grilled pork tenderloin is a mahogany coloring with a crispy exterior. The inside should be rosy-pink. Zone cooking and an instant-read thermometer are the two best ways to achieve this. Tenderloins should cook from anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes depending on their thickness, but you'll want to aim for an internal temperature between 140°F and 145°F in the thickest part of the tenderloin to ensure it's cooked to temp.
How To Grill Pork Tenderloin
What You Need
pork tenderloin (1 to 1 1/2 pounds)
lightly packed dark brown sugar
Measuring cups and spoons
Gas or charcoal grill
Sharp knife and cutting board
Trim the pork tenderloin. Using a thin, sharp knife, remove any connective tissue (silver skin) and fat from the surface of the tenderloin.
Make the rub. Combine the sugar, salt, paprika, onion powder, and garlic powder in a small bowl.
Rub the tenderloin. Pat the spice rub onto the surface of the tenderloin and set aside while you prepare the grill. You can also tightly wrap the tenderloin in plastic wrap and refrigerate the rubbed pork for 1 hour or up to overnight.
Prepare the grill for zone cooking. For a gas grill, heat one side to high or medium-high heat and leave the other side unlit. For a charcoal grill, light a chimney of coals, pile the coals on one side of the grill, and leave the other side empty.
Grill the tenderloin for 12 to 15 minutes. Place the tenderloin over direct heat. Cover and cook, flipping the tenderloin only once, until the internal temperature reaches 140°F to 145°F, 5 to 7 minutes per side. Move to indirect heat if the tenderloin starts to char too much, and continue to cook until it reaches the correct internal temperature, about 18 minutes total cook time.
Wrap and rest the tenderloin. Remove the tenderloin from the grill to a clean cutting board and tent loosely with aluminum foil. Rest for 10 minutes; the meat will finish cooking from the residual heat and the juices will redistribute for optimal flavor.
Slice and serve. Slice crosswise into thin pieces before serving.
Make ahead: The tenderloin can be trimmed and rubbed up to 24 hours in advance. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before grilling.
Storage: Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.