What’s the Difference Between Pork Loin vs. Pork Tenderloin?

Updated: Nov. 17, 2023

These two popular cuts are often confused for each other, but they're easy to tell apart. We'll explain the difference between pork loin vs. pork tenderloin.

If you’re shopping for a pork recipe, you might make an easy mistake: thinking that pork loin and pork tenderloin are the same thing. Unfortunately, picking up the wrong one could mean disaster for your cooking plans! Although they’re both lean cuts of pork that taste delicious, there are a few key differences between the two. Never mistake one for the other by learning the main differences between pork loin vs pork tenderloin. (Learn more about whether pork can be pink.)

What’s the Difference Between Pork Loin and Pork Tenderloin?

The most obvious difference between pork loin and pork tenderloin is the size. Pork loin is wide and thick, with a sizable fat cap running along the top. Pork tenderloin, on the other hand, is narrow and thin, with little to no visible fat. They also cook differently: One is better suited for quick, high-temperature cooking while the other benefits from a hard sear before being finished with lower, slower heat.

What Is Pork Loin?

pork loinTaste of Home

Pork loin (also called center loin roast or a pork center rib roast) is a lean and tender cut that features a juicy fat cap. It’s large, wide and thick, and it’s generally sold as a boneless roast to make it easier to slice after cooking. You may recognize it from another favorite cut—pork chops, which are the steaks cut from the loin roast.

What does pork loin taste like?

The meat in a pork loin is light-colored, resulting in a pale pink or white color when it’s cooked through. It has a mild flavor, and the fat cap keeps the meat moist as it cooks. When cooked properly, pork loin is juicy and tender. (Wondering if pink pork is safe to eat? We have the answers.)

Where does it come from?

The pork loin is the muscle that runs along the back between the back fat and the ribs. If the butcher does not remove the backbone or the rib bones, the pork roast may be sold as a pork crown roast or rack of pork.

What is pork loin good for?

Pork loin is perfect for feeding a crowd or making enough for leftovers—especially if you love pork sandwiches. As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to prepare a half-pound of uncooked pork loin per person. Most boneless loin roasts weigh between four and five pounds, so you should be able to feed eight to ten people from a single roast.

How to cook pork loin

Our favorite pork loin recipes are usually grilled or seared first to get a crispy, caramelized exterior. Then, the loin is finished over indirect heat on the grill or roasted at low temperatures in the oven to finish cooking the center. Alternatively, you could cook a pork loin using the slow cooker. For best results, always use a probe thermometer, pull the loin when it reaches 145° F and rest it for at least 15 minutes to lock in the moisture.

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What Is Pork Tenderloin?

pork tenderloinTaste of Home

Pork tenderloin (also called pork filet or pork tender) is long and skinny, and it’s always sold as a boneless cut. Because each tenderloin only weighs about a pound, you’ll usually find them packaged in pairs. The tenderloin contains very little fat, so one of the best ways to identify it is to look for the cut without a fat cap or intramuscular fat marbling.

What does pork tenderloin taste like?

Pork tenderloin is a dark red color that fades to a light brown when it’s cooked. It’s very flavorful but lean, so it doesn’t have any fat to keep it juicy as it cooks. Tenderloin is very tender but will taste dry if overcooked.

Where does it come from?

Pork tenderloin is a delicate muscle that runs along the spine. It isn’t used for movement, so it’s one of the most tender cuts of pork. In beef, this muscle is often referred to as filet mignon.

What is pork tenderloin good for?

If you’re in a hurry and only need to feed a few people, pork tenderloin is the way to go. It cooks up quickly, and each tenderloin weighs about one pound, feeding about three people. You can stretch the servings by slicing tenderloin and serving it as medallions alongside a few tasty side dishes.

How to cook pork tenderloin

Tenderloin contains a membrane called silver skin that does not tenderize as it cooks. It’s important to remove the silver skin before proceeding to prevent chewy bites. We recommend marinating tenderloin for 12 to 24 hours; in the absence of built-in fat, this marinade will keep the meat juicy and moist. It’s best to stick to quick-cooking methods here, like searing it in a cast-iron skillet or cooking it over direct heat on the grill. You can also cut the tenderloin into smaller pieces for stir-fry recipes.

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Can You Substitute Pork Loin for Pork Tenderloin?

No, we don’t recommend substituting one of these cuts for the other. Pork tenderloin is too lean to cook for the long times called for in pork loin recipes; it would turn out dry and pretty tasteless. Using pork loin in a tenderloin recipe would be equally disastrous—it’s way too thick to cook all the way through, and you’d end up with raw pork.

A better substitute for pork loin would be a sirloin roast. Boston butt could be a potential substitute, but the shoulder cuts contain way more fat than the loin, so it’s not the right substitution for every recipe. For the best tenderloin substitute, look to thick-cut bone-in pork chops.