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There are many grilled pork tenderloin recipes that advise you to cook the tenderloin over direct heat the whole time.
You will find that more often than not your pork tenderloin will turn out dry and overcooked using this cooking approach.
The best way to cook pork tenderloin is to sear it over direct heat first on all sides, then transfer it to the cool side of the grill to finish cooking indirectly.
This method produces a nicely-charred outside with a juicy interior.
The key to grilling pork tenderloin is knowing that you need to remove it from cooking well before it reaches 145°F.
You can safely serve pork tenderloin at an internal temperature below 145°F by familiarizing yourself with the USDA‘s time and temperature tables for cooking pork.
Here’s the recipe.
Other Pork Tenderloin Recipes: Sous Vide Pork Tenderloin
Grilled Pork Tenderloin
- 1 1.5 pound Pork Tenderloin
- 1 tbsp Chili Powder
- 1 tsp Cumin
- 1 tsp Garlic Powder
- 1 tbsp Kosher Salt
- 1 tsp Black Pepper
- 1 tbsp olive oil For the tenderloin
- 2 tbspn vegetable oil For the grill grate
- Prepare your grill so there's a hot side and a cool side. For a gas grill, preheat to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. For a charcoal grill, light a full chimney of briquettes and dump them on one side of the grill when they are ready.
- Trim off any unwanted fat and silverskin off of the tenderloin and tie up one or both ends to make it uniform in shape. Apply the spice rub. Then rub the tenderloin with a tablespoon of olive oil.
- When your grill is almost ready clean your grill grates. Then, using a paper towel dipped in vegetable oil with cooking tongs, oil your grill grates. For a gas grill, turn off the burners on one side and keep the other side on high heat. For a charcoal grill make sure all of your briquettes are on one side.
- Place your pork tenderloin on the grates directly over the fire. Grill the tenderloin 1 to 2 minutes before rotating it 90 degrees. Grill 1 to 2 minutes, then rotate it another 90 degrees. Grill 1 to 2 minutes then rotate another 90 degrees. Grill the tenderloin for 1 to 2 minutes on the last side and transfer it to the cooler side of the grill.
- Once you move your tenderloin to the cooler side, insert a meat thermometer probe and track your tenderloin's internal temperature. Cover your grill. After 10 minutes, flip your tenderloin over so that the side closest to the heat doesn't overcook. Check your tenderloin's internal temperature again after 5 minutes. If you want your tenderloin to be juicy in the middle then you're looking for a pull temperature between 132 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Pull your tenderloin off the heat when it reaches 7 to 10 degrees below your serving temperature. Carryover cooking off the grill will raise the temperature another 7 to 10 degrees.
- I pulled my tenderloin off the grill at 132 degrees Fahrenheit and its temperature rose another 7 degrees after 5 minutes off the grill.
- Slice and serve tenderloin after a brief rest.
How to Prepare Pork Tenderloin for the Grill
When you buy pork tenderloin it will often come vacuum-sealed with two tenderloins per package.
The tenderloins will most likely be untrimmed with fat and silverskin attached. You will want to get rid of the silverskin and most of the fat on the tenderloin.
It is helpful to use a paper towel to grip the white membrane or silverskin to pull it away from the tenderloin.
Be careful not to pull any meat along with it.
There will be a large piece of silverskin that you need to cut off with a knife. Be careful not to take too much meat off when you cut the silverskin away from the tenderloin.
An untrimmed pork tenderloin will have a tapered end and a knobby end. To help it cook evenly it’s best to tie up both ends so that the whole tenderloin is uniform in shape.
Now that your tenderloin is trimmed and tied you need to decide if you want to marinate it or apply a dry rub. Both methods work well with grilling pork tenderloin.
Grilled Pork Tenderloin Marinade
Pork tenderloin’s long, sausage-like shape provides a large surface area on its exterior to absorb a marinade. You can then use the marinade as a pan sauce to pour over the tenderloin for serving.
Pork tenderloin is very versatile in terms of the variety of different marinades you can use. It goes particularly well with any marinade that includes:
- Any type of mustard such as brown mustard or dijon mustard.
- Soy sauce or tamari.
- Anything with acidities such as lemon or lime juice, vinegar such as apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, etc.
- Fresh herbs such as thyme, parsley, rosemary, cilantro.
- Garlic or garlic powder.
- Sweetness provided by honey, brown sugar, or fruits such as apples, peaches, or mangos.
You can use the time when your pork tenderloin is finishing cooking on the cooler side of the grill to transform your marinade into a pan sauce.
Just dump the marinade into a pan and heat it over medium heat till boiling and it’s reduced to a quarter of its original volume. You can add butter if so desired.
Then serve the pan sauce over the sliced tenderloin.
Here’s a quick marinade that works great for grilled pork tenderloin and can be used as a pan sauce as well.
