My Goals

  • Moist, tender meat

  • Well-browned crust

  • Even cooking

  • Tenderloin steaks that fit in a skillet (for oven method)

  • Tenderloin steaks that fit neatly in a bag (for sous vide method)

We've all suffered through dry, chalky, or tough pork tenderloin. That's because traditional techniques such as oven roasting or pan searing use high heat in an attempt to give the mild meat a flavorful browned crust, but these methods typically overcook the lean pork. Lowering the heat can alleviate dryness—but at the expense of browning. What if there were a way to guarantee juicy, flavorful, fork-tender meat?

Chefs in high-end restaurants have been doing just that by cooking food very gently using a technique called sous vide that keeps the food from rising above the ideal doneness temperature; afterward meat is typically seared rapidly to produce a browned crust. (In recent years, sous vide machines have gotten far less expensive. See our testing of sous vide machines for details.) In the test kitchen, we have learned to produce the same results without special equipment. The key is to use two cooking methods: Slow-roast the meat in a low-temperature oven, and then transfer it to the stovetop for a quick sear.

To put the technique into action, I borrowed a trick a colleague had used when grilling pork tenderloin. I lightly pounded 2 tenderloins to a 1-inch thickness and then halved each one crosswise, creating four pieces total. This would help greatly when it came time to sear the meat: I'd be working with steaks—with large, flat surfaces for browning—instead of cylinders.

Lightly pounding the pork tenderloins to a 1-inch thickness ensures even browning.

My goal was to cook the interiors of the pork to 140 degrees and keep the outer layers as close to that temperature as possible. Cooked to this degree, the meat is faintly pink, superjuicy, and optimally tender. I seasoned the steaks with salt and pepper and arranged them on a wire rack (spritzed with vegetable oil spray) set in a rimmed baking sheet. This would raise the meat off the hot sheet and prevent the undersides from overcooking. I placed the assembly in a 275-degree oven, where the pork took about 30 minutes to reach 140 degrees. I then removed the sheet from the oven and swaddled the steaks in paper towels to wick away moisture. I needed to get the pork as dry as possible because any water on the surface would inhibit browning.

It takes only about 30 minutes for our pork tenderloins to reach an internal temperature of 140 degrees, at which they are cooked through but remain juicy and tender.

Next, I heated 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, waiting for wisps of smoke to rise. At that point, I knew the pan was ready, so I turned the burner to high and added the steaks, which browned evenly and deeply in just a minute or two per side. The high heat browned the surfaces quickly, so the steaks were in and out of the pan before their interior temperature could rise much above 140 degrees. After letting the meat rest, I sliced into pork tenderloin perfection: juicy, tender, and evenly rosy meat encased in a flavorful mahogany crust. (To make a sous vide version of this recipe, see Sous Vide Pork Tenderloin Steaks.)

Keys to Success

  • Moist, tender meat

    Gentle cooking keeps the meat juicy and tender from edge to edge.
  • Well-browned crust

    Lightly pounding the tenderloins flat and patting the pork very dry before searing it in a hot skillet ensures great browning.
  • Even cooking

    For the oven method, cooking the pork on a wire rack prevents it from overcooking where it is in contact with the hot baking sheet. For the sous vide method, adding oil to the bag helps prevents air pockets from insulating the pork from the water bath and causing it to cook unevenly.
  • Tenderloin steaks that fit in a skillet (for oven method) or in a bag (for sous vide method)

    Halving the long, slender tenderloins creates four easy-to-maneuver steaks that fit in a 12-inch skillet and in a zipper-lock bag without overlapping.