Juicy slices of smoked pork tenderloin bring plenty of flavor to a grilled meat platter without maxing out on the fat. Cook low and slow to retain moisture, and take care to remove the meat from the grill before it dries out.
Tenderloin is a small cut, usually no more than 1 or 2 inches in diameter and weighing roughly 1 1/2 pounds, with hardly any fat or sinew. Because it comes from a part of the animal that does little to no work, it's comparable to beef prime rib for tenderness.
In the oven, tenderloin can be prepared in as little as 30 minutes at a high temperature, around 425 degrees Fahrenheit, but a low temperature should be used for smoking.
When sold in supermarkets, tenderloin is often packed in a brine, but this allows very little leeway for controlling the amount of salt. When possible, marinate or brine the tenderloins at home.
There is no fat or sinew to trim away, but if there is any silverskin left on the loin, remove it with the tip of a sharp knife.
With no fat, pork tenderloin can have a neutral flavor and tendency to dry out easily. A dry brine or wet marinade comes to the rescue.
Rub the meat all over with kosher salt and pepper, using about 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt per pound, and leave in the refrigerator for at least an hour, preferably longer.
Load on extra flavor with complementary herbs such as rosemary or juniper berries, or more assertive rubs such as garam masala, Chinese five spice or Cajun seasoning. If you're making an herb rub, combine it with olive oil and massage all over the surface of the pork.
Alternatively, prepare a marinade of soy sauce, lemon juice, garlic, sugar, and olive oil. Pour it over the tenderloin in a resealable plastic bag and allow the loin to marinate for three to four hours in the refrigerator. Add a little bite with a light Pilsner beer or a slug of bourbon whiskey.
Stuffing the loin is another technique to prevent the meat from drying out.
- Slice down the length of the loin with a sharp knife as if you were cutting open a hot dog bun, but leave one side attached.
- Spread the inside with pesto, bread stuffing or dried fruit and nuts, and then roll the loin back up. Secure it with kitchen twine every inch or so along its length.
- Rub the outside with olive oil and herbs.
Arrange a two-zone smoker with the coals on one side and an area for indirect heat on the other. If you have a propane grill, light the burners on one side only.
Preheat the grill to 225 degrees F with the cover down, having scattered the wood chips over the coals. For propane grills, wrap the wood chips in aluminum foil and place them on the rack above the burner.
Smoke to Perfection
Place the tenderloin on the rack over the cool side of the smoker and leave for 2 to 3 hours, turning once. Toward the end of the session in the smoker, with 15 minutes to go, brush the loin with any glaze.
Whisk together a glaze of vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, maple syrup and fruit preserves and coat the tenderloins with a brush all over. Apple juice and honey also make a pleasant combination.
Cooking times will vary depending on the size of the loin and whether it is stuffed or not. The governing gauge is the internal temperature, measured with a cook’s thermometer.
Once the center of the tenderloin shows a reading of 140 degrees F, the loin can come off the grill, even if the meat is still pink. Allow the loin to rest for at least 5 minutes, during which time it will reach the recommended internal temperature of 145 F.
Once the tenderloin is rested and the juices absorbed, slice it across its width into medallions, and serve.