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Seeking Secrets to a Successful Pork Loin

In efforts to be somewhat economical, I purchase 10-lb. pork loins from our local warehouse club. Note: Pork LOIN, that thick and lean leg of pink meat, not to be confused with its smaller, tender but higher-priced cousin, the pork TENDERloin, often sold in stores swimming in marinade. (Many cooks online seem to use the terms interchangeably.)

I am interested to learn tricks and techniques to achieving with my cheaper loin results as comparable as possible to that of its pricier cousin; tender, succulent slabs of meat.

My methods thus far: Hours after purchase I convert my kitchen counter into an operating table and amputate the "leg" into sections, typically 2 3-lb. pieces for slowcooking and the remainder I slice 1-2" thick (A no-no?) for braising in a skillet 1-2 hrs. -- with only 2.5 mouths to feed currently, these individual cuts (frozen 4 to a package) allow for more suitably-sized meals/less uneaten leftovers. I have had success in braising the 1-2" cuts in a skillet, but even submerged in liquid they are fished from the slowcooker tough as leather. Slowcooking the larger cuts (6-8 hrs. on low in 1 c. water or broth) has also been hit-and-miss...which suggests I'm missing something, probably know-how.

Here's my brain; please fill it. :)

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  1. We do the same - a whole loin, usually cut into a couple of small roasts, and the rest little boneless chops. I usually roast the roasts - my husband likes to brine it first. There's virtually no fat, and braising or slow cooking seems to turn it to sawdust.

    Marinating the chops and grilling works nicely.

    1. Cut into small chunks. Marinate in soy, sugar, salt. Pat dry. Stir fry. Add vegetables, etc.. and whatever asian sauce you like. I sometimes go with standard stock, ginger, garlic, soy, and add some marmalade and chile (thai peppers, if you have them).

      1. I like to do a sort of bulgogi with it. It's not authentic, I'm sure, but it's darn good. Very thinly slice your loin then toss into marinade of red chili paste, garlic, soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, and ginger. Let it marinade for a while, at least and hour but preferably more, then quickly grill or saute (in batches so the meat is flat) until the meat is just cooked. You can toss the cooked meat into a foil-covered pan in a warm oven to keep it warm and moist.

        I'd think you could similarly thinly slice the loin and then bread and pan-fry as a sort of pork scalloppine.

        1 Reply
        1. re: katecm

          Pork works well for Saltimbocca in place of far more $$ veal. Pound the hell out of thin, get it thin and go from there.
          This thread has me thinking of buying one at Costco vs. the tenderloins.

        2. I roast pork loin all the time - it's one of DH's favorite meals. What I've found is that a larger fat cap goes a long way to ensuring moist meat, so if it's got a decent fat cap, don't trim it. For 2 adults, I buy a 1.5 to 2 pound roast, which gives us two meals, so for 2.5 adults (0.5 adult is a child?), you want maybe 2.5 pounds. Season it with whatever herbs and spices you like - I use thyme, rosemary, black pepper - and roast it in a 350 degree oven. Start checking the temperature with a meat thermometer at 45 minutes, but it may take longer, probably will if it's larger than 2 pounds. Target temperature is 145 degrees, which will still be slightly pink in the center but will be juicy and tender. Remove meat to a cutting board, cover with foil, and make a pan sauce from the stuff left in the pan. I've never had a failure with this method except when I forgot to monitor the internal temperature. Hope this is helpful!

          1 Reply
          1. re: lisavf

            yeah I'd leave the fat, let it render during cooking and consider basting on occasion, in addition to the Asian salty/sharp items mentioned upstream, I'd add some brown sugar (or heck a Coke)

          2. *braising in a skillet for 1-2 hrs.......even submerged in liquid they are fished from the slowcooker tough as leather*. No wonder. They are overcooked and cooked inappropriately. Pork loin has no connective tissue and very little fat within the meat, so by braising for up to 2 hours you are cooking out what little moisture the meat contains. A quick saute followed by a ten to 20 minute (the longer time for the thicker cut) cooking/simmer, covered, at a lower heat (assuming stovetop cooking) is the most you should cook these. Adding liquid is really not necessary, save it for deglazing the pan to create a pan sauce.

