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The recommended safe serving temperature for pork tenderloin according to the USDA is an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit/ 63 degrees Celsius. Like most recommended minimum safe temperatures for food, that information is a good starting point, but not the whole story.
There are many questions that need answering before we discuss the internal temperature for pork tenderloin when done. Are you cooking it in the oven or on the grill? Maybe you’re starting the pork tenderloin on the stovetop and transferring it to the oven. Did you marinate the pork tenderloin and what did you use?
I know, nobody likes being bombarded with questions. However, there is a reason for all these questions. Because there are a ton of different methods to get your pork tenderloin to that 145 degrees Fahrenheit mark. Some methods can be better than others.
And to complicate matters more, do we even need to get to 145 degrees Fahrenheit? I’ll tell you right now, pulling the tenderloin off the heat after it reaches 138 degrees Fahrenheit will yield great results.
The point of all this is to cook pork tenderloin to its most delicious potential. There are many ways to get there, let’s take a look at some. Sound good?
Is It Safe to Eat Pork at 145 Degrees Fahrenheit?
Yes. The USDA lowered its guidelines for the safe serving temperature of whole cuts of pork from 160 to 145 degrees Fahrenheit with an included three-minute rest time in 2011.
This doesn’t pertain to ground pork, which should still be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. The three-minute rest time is an extra safeguard as it will allow for the destruction of the little, if any, pathogens that are left in the meat.
The safe serving temperatures of meat are a result of not only the degree level but the length of time the meat stays above certain temperatures. For example, the destruction of pathogens in pork is instant at 145 degrees Fahrenheit. However, if you go lower to 138 degrees Fahrenheit, pathogens are killed after spending 2 minutes above that temperature.
Here is the temperature chart from the USDA showing the destruction of pathogens is a function of temperature and time.
Trichinella cysts are destroyed at 137 degrees Fahrenheit. If you cook your tenderloin to 138 degrees Fahrenheit and let it rest for 2 minutes you will destroy any harmful pathogens in the meat.
Now that I’ve got the safety bit out of the way let’s cook some tenderloin!
At What Temperature Do You Cook Pork Tenderloin?
Pork tenderloin is a very lean cut of meat so you need to be very careful not to overcook it. I have found that an oven temperature of 375 degrees Fahrenheit/190 degrees Celsius works well when cooking pork tenderloin. If you cook pork tenderloin at a higher temperature you will run the risk of drying the meat out.
One of the best techniques is searing the tenderloin in a skillet first and then transferring it to the oven. I’ve found that the skillet itself retains a lot of heat so it’s a good idea to transfer the tenderloin out of the skillet to a rimmed baking sheet with a wire rack.
The wire rack allows for airflow and heat to pass all the way around the tenderloin for even cooking. Leaving the tenderloin in an already heated skillet, especially a cast-iron one will overcook the bottom of the tenderloin. You can tell the difference in the pictures below.
How to Cook Pork Tenderloin in the Oven
There are many ways to cook pork tenderloin in the oven. I will take a look at what I feel is the best way to cook pork tenderloin in the oven.
The best way to cook pork tenderloin in the oven is to actually start it on the stovetop in a skillet to brown the outside and then transfer it to the oven to finish. I know, it’s technically not in the oven the whole time so it is cheating a bit, but I have never been a fan of semantics.
- First, you need to trim away any excess fat and silver skin on the outside of the tenderloin. The silver skin is like the name implies, it’s the whitish-silvery tough membrane that clings to the outside of the tenderloin. Be careful when trimming away the silver skin, it’s easy to catch a lot of meat in the trimming process.
- Once you’ve got the pork tenderloin trimmed up you need to make sure it is uniformly-shaped for cooking. You’ll notice that the meat naturally tapers down on the end. To make sure it cooks evenly you’ll need to tie-up one, if not both, ends.
- Now is the time to discuss brining. You can brine the tenderloin if you want to but it isn’t necessary. I don’t want to get into a debate over brined versus non-brined pork tenderloin, I’ve had great results with both methods. If I have time I do it, if not it still turns out great.
- Rub some olive oil and season the outside with whatever you like. Salt and pepper are pretty standard. Pork tenderloin is versatile so you can season it with whatever spices you like. Making tacos? Add some chili powder and cumin to your rub. Feeling Indian flavors? Curry, coriander, and turmeric are also great, that’s what I did in the picture above. I would stay away from brown sugar in your rub as it will burn when you sear the outside.
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and then heat a skillet over medium to medium-high heat and sear the tenderloin for a minute or two on all sides. Pork tenderloin is easy to sear on all of its sides (top, bottom, both sides) because of its sausage like shape. Why have a flavorful outside crust on just two sides?
- Next, transfer the tenderloin to a rimmed baking sheet and put it in the oven. It’s at this point that I will insert an oven-safe thermometer probe (or two) into the tenderloin to track the cook.
- When the tenderloin reaches 138 degrees Fahrenheit on your thermometer, pull the tenderloin out and let it rest for five minutes. The temperature is purely dependent on your taste preference. You could pull the tenderloin earlier at 135 degrees Fahrenheit, but make sure you wait around 5 to 6 minutes to allow the tenderloin to rest and be safe to eat.
- The temperature should rise 3 to 5 degrees while resting. Slice and serve.
Cooking Pork Tenderloin on the Grill
Cooking pork tenderloin on the grill is similar to the stovetop and oven method detailed above in that you will sear the tenderloin on the outside on high heat and then cook it on the cooler side of the grill.
- If using a gas grill, preheat it to medium-high heat with one side cooler than the other (if you have multi-burner capabilities)
- If using a charcoal grill, build a two-zone fire with 75 percent of your coals in one area and the rest next to it.
- Rub olive oil all over the outside and then season the tenderloin with whatever you desire.
- Sear the tenderloin on all sides for a minute or two on the hot part of the grill and then move it to the cool side. Insert an oven-safe meat thermometer probe into the tenderloin, making sure to keep the probe and the cord away from the heat and off the grill grates. Set your temperature alert for 138 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Pull the tenderloin off the heat at 138 degrees Fahrenheit and let it rest for 5 minutes. Slice and serve.
Pork tenderloin is a fast, easy, and versatile cut of meat. You will achieve the best results by searing the outside first and then finishing it on lower heat. By pulling the tenderloin at 138 degrees Fahrenheit with a five-minute rest you will ensure a flavorful and juicy piece of meat every time.
For more tips and information on how to cook meat at the best temperatures visit the Meat Thermometer Temperature Guidance section by clicking the link at the top of the page. Thanks for reading.