Most people believe pork loin and tenderloin can be used interchangeably. After all, it’s just pork, right?
Unfortunately, pork isn’t just pork. Different cuts of pork require different cooking methods and cooking times.
Pork loin and tenderloin are two different cuts of pork. In fact, they are so different that there is a debate about which cut of pork is better.
However, before we get to the discussion, let’s explore each cut of pork in depth.
What Is Pork Loin?
Pork loin is fabricated from the loin muscle. The loin muscle is the middle muscle that stretches from the shoulder to the rear of the pig.
In other words, pork loin is carved from the space between the ribs and back fat.
This thick, wide rectangular cut is lean yet tender. Pork loin is easily recognizable because of its thick and juicy fat cap.
Pork loin is usually marketed as a boneless roast and also labeled center loin roast or pork center rib roast. It is sold as a roast because it is easier to slice a roast once it’s cooked.
Pork loin can also be sliced into steaks that resemble pork chops.
What is Pork Tenderloin?
Pork tenderloin is a long, slender cut of pork. It is similar to beef tenderloin in length and shape.
However, beef tenderloin is beef and has a rich reddish color. Pork tenderloin is pork and has a pinkish color.
Pork tenderloin is sold boneless and may be labeled as pork fillet or pork tender. Pork tenderloin only weighs one pound. Due to this, they are often sold as a two-for-one deal.
Pork tenderloin contains minuscule amounts of fat. It does not have a fat cap or marbling.
Pork Loin vs. Tenderloin
There are as many pork loin purists as there are pork tenderloin purists. Both cuts are equally delicious in their own right.
However, there are many differences between each cut, so let’s compare and contrast these pork cuts to see which one is best.
When it comes to the pork loin vs. pork tenderloin debate, it is reminiscent of the prime rib vs. ribeye debate, especially regarding the location of each cut.
Pork loin comes from the pig’s back. In contrast, pork shoulder is actually fabricated from the loin. Specifically, tenderloin comes from the back portion of the pork loin.
Pork loin looks wide and rounded when it is sold whole. However, it can also be cut into thick pork chops like steaks.
This does not mean they can be cooked like pork chops. Loin meat will be tougher than pork chops, so proceed with caution.
In contrast, pork tenderloin has a circular shape. However, it is much thinner and longer than pork loin.
The meat on one end of the pork tenderloin is thicker while the meat tapers off to a point on the other side like the tip of tri-tip. It may be to fold the tapered end on itself to prevent it from drying out.
Pork tenderloin is larger than pork tenderloin. Pork tenderloin can weigh between 4-5 pounds. In contrast, pork tenderloin weighs 1 pound.
In general, both cuts of pork can vary from light pink to dark pink. If the pork is darker in color, this is not a sign that the pork is spoiled or defective.
It just means the pork has higher levels of myoglobin. Myoglobin is the compound responsible for giving the pork its pink color.
More myoglobin means the pork will have a more robust flavor and a juicier texture.
Nevertheless, pork loin has a pale pink color while pork tenderloin has a dark pink, reddish color.
Pork tenderloin comes from an area that is barely used. Therefore, it is the most tender cut of pork on the animal.
Even the meat in the shoulder will become tender after it’s cooked for hours; pork tenderloin is naturally tender.
In contrast, tenderloin is a lean cut of pork. It is slightly tougher than pork tenderloin. So, pork tenderloin wins in the texture category.
Neither pork tenderloin nor pork loin can stand up to the flavor of pork shoulder. They simply do not have the fat that gives the pork a juicy, delicious flavor.
However, pork loin is definitely more flavorful than tenderloin. Since the loin is closer to the back of the pig, they get a little more exercise.
The tenderloin is barely used during the pig’s life. Therefore, it is soft and relatively bland.
Nevertheless, this gives you more room to test out different seasonings. You can even marinate port tenderloin for 2-4 hours to increase its flavor.