            By cutting the loin into 1 to 2 inch thick slices you've made boneless pork loin pork chops. The remainder that you leave in 3-poind pieces should be roasted at 350 to 375 degrees--I roast at 365--for about an hour, until the internal temp reaches 150 degrees. I start checking the temperature after 50 minutes. The weight of a loin roast matters little, heavier roasts are just cut longer, not thicker and will cook in the same amount of time.

            Slowcooking a pork loin is a waste of good meat and as you have discovered (though perhaps not admitted yet) a waste of money. Save the slowcooking for a shoulder, which tends to cost less as well. Shoulder has the connective tissue and fat to withstand and require long, slow cooking in a liquid. Pork loin does not.

            1. In general, I rub seasoned olive oil (garlic, salt, pepper, etc.) all over the loin. Sear it and remove from (oven safe) pan. Saute vegetables in pan and deglaze w/ wine. Put loin back in pan and put into 350 degree oven until temp is 140, about 20 mins or so per pound. Remove loin, put pan on stove. Stir up the bits, cook down liquid if needed (good time to add apples if you want), add butter.

              1. The secret is
                DON'T OVERCOOK. You will have a delicious piece of meat if you don't go over 150*. Use leftovers for fried rice, tacos, rice and beans combinations and stir fries.

                1. I don't cook pork often but from what I've read, pork can be cooked at a lot lower temperature than what has been advised from years. The risk of Tric is about nil in commercial pork. So I've cooked my tenderloin to med med/rare and loins to med/rare with pretty good success of texture. It may not sit well with those that have always believed you have to cook it past pink and you should not tread into areas you aren't comfortable with from a food safety standpoint but do check into the most recent info on food safety and pork and it won't be from the FDA.

                  Personally I not a big fan of pork loin. Just too lean

                  1. You have two choices: slice it into small pieces so they can cook quickly or cook it at a very low temperature for a long time.

                    If the do the former, we're talking about very lean stir-fry type meat.

                    If you do the latter, sous-vide is by far the best method. Anything else will cause the muscle tissue to shrink too much resulting in tough meat and lots of moisture being lost (even when cooked in liquid, like braising).

                    Options in between will provide mediocre results.

                    1. Hi Unpoedic,

                      Whole Pork Loins are WONDERFUL and you are absolutely correct that they are a very good value. Usually Sam's Club etc will have them for $2 a pound. That is an incredible deal for lean delicious protein. You may be interested to know that pork Loin is actually slightly more lean than chicken breast.

                      I catered my best friend's baby shower a few weeks ago, and one of my dishes was a roasted whole pork loin. I also did a pulled pork and jerked chicken and lots of other good things. Every now and again I do a pork loin roast for one of our dinner parties.

                      This time round I wanted to try something new. And followed the directions to the T for aging the meat, with a light kosher salt rub. And I aged for 4.5 days. Having done a roast without this many times, I have to say that I can't recommend bothering with the extra time. It was good, sure but I don't think it was really an improvement over my normal roast.

                      Let's first address one of your attempts - slowcooking. That massive slab of meat might as well be prepared in two different ways at the same time! So take 5 pounds of it and we'll make it as pulled pork. And the other 5 pounds will make a succulent roast.

                      PULLED PORK
                      I do a pulled pork almost every week, so I'm quite familiar with how it's done. I usually use my crockpot but also sometimes use the oven, if I want "bark". While pork shoulder is the traditional cut for pullled pork there is no reason at all that you can't do it with a pork loin. Nothing fancy is required - just remove the silverskin, and drop your 5# slab of goodness into the slowcooker, set to high, pour in enough water so that there's just a bit covering the bottom, cover it and check on it in about 6-7 hours. No rush.

