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

Find out which one is better for grilling before your next cookout.

If you’re not a seasoned cook, some cooking terms can sound alike. Take pork loin and pork tenderloin. From just the names themselves, you might think you could easily sub one for the other, but that’s not the case.

Where do pork loin and pork tenderloin come from?

It turns out that pork loin and pork tenderloin come from completely different parts of the pig. “In the pig, pork loin is just one long piece of meat,” says Chef Frank Proto, director of operations and an instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education. “It’s on the outside back of the animal.” Pork tenderloin, meanwhile, is located inside the body of the pig, close to the kidneys.

The cuts of the meats are different too. Pork loin can be from 15 to 20 pounds, whereas tenderloin is much smaller and comes in thinner cuts. Find out the biggest mistake people make when cooking pork.

How does pork tenderloin differ from pork loin?

Pork loin is fairly lean, especially in modern-day pigs that are bred for leanness, Proto says. Because of that, he uses quick cooking methods. “I would use it almost exclusively for sauteeing or grilling,” Proto says. “If you’re going to do a big piece of meat, you can roast it, but I wouldn’t roast it in small portion size pieces.”

When it comes to pork tenderloin, Proto would prepare it the same way, but only cook it to medium rare. “It’s an extremely dry piece of meat when it’s overcooked,” he says. “The loin actually has some intramuscular fat, whereas the tenderloin has little to no intramuscular fat.” Brush up on these tips from butchers before heading out to the store to choose your preferred cut of meat.

When would you cook with pork loin over pork tenderloin?

Proto says he almost never cooks with pork tenderloin because of its tendency to dry out. But he has used it in the past to make kebabs and notes that some people use it with marinades. He does grill with pork loin often, though, serving it with chimichurri or another herb-based sauce.

How do pork tenderloin and pork loin differ in price?

Pork loin is almost always going to be cheaper because there’s more of it, Proto says. Cuts of pork tenderloin are a lot smaller and there’s only two per pig. So they tend to be a little more expensive than the full loin. He recommends you look out for sales. “Sometimes you can get pork cutlets from like 99 cents to $2 in the supermarket,” Proto says. “It’s not expensive at all.” Before you start cooking, though, make sure you don’t make any of these mistakes that will ruin your meal.

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Jen McCaffery
Jen McCaffery is an associate editor for Reader’s Digest. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Prevention, Rhode Island Monthly, and other publications and websites. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s growing veggies or trying to figure out the way home from assorted trails.