By Vanessa Greaves

Love me tender

Pork tenderloin is one of the leanest, most tender cuts of meat on the market, so it can also be a little spendy. Here's what you need to know before you cook it, and how to tell the difference between pork tenderloin and pork loin.

Pictured: Pork Tenderloin Diablo | Photo by France C

What is pork tenderloin?

Pork tenderloin is a boneless piece of meat cut from a muscle that runs along the central spine above the ribs and belly. Unlike a leg or shoulder muscle, it's not directly used for walking around. And that's why the meat is so tender. Hence the name.

What's the difference between pork loin and pork tenderloin?

The names may be almost the same, but pork loin and pork tenderloin are different cuts of meat. A pork tenderloin is a long, narrow, boneless cut of meat that comes from the muscle that runs along the backbone. A pork loin is wider and flatter, and can be a boneless or bone-in cut of meat. Pork loin comes the the back of the animal.

How lean is pork tenderloin?

The USDA rates pork tenderloin as "extra lean," with a nutritional profile that rivals skinless chicken breast. Combine lean and tender with boneless, and we're talking about a pricier cut of meat. But so worth it. Snap it up if you see it on sale; you can freeze it whole or sliced for up to 3 months before cooking.

What to know about cooking pork tenderloin:

Good things come in small packages. A typical pork tenderloin weighs a little over a pound, and looks like a foot-long cylinder about 3 to 4 inches wide with very little visible fat. (Don't confuse it with the loin, which is wider and a little fattier.)

Don't overcook. Tenderloin is so lean, it can easily dry out. An optional brine or marinade can help keep it moist, but proper cooking is always your best bet. So how long should you cook pork tenderloin? The National Pork Board has a downloadable chart showing recommended pork cooking times and temperatures. Use a meat thermometer to check for doneness, and know that the internal temperature will continue to rise 5 to 10 degrees after you remove the meat from the heat.

How to cook pork tenderloin. This versatile cut of meat is best for quick roasting, broiling, grilling, sautéing, and braising. Keyword here is quick. By itself, it's a mild-tasting meat. So think of it as a blank but juicy canvas for sauces, rubs, and marinades.

5 Quick Pork Tenderloin Recipes to Try

1. Pork Tenderloin Diablo | Ready in 40 minutes

Chef John calls the mustard/cream/butter sauce "devilishly delicious."

2. Pork Medallions with Balsamic Vinegar and Capers | Ready in 25 minutes

Marianne says this is a quick but impressive dish for dinner guests.

Photo by LaurenM

3. Pork, Pear, and Walnut Salad | Ready in 25 minutes

mwmaleski created this meaty main dish salad with seasonal pears and fresh spinach.

Photo by Molly

4. Pork Lo Mein | Ready in 30 minutes

Kendra says you can bump this up with even more vegetables if you want.

Photo by linda2d

5. Chipotle-Crusted Pork Tenderloin | Ready in 35 minutes

KRAMNDROG created a sweet and spicy dry rub that makes this grill-ready in minutes.

We have plenty more Pork Tenderloin Recipes to try. Happy cooking!