Keeping Pork Tenderloin Moist

by Elizabeth Skipper | March 5th, 2014 | Ask the Chef
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tenderloin usaHow I can I make a pork tenderloin moister? I took mine out of the oven at 145, per USDA guidelines, and it was dry. Help!

I can think of a few reasons why your pork tenderloin was dry, even though you feel you cooked it right. The first one you actually mention, though you may not realize it. By waiting until the thermometer reading was 145°F before removing the pork from the oven, you ensured it would cook to a higher temperature than that.

There’s a phenomenon known as “carry-over” cooking. Solid foods like roasts retain heat and their temperature will continue to rise anywhere from 5° to 10° after they’re removed from the source of heat. Since tenderloin has virtually no fat to keep it moist, that could have made it dry. Generally, the larger the piece of meat in question, the more the temperature at the core will rise as it rests. A tenderloin has a tubular shape, rather than a large, bulky one, so figure the temperature rise will be on the lower side. The next time you cook a tenderloin, allow for about a 5° rise in temperature and take it out of the oven at a maximum temperature of 140°.

Another reason could be how soon you sliced it. Many foods, from roasts to casseroles to quiches, need time to “rest” or “settle” before they’re cut into. In the case of roasts, the internal juices have been forced by the heat of the oven to the inside of the meat. Some sitting time not only allows the temperature of the meat to rise to its maximum, it also allows the juices to resorb throughout the meat. If you cut into it before this happens, the juices will run out all over the cutting board or plate, leaving the meat dry and unpalatable. Even if you’ve made a nice sauce or gravy to accompany it, it won’t completely make up for the resulting texture of the meat. Do lick up those juices, though – they’re tasty and it would be a shame to waste them!

This is a very common problem. I remember prepping some steaks for a client to grill, and instructing him to let them rest for 10 minutes before serving. “Oh, I never do that,” was the reply. I chose not to argue, but thought to myself, “What a shame; such good quality meat, and he’s not going to do it justice.” The motivation may be to get the food on the table quickly, or it may be to keep it warm. If there’s a rush on, perhaps there’s nothing to be done about the first; as for the second, that’s why so many recipes direct the cook to, “Remove to a warm platter and/or low oven, and tent with foil.” (Tenting means to cover loosely – you don’t want the food to steam, but the foil cover keeps the warmth from dissipating into the atmosphere.)

If you think neither of these possibilities is the culprit, there is one more possibility. Is your thermometer accurate? All thermometers are supposed to be accurate when they leave the manufacturer’s plant. If they’re cheap, it’s less likely. But let’s say you have a good quality thermometer, and it’s behaved up to now. How long have you had it? They can lose accuracy over time. How often do you use it? Has it been dropped at some point? Has it been used to measure very hot or very cold temperatures? Any of those things can cause a thermometer to read incorrectly. Check it for accuracy and if it’s off, either recalibrate it yourself, if possible, or have the manufacturer do it.

(U.S. Army photo)

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