You can use spices, including paprika or cayenne pepper, herbs such as rosemary or thyme, and olive oil to marinate the meat, or you can use a BBQ rub if you want a bolder robust flavor.
However, do not marinate the pork tenderloin for too long, as it can cause the meat to become mushy.
Additionally, mustard-based sauces also pair perfectly with pork, so don’t be afraid to pair it with a creamy mustard sauce or honey mustard sauce.
Pork loin is a versatile cut of meat. It can be broiled or roasted in the oven, braised on the stovetop, or even smoked in an electric smoker. If you cut the pork loin into steaks, you can even grill it on your natural gas grill.
Nevertheless, braising pork loin is the most popular cooking method. If you are going to braise the loin, do not braise it in too much liquid.
It’s best to braise it in a small quantity of apple juice, apple cider, chicken broth, or water. Braising the loin in a smaller amount of liquid prevents the delicate meat from overcooking.
In contrast, the tenderloin can be pan-seared in a hot cast-iron skillet and finished in a hot oven or grilled. Since pork loin is more versatile, it definitely wins in the cooking category.
Pork tenderloin is much larger than its counterpart, so it will take longer to cook. In contrast, pork tenderloin is leaner and thinner, so it cooks much faster.
If you cut pork tenderloin into medallions, they will cook even faster. Within a few minutes, you’ll be eating those tasty little medallions, so pork tenderloin wins this category.
If the budget is a high priority, pork loin is much better than its counterpart. Pork tenderloin can cost more than $10 a pound.
While $10 a pound may not seem like a lot, pork tenderloin is only a pound. So, if you’re preparing for 10 people, you will need at least 1/2 a pound per person.
This means you will need 5 pounds of pork tenderloin which can cost $50 or more.
In contrast, pork loin can cost as little as $3 a pound. You will need 1/2 pound per person. Therefore, if you were to feed ten people, at$3 a pound of pork loin would cost $15.
That’s $35 in savings. You could probably use the rest of the money to purchase ingredients like potatoes, rice, corn, or green beans to make side dishes for the pork loin.
Which Is Better, Pork Loin or Pork Tenderloin?
Which cut of pork is better depends on your preference. Pork tenderloin is the tenderest pork cut, so if tenderness is a high priority, it may be best to go with tenderloin.
However, tenderloin is expensive, so if money is an issue or you want to feed a good amount of people, pork loin is best. In addition to this, pork loin is limited to a few cooking methods.
So if you want something more versatile or pork that requires less effort to cook, the loin is the better option.
In contrast, if you want to get dinner on the table as fast as possible, the tenderloin is best since it cooks quickly.
Can You Substitute Pork Loin for Pork Tenderloin?
No, you cannot use pork loin in place of pork tenderloin. Although both cuts come from the loin, they are vastly different.
They have different cooking times and cooking methods, so you will probably end up with a botched recipe.
The beef loin is the best option if you are searching for a substitute for pork loin. On the other hand, beef tenderloin is the best substitute for pork loin.
Yes, both substitutes are from a different animal, but they will yield better results than using the two cuts interchangeably.
Additionally, you will also need to adjust the recipe cooking time as beef cooks faster than pork.
Pork tenderloin and pork loin come from the same part of the big. They are both low fat and take well to marinades, but they are not the same.
They have different cooking methods, appearances, and cooking times.
Nevertheless, which cut of pork is best depends on your preferences. Both cuts are equally delicious as long as you cook them properly.
Therefore, you will get to sample both of these delightful cuts before making your decision.
You might also be interested in:
- Pork Shoulder Vs. Pork Butt
- Pork Belly Vs. Bacon
- Pork Loin Vs. Pork Shoulder
- St Louis Ribs Vs. Baby Back Ribs
- Baby Back Ribs Vs. Spare Ribs
I have been smoking and grilling meat from an early age and enjoy sharing my knowledge and expertise through the hundreds of articles I have written about BBQ. I hope to make everyone’s BBQ journey that little bit easier.