Pork loin and pork tenderloin sound similar, but they can't be used interchangeably easily. It's important you know the distinction before you pick up one or the other at the store.

By Vanessa Greaves
February 24, 2015
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Pork tenderloin is one of the leanest, most tender cuts of meat on the market, so it can also be a little spendy. Pork loin, on the other hand, can often be a bargain choice if you're looking for a tender cut of meat that cooks well for a crowd. Here's what you need to know before you cook either meat, and how to tell the difference between pork tenderloin and pork loin.

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 from the back of the animal.

Can You Use Pork Tenderloin in Place of Pork Loin, or Vice Versa?

They're both lean meat, but their shapes, thickness, and sizes are different enough it's not a good idea to use them in place of one another. You're likely to overcook pork tenderloin (it's smaller and cooks faster), and ingredients cooking with a pork loin may burn before the loin ever reaches temperature if you're using it in place of the smaller tenderloin.

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 three months before cooking.

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What's the Best Way to Cook Pork Tenderloin?

A typical pork tenderloin weighs a little over a pound, and looks like a foot-long cylinder about three to inches inches wide with very little visible fat. (Don't confuse it with the loin, which is wider and a little fattier. It's often sold in two- or three-pound packages.)

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.

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.

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Get the Recipe: Roasted Pork Loin

What's the Best Way to Cook Pork Loin?

Pork loin is mild like pork tenderloin, though additional fat may render it a bit "meatier." It doesn't have a lot of tough muscle like pork shoulder or butt, so it doesn't need long, slow roasting to reach perfection. But quick stove-top cooking won't work either. Consider searing it in a sauté pan, then finishing it on an oven. You can also grill it over medium heat. Cut a big pork loin into thick, meaty chops for your barbeque.

How Long Should You Cook Pork Tenderloin or Pork Loin?

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.

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