                      In looking at your details - and thanks for providing all that - it looks like you just weren't quite patient enough. For a pulled pork (or brisket) - the collagen needs to really break down, and this won't happen until the internal temperature of the meat hits about 200 degrees. That's right - 200 degrees. Low and Slow - that's how it's done. A big slab of pork loin will probably take about 8 hours, and might well take 1-3 hours more to hit that. Really. Here's another guage. When it's really done, your thermometer should EASILY slide into the deepest portion of the meat with no apparent resistance. If the meat resists, then it will need more time.

                      After it hits that magic # (and don't be afraid to let it go longer - it is near impossible to mess up pulled pork, let it sit covered by foil for 20-30 min. Then pull it apart, and mix in a liberal amount of x-virgin olive oil, and toss it with fresh ground pepper and kosher salt.

                      Don't even think about using powdered pepper or idodized salt - we will find you ... :-) Ok ....so we're done with that.

                      PORK LOIN ROAST
                      Now let's talk about taking the pork loin ROAST ... Oh man am I getting hungry just thinking about this ...

                      First, remove the silverskin. Then pour some canola oil into one of your hands and lightly coat the roast. Please don't use olive oil - it can scorch too easily. Now coat the entire roast lightly with .... you guessed it - kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.

                      Ok now this will be very simple. First roast it at 225-250 until the internal temperature of the roast is 120-130. This can take place faster than you think, since the meat is fairly lean. I'd recommend checking it at 45 min so that you know how it's progressing. Then increase the oven to 425-450 to brown up the outside, and bring the inside to 140 degrees. This can take 10-15 min.

                      The key is to not overcook it. Once your thermometer hits 140, remove the roast and put onto a plate or wooden carving board, and cover losely in foil. The meat should continue to cook a bit. That's it. Let it sit a bit - 10-15 min before you carve. More if you like.

                      Yeah I know ... pork is "supposed" to be cooked to 145. But then it will continue to cook and then be dangerously close to drying out a bit - it's too lean to take that risk - in my opinion.

                      Just in case the center is still slightly underdone - just pop the WHOLE THING in the microwave and give it 30-60 seconds. If that doesn't do it, give it another 30.

                      Ok now you have a GREAT pork loin roast. And it'll be fine on it's own but I always make a custom killer sauce to go with it. I hate to give away some of my best secrets but here's one of them:

                      Jeff's KILLER sauce #1. I recommend a 5 quart dutch oven for this. It'll keep the heat steady and keep the splatter down.
                      1. Pour 1/2 cup of x-virgin olive oil into your blender and while it's spinning drop in rough chopped pieces of 1 cup onion. Puree the heck out of it
                      2. Saute the puree'd onion slowly for 15 min.
                      3. Add 4+ TB pureed garlic, stir and let simmer for another 5 min
                      4. Add 1 can tomato paste. Taste it. You'll probably need to add 1 more can. Let it simmer for 5 min
                      5. Add some kosher or sea salt to taste
                      6. Add fresh ground pepper to taste
                      7. Add X TB Good Chili Paste. SEE THE IMAGE. I prefer "rooster brand" - these are the same folks that make the Srirachi hot sauce in those plastic bottles. Any decent asian market should have this stuff. It's cheap and awesome. The Rooster stuff has a more clean flavor than some others.

                      If you can't get good chili sauce, you can use Srirachi hot sauce - this is available pretty much everywhere nowadays. You can also use a bit of chili powder and a bit of cayenne pepper but I prefer using just the rooster - it's clean and fresh.

                      Start with 2 TB and add 1 more at a time until it's got just the right amount of heat and tingle. It should be slightly hotter than you think it should be - since it will be a sauce to go with meat.

