Despite what you might think, “What is the difference between pork loin and pork tenderloin?” is not a trick question. Although they sound incredibly similar, pork tenderloin and pork loin are actually very different cuts of meat.
Cuts of Pork
In the simplest version of a primal cuts of pork diagram, you’ll see just four different cuts: pork shoulder (also called pork butt); pork loin (think of this as the back of the pig); pork belly (pretty self-explanatory); and pork leg (which is better known as ham).
These four primal cuts can then be broken down into more specific parts. For instance, pork chops are often cut from the pork loin. A rib chop comes from the part of the loin that includes the ribs, as you might have guessed.
In the grocery store, when you see an intact pork loin, it will be a a wide, flat, rectangular cut of pork, usually sold as either a boneless roast or bone-in roast.
It’s very lean, so you shouldn’t cook it at high temperatures or it will dry out. When you cook it right, at a low temperature and for not too long a time, pork loin is very tender. The center cut portion of the pork loin is the leanest (and most expensive) cut of meat from the pig.
Boneless Kurobuta Pork Loin Roast, $35 from Snake River Farms
You may also see pork sirloin, which is a cut that comes from farther back near the hips, and is not very highly regarded.
Pork tenderloin, on the other hand, is a much smaller cut of meat. The pork tenderloin is a long, thin cut of pork (only about two inches wide) that is a muscle underneath the backbone of the pig, and has very little marbling, so it takes even less time to cook.
Pasture Raised Heritage Pork Tenderloin, $20 from Crowd Cow
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Can You Substitute Pork Loin for Pork Tenderloin?
No. Pork tenderloin and pork loin are not easily substituted in recipes—if you’re looking to cook a pork tenderloin recipe, the timing and heat indications will be inaccurate for a pork loin, and vice-versa.
Whether you’re looking for pork tenderloin or pork loin, the bottom line is that you will have a delicious meal awaiting you as long as you choose a cooking method appropriate to the specific cut you choose.
Pork Tenderloin & Pork Loin Recipes
Take a peek at these 10 recipes for pork loin and pork tenderloin that won’t disappoint.
This pork loin is seasoned with sweet and hot Spanish paprika and covered in a garlic paste made from 10 cloves of garlic, water, and kosher salt. Cover the pork loin evenly in the paste and make sure to be patient while marinating. Get the Pork Loin with Roast Paprika recipe.
An Italian-inspired blend of herbs, garlic, butter, sea salt, and olive oil make for a simple marinade that goes well with the side dish of your choice. Plan on resting the roast for 45 minutes when it’s done for maximum juiciness. Get the Baked Garlic Pork Tenderloin recipe.
This pork roast is a real showstopper: the butterflied pork loin roast is rolled into a tight cylinder (filled with fennel and prosciutto) that is tied and then cooked in the oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for only about an hour. Let it rest for 20 minutes to ensure it’s juicy, then slice it open to reveal spirals of tender meat and flavorful stuffing. Get our Fennel-and-Prosciutto-Stuffed Pork Loin Roast recipe.
This tenderloin is also butterflied, but not stuffed and rolled back up; instead, the meat is left flattened out for more even cooking that’s quicker too. Serve with any sauce you like; this Italian salsa verde is delicious, but chimichurri would also work. Get our Salsa Verde Pork Tenderloin recipe.
This is a great combination of fruit (peach jam) and spice (garlic) mixed with some bourbon, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Get the Bourbon Peach Pork Tenderloin recipe.
Our recipe for Cuban pork loin is all about the marinade—freshly squeezed orange and lime juice, oregano, olive oil, and 12 garlic cloves are mixed together for a zesty marinade that gets better every hour you let it sit. Get our Cuban Rotisserie Pork Loin recipe. If you don’t have a rotisserie, you can roast it in the oven. (You can also grill pork tenderloin for a faster outdoor dinner.)
You know what tastes great with pork tenderloin? More pork! This pancetta-wrapped recipe is packed with flavor and seasoned with fresh thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Get the Pancetta Wrapped Pork Tenderloin recipe. Or try our Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin recipe with apples.
If you’re often short on time to spend actively making dinner, this recipe is magic—the glaze is made from brown sugar, cumin, garlic powder, chili powder, salt, pepper, and chicken broth and reduces itself after hours of slow cooking in the Crock-Pot. Be sure to choose a pork loin with a visible fat cap so the meat stays moist. Get our Crock Pot Balsamic Pork Loin Roast recipe.
Proving you don’t have to cook tenderloin whole, our Sweet and Sour Pork recipe calls for cutting it into bite-size pieces before battering it in a potato starch and flour mixture and frying. The sweet and tangy sauce is the perfect finishing touch.
Pork loin can also be cut into smaller pieces before cooking. In our Tacos al Pastor recipe, it’s sliced crosswise before soaking in a flavor-packed marinade with chiles, spices, garlic, pineapple, and vinegar overnight. Then it’s grilled along with pieces of fresh pineapple for stuffing into tacos (and your face). This is much easier for most home cooks than the traditional spit roasting method, and just as delicious!
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