Brow Beat

The Genius Secrets to Never-Boring, Never-Dry Pork Tenderloin

Pork tenderloin and greens on the side.
Julia Gartland

Pork tenderloin is ever-popular because it’s ever-convenient: A neatly-contained roast that cooks swiftly and feeds a family, it’s the filet mignon of the other white meat world (with a much more reasonable price tag).

So why is it so prone to turning dry and sad? And why do we keep letting it?

Because with these conveniences come all the challenges of cooking a lean, tender hunk of meat—there’s no flavorful fat or other goodness to hide behind, especially if we dare overcook it.

But Von Diaz—writer, radio producer, and author of the cookbook Coconuts & Collards—is sitting on the secret to not-at-all boring or dry pork tenderloin. (It’s not using a slow-cooker, in spite of what our most popular Pinterest recipe ever would have you believe.)

In an ode to her mother, a working parent who always preferred her meats light and lean, Diaz seasons and marinates tenderloin like pernil, a Puerto Rican dish that’s traditionally made with pork shoulder and roasted low and slow for several hours. Because tenderloin can cook much faster and hotter and stay tender, you get to pernil in under 30 minutes.

Raw meat with a knife next to it. Ground up paste in white bowl and salt in a small black saucer.
Julia Gartland

The marinade is key: a simple, versatile wet adobo—a citrusy-garlicky-herby paste—that’s used to marinate all sorts of meat in Puerto Rican cuisine (Diaz has three templates in her book, for chicken or seafood, pork, and beef).

You can mash the adobo together with whatever tool you have on hand—a traditional wooden pilónor mortar and pestle, a mini food processor like Diaz and her mom use, or even the side of a big knifeagainst a cutting board, if that’s all you’ve got. After poking some holes in your tenderloin and massaging in the adobo, you’re all but done, and it’s time to let the marinade go to work for anywhere from 30 minutes to overnight.

But what might be best of all is the sauce. By adding more lemon juice to the roasting pan at the end to free all the good browned bits, Diaz makes a bright, intensely delicious pan sauce, without fuss. Repeat this trick with any meat you roast or sear, then try not to eat the pan you made it on.

Von Diaz’s Pork Tenderloin Pernil Style

Pork Tenderloin Pernil Style
• 3 pounds pork tenderloin (around 2 to 3 small tenderloins)
• Adobo for Pork (below)
• 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (or to taste)

Adobo For Pork (For 3 Pounds Pork Tenderloin, Scale Up Or Down As Needed)
• 3 medium garlic cloves, finely minced
• 3/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
• 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
• 3 teaspoons kosher salt 3 teaspoons olive oil
• 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lime, lemon, or sour orange juice

See the full recipe on Food52.

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