                      8. Add some good low sodium soy sauce to taste, 1-3 TB. This is optional but I find it gives the sauce a bit of complexity.
                      9. Add 1/2 can of coconut juice. You'll need to blend the contents of the can well before using as it will be quite separated.
                      10. Let this simmer together and blend together nicely for another few min.
                      11. Taste it and if it needs a bit of salt, pepper, chili pepper - add as you think best
                      12. The MAGIC ingredient. Add in a goodly amount of DRIED Fenugreek Leaves. Indian markets will often have this. If not you may well be able to get it from an indian restaurant - they should darn well have it. And it's cheap. I get like 1/2 cup+ for about $3.

                      Use DRIED fenugreek leaves (leaves NOT seeds). The fresh stuff or frozen stuff won't give you the correct results. I can't you a good amount but it's probably 2-3 TB at least, perhaps more. I'll toss some in, let simmer, taste and add more, etc.

                      Let that simmer for a few more minutes and OH MY GOSH it should be just magic. Few people know how amazing dried fenugreek leaves are in a sauce. So your guests will just be amazed.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: jkling17

                        pork loin pulled pork? i am having a hard time seeing how that wouldn't be dry and tough. not enough fat in a loin!

                        1. re: jkling17

                          you mean coconut milk -- not juice -- right?

                          1. re: alkapal

                            Yes - coconut milk, not juice - thank you for keeping me honest!

                            In theory, a pork loin could be done as pulled. I haven't bothered to do it as we just use pork shoulders and really love pork loin via roasting. Ah ... all those succulent slices of roast pork ... just heaven on earth.

                        2. Ooops ... forgot that image ...

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: jkling17

                            agree this is a good chili paste -- fresh ground chilies and garlic -- nicely balanced. great in soups, too! on noodles….. in stir fries….


                          2. funny you should post this now; i am in the process of dealing with part of a loin as we speak.
                            We are 2 mouths. What I do: divide loin into 3 3lb. pieces; freeze 2; cook third. Some of my fav recipes are below. This time around, I cut the 3 lb piece in half; one half i did Adobado and the other half i did braised in milk, but sometimes i prepare a whole 3 lb section one way.:

                            CREAMY LUSCIOUS ROAST PORK COOKED IN MILK adapted from Paula Wolfert’s Cooking from the Southwest of France
                            3- 3 ½ lb boneless center pork loin
                            Garlic Slivers
                            Kosher Salt, Freshly ground Black Pepper

                            2 T. unsalted butter
                            ¼ c. finely chopped carrots
                            ½ c. finely chopped onion or leeks

                            4 c. whole milk
                            2 small bay leaves
                            ½ tsp.dried thyme
                            Freshly ground Black Pepper

                            With tip of thin bladed knife (boning knife is ideal), poke 1-2” deep holes in top of roast every 2” and insert sliver of garlic in each hole. Salt and Pepper the roast all over; refrigerate, covered, 1-2 days.

                            Combine milk through pepper, bring almost to boil. Turn off heat.
                            Meanwhile, melt butter in a dutch oven or flame proof casserole or pot. (This pot should fit the roast as snugly as possible so it will be almost covered by the milk.) Sautee onion through carrot over med. high heat til translucent, not browned. Add roast, fat side up. Do not sear. Pour milk over, cover and bake at 300 degrees (250 degrees in convection oven)
                            45 minutes to 1 ½ hours or until internal roast temp is 140 degrees. Turn meat over every ½ hour.

                            Remove roast from pot and place on greased sheet pan.
                            Pour milk into a degreasing cup w/ grease spout. Let fat rise to top and form a visible clear layer. Pour milk from cup into a saucepan until fat is about to be poured from spout.You should have about 4 c. milk.Leave fat in cup, transferring any remaining solids to milk. Discard fat. With a metal spoon in the pot bottom to keep the milk from boiling over, bring milk to low boil and keep at high simmer/ low boil until reduced by 2/3. Milk will be curdled(because of acid in the meat). Meanwhile, brown the roast in 375 degree oven 15-20 minutes- just til brown. Let rest 10 minutes, slice thinly.

