Genius Recipes

The Genius Secrets to Never-Boring, Never-Dry Pork Tenderloin

Weeknights, meet a Puerto Rican classic.

November  7, 2018

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.

Photo by Julia Gartland

Pork tenderloin is ever-popular because it’s ever-convenient: A neatly-contained roast that cooks swiftly and feeds a family, it’s the filet mignon of the other white meat world (with a much more reasonable price tag).

So why is it so prone to turning dry and sad? And why do we keep letting it?

Photo by Julia Gartland

Because with these conveniences come all the challenges of cooking a lean, tender hunk of meat—there’s no flavorful fat or other goodness to hide behind, especially if we dare overcook it.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“The pan juice at the end was so good and simple, I can’t wait to try this adobo and sauce on roasted chicken next.Thank you- I WILL be buying that cookbook”
— Dawn E.

But Von Diaz—writer, radio producer, and author of the cookbook Coconuts & Collards—is sitting on the secret to not-at-all boring or dry pork tenderloin. (It’s not using a slow-cooker, in spite of what our most popular Pinterest recipe ever would have you believe.)

In an ode to her mother, a working parent who always preferred her meats light and lean, Diaz seasons and marinates tenderloin like pernil, a Puerto Rican dish that's traditionally made with pork shoulder and roasted low and slow for several hours. Because tenderloin can cook much faster and hotter and stay tender, you get to pernil in under 30 minutes.

The marinade is key: a simple, versatile wet adobo—a citrusy-garlicky-herby paste—that’s used to marinate all sorts of meat in Puerto Rican cuisine (Diaz has three templates in her book, for chicken or seafood, pork, and beef).

You can mash the adobo together with whatever tool you have on hand—a traditional wooden pilón or mortar and pestle, a mini food processor like Diaz and her mom use, or even the side of a big knife against a cutting board, if that’s all you’ve got. After poking some holes in your tenderloin and massaging in the adobo, you’re all but done, and it’s time to let the marinade go to work for anywhere from 30 minutes to overnight.

But what might be best of all is the sauce. By adding more lemon juice to the roasting pan at the end to free all the good browned bits, Diaz makes a bright, