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These two popular pork cuts are commonly confused with one another—here's exactly how to tell them apart.

Elizabeth Laseter
September 19, 2018

Pork loin and pork tenderloin sound like the same thing, but that’s as far as it goes. Knowing the difference between these two cuts of pork can make or break a meal—and before you ask, “Can I substitute one for the other in recipes?,” the answer is a hard NO.

While pork loin and pork tenderloin are both undoubtedly delicious, they’re quite different in flavor, appearance, and cook time. To prevent a ruined meal, use this handy guide to shop the butcher counter with confidence. Below, learn how to tell the difference between pork loin and pork tenderloin, including the best ways to cook them and easy recipes to try.

Pork Loin vs. Pork Tenderloin

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If you place a pork loin and a pork tenderloin side-by-side on a cutting board, you’ll notice that they look very different from one another. Pork loin is wide and thick, while pork tenderloin is long and narrow. Both are cut from different areas of the larger loin muscle (see above), which runs along the back of the pig from the shoulder to the rear. Here’s a breakdown of these two cuts.

Pork Loin

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Pork loin is the common name for this cut, but a more accurate term is pork loin roast. Think of pork loin as an extra-thick pork chop—both cuts feature the same meat, but they’re packaged differently.

Whole pork loins may have a thin layer of fat that runs over the top called the fat cap. The color of the meat itself is lighter than that of pork tenderloin, while the flavor is mild and a touch fattier. One loin usually weighs between four and five pounds, and the price is around $1.99 per pound.

Related: Bone-In vs. Boneless Pork Chops: Which Should I Buy?

You can buy a boneless or bone-in pork loin—both are delicious when cooked properly. Boneless pork loin cooks faster, but it’s more likely to dry out if overcooked. Bone-in pork loin, on the other hand, takes longer to cook but better retains its juiciness. One variety of bone-in cut, pork crown roast, makes a stunning centerpiece at any special occasion.

To cook pork loin, sear or grill it over high-heat to create caramelization on the outside, then finish it off in the oven or over indirect heat to keep it juicy and moist on the inside. Because pork loin is a larger cut of meat, you’ll want to check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer. Aim for 145 degrees, and if it’s still a bit pink on the inside, then good job—you’ve cooked your pork loin to tasty perfection. Last but not least, make sure to let it rest for about 10 minutes to lock in the moisture.

Pork Loin Recipes

Pork loin is easy enough to cook on a weeknight but you can also dress it up for a special occaision. Thinly slice it to make a flavor-packed sandwich (such as this take on a classic Banh-Mi), or slow cook it, then shred it to make craveworthy nachos. If you want to get real fancy, you can butterfly, then stuff a pork loin with a variety of flavorings like cheese, fruit, or herbs. To get started, give these easy pork loin recipes a try.

Pork Tenderloin

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Pork tenderloin, also called pork filet, is cut from the rear end of the loin. This delicate muscle runs along the spine of the pig and isn’t used for walking or other movements. As a result, the tenderloin is one of the most tender cuts of pork you can buy.

The easiest way to tell a pork tenderloin from a pork loin is by size. A tenderloin is much smaller and weighs between 1 to 1 ½ pounds. While it doesn’t have the fat cap that a loin may have, tenderloin often has a tough silverskin that should be removed before cooking. Pork tenderloin meat is darker in color than loin meat, and the flavor is mild and lean. It also tends to be more expensive than pork loin—about $2.99 to $3.99 per pound.

Keep in mind that this is a very lean cut, so it can overcook easily. As a result, marinating the tenderloin beforehand can help it stay juicy and moist while cooking. Some grocery stores carry pre-marinated pork tenderloin, but it may contain unwanted additives or extra sodium. Besides, making your own from scratch is so easy—recipes vary, but you can toss a basic pork tenderloin marinade together with olive oil, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, and flavorings like garlic and fresh herbs. A spiced rub is also an easy way to add flavor to your tenderloin.

To cook pork tenderloin, stick to quick-cooking methods like grilling or pan-searing (extra points if you use a cast-iron skillet). Due to its smaller size, pork tenderloin cooks faster than pork loin, making it a perfect choice for a quick weeknight dinner. Like pork loin, the internal temperature should be 145 degrees, and the meat should still be slightly pink. Lastly, pork tenderloin should rest for several minutes before slicing.

Pork Tenderloin Recipes

Photo: Jennifer Causey; Styling: Claire Spollen

Like pork loin, pork tenderloin is also a versatile cut. You can thinly slice it to make lettuce wraps or tailgate-ready sliders, or chop it up for tacos. It’s also delicious sliced into strips and cooked quickly in a wok with other veggies for an easy stir fry dinner. Try these basic pork tenderloin recipes below.

Pork Loin or Pork Tenderloin?

If you’re in a hurry or feeding just a few people, choose pork tenderloin. It packs a slightly higher price tag but it cooks quickly and can be grilled or seared whole, cut into pieces and stir-fried, or sliced thinly for sandwiches. For special occasions or larger crowds, consider a pork loin roast. It takes longer to cook, but it’s less expensive per pound, and you have the option of choosing a bone-in or boneless cut.

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