Balsamic Honey Dijon Marinade and Sauce
- 1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar
- 1/4 cup Honey
- 1/4 cup Dijon Mustard
- 1 tablespoon Soy Sauce
- 1 teaspoon Garlic Powder
- 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
- 1 teaspoon Black Pepper
How to Grill Pork Tenderloin
When you’re grilling pork tenderloin you need to be careful not to overcook it because it is very lean.
Because it’s low in fat and the fact that it’s thicker than most steaks, you don’t want to cook a pork tenderloin over direct heat for the duration of its cooking.
You want to start by grilling it directly over high heat for 1 to 2 minutes a side and then transfer it to the cooler side of the grill to finish cooking.
When preparing your grill, whether it be a gas grill or charcoal grill, you want to set up two different cooking zones.
A hot side of the grill and a cooler side of the grill.
Grilling the tenderloin on each side for only a minute or two over high heat develops a nice crust and doesn’t allow any part of the tenderloin to overcook.
Transferring it to the cooler side of the grill allows the rest of the interior to come up to a safe internal temperature without drying it out.
What constitutes high heat? On a gas grill that would be 500°F and above. For a charcoal grill, a large chimney of charcoal piled on one side will easily produce temperatures above 500°F.
The maximum amount of time you would want to grill your tenderloin over direct heat would be two minutes a side for a total of eight minutes. Then transfer your tenderloin to the cooler side of the grill to finish cooking.
Ideally, you would want the cooler side of the grill to be less than 350°F to finish cooking. This isn’t always possible when working with charcoal so you might need to crack the lid a bit so to keep the temperature from getting too high.
Pork tenderloin isn’t necessarily a perfect tube shape like a sausage, yet it isn’t a triangle shape either. It’s more of an oblong shape.
When I’m cooking a tenderloin I consider it to have four sides for cooking.
It consists of a top and bottom side where it can lie naturally and two smaller sides on, for lack of a better term, each side.
How long does a pork tenderloin take to cook overall? Good question.
How Long to Grill Pork Tenderloin
A 1.5-pound pork tenderloin will take around 28 to 30 minutes to grill.
This cooking time estimate is based on grilling the pork tenderloin over direct heat for 6 to 8 minutes and then moving it to indirect heat to finish cooking for around 20 minutes.
I monitored the internal temperature of two pork tenderloins cooking separately on a charcoal grill and a gas grill with a WiFi meat thermometer probe.
Here’s the information for the pork tenderloin on the gas grill.
Notice the spike in the temperature at the 9:39 mark, that’s when I covered the grill with the lid after I moved the tenderloin to the cooler side of the grill to finish cooking, which took another 21 minutes.
Can you grill a pork tenderloin faster? Of course, you can. You also run the risk of drying it out.
The recipes touting pork tenderloin in 15 minutes are also the ones hiding the tenderloin’s dry interior with barbecue sauce.
Serving Temperature for Pork Tenderloin and Carryover Cooking
People have their own preferences for the doneness of their meat. Many people haven’t moved away from eating pork that doesn’t even have a hint of pink inside.
I get it. If that’s you then continue doing your thing.
But for those of you interested in serving up the juiciest piece of tenderloin you need to become acquainted with the time and temperature guidelines for pasteurizing meat through the cooking process.
Here’s the USDA’s recommendations for holding pork above certain temperatures to achieve total pathogen destruction.
Harmful pathogens such as Trichinella and Salmonella are eradicated not just by increasing temperatures, but increasing temperatures and the amount of time spent above those temperatures.
You can use this to your advantage while cooking if you have a dependable meat thermometer.
Using a meat thermometer to thoroughly check your pork tenderloin’s internal temperature will allow you to know when your pork has reached temperatures where it is safe to eat.
Looking at the chart above, if you are able to hold your pork tenderloin’s internal temperature above a minimum of 134°F for at least six minutes, you will achieve the same destruction of bacteria as you would instantly at 145°F.
That brings us to carryover cooking.
If you are grilling you are invariably working with a good amount of heat. The more heat you put into something, the more heat inertia it will have built up.
This inertia is what leads to carryover cooking.
In the recipe above, I pulled the pork tenderloin off the charcoal grill at an internal temperature of 132°F. It then rose another 7 degrees in 5 minutes after I pulled it off the grill.
If you are grilling you really need to pull your food off a good 5 to 10 degrees lower than what you will be serving it at to compensate for carryover cooking.
This is dependent on how hot your grill is. The hotter it is, the more carryover cooking potential.
Grilling pork tenderloin is easy once you learn that it can only withstand so much direct heat. As a general rule, I never let it spend more than 8 minutes total on the hot side of the grill.
By then moving it to the cooler side to finish cooking you will achieve the best of both worlds, a nicely charred outside and a juicy pink middle, that isn’t hiding under barbecue sauce.