                            Puree milk in blender til it is like smooth cream. (If it is thin like milk, you need to further reduce it and puree again.)Add S or P if needed. If milk sits too long in blender or on low heat, it may have to be pureed again to make smooth.
                            Pour sauce over sliced pork.
                            LOMO DE CERDO ADOBADO (adapted from Latin American Cooking)

                            1 LB PORK LOIN or BONELESS PORK CHOPS, SL. IN ½ X ½” STRIPS

                            2T. CHILI POWDER
                            4 T. WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR (or WHITE)
                            4 T. RED WINE VINEGAR
                            1 T. KOSHER SALT
                            1 TSP CARAWAY SEEDS, GROUND FINELY
                            6 CLOVES GARLIC( NOT TINY), MINCED

                            1/2 C. WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR(CAN SUBSTITUTE WHITE)
                            KOSHER S , AND P


                            Pork Loin in Mojo Sauce

                            2 1/2 lb. boneless pork loin
                            2 large slivered peeled garlic cloves
                            kosher S and fresh coarsely ground Black P

                            2 c. Goya's Mojo Criolla*
                            1/3 c. OJ concentrate combine all 3.
                            1/4 c. fresh lime juice.
                            opt. ch. cilantro or cilantro pesto

                            On the fat (top) side of the pork loin, poke small 2" deep holes all over, with a sharp metal skewer or the tip of a boning knife, and push in garlic slivers. Sprinkle s and p all over all sides of pork. Cover and sit 1-3 days to cure in frig. In a dry deep oven proof pot just bigger than the pork loin, sear the pork all over on medium high heat, beginning w/ the fat side so some fat will melt for searing the other sides. Pour the mojo sauce over the pork, cover and bake in 350 degree oven, turning once, til pork reaches 140 degrees (approx. 1/2- 3/4 hr.). Remove pot from oven, turn pork over in sauce,let sit covered 10 min. to retain juices. Remove from sauce, slice thinly, serve w/ sauce. Opt- just before serving, add into the sauce a few spoonfuls of cilantro pesto or chopped cilantro. Slice pork thinly and serve w/ sauce. Rice and steamed broccoli make good accompaniments (rice - to absorb the sauce.)

                            *Goya's Mojo Criolla comes in a clear wine bottle size bottle. It tastes good but is wicked salty and lacking in the punch of fresh citrus. Here's a quick recipe:
                            this is another recipe i like:
                            my fav simple and tender pork loin roast recipe is from a Cook's Illustrated; if you have access to past copies, i'll look up the date of the issue; just let me know.

                            1. place a slice of garlic along with a fresh sage leaf, rolled up, into slits all over the pork loin. drizzle all over with extra virgin olive oil, and then sprinkle fresh thyme over the whole deal. roast at 350 degrees till done -- slightly pink in center.

                              i also love a sri lankan dish, pork badun, http://www.bigoven.com/recipe/38731/S...

                              1. I have had best success in my convection microwave oven with a bone-in roast. Wouldn't suggest you buy one just for this but if you have one try it out on the pork loin.

                                1. i wonder how pork loin would do cooked like one of my favorite french dishes, blanquette de veau? i think it would be good. http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                                  blanquette de porc? this blogger uses pork blade steak:

                                  this version -- which is lighter -- offers the use of loin as an alternative: http://www.putporkonyourfork.com/reci...

                                  1. I buy a lot of pork loin but I usually cut them into chops. The end pieces that aren't as perfect as the center, I cut into strips for stirfry.

                                    If I wanted to cook a loin roast, I would leave the fat on, sear it , of course, and I would stuff it with something that included bacon so the bacon fat would keep the center juicy. Roast it with the fat side up. Anne Burrell just aired an episode doing this on her show "Cook Like a Restaurant Chef".

                                    I would also brine it and cook it as rare as you can tolerate it. For me about 148 degrees F is about all I can go without having to worry about my mother coming back from the grave to spank me for cooking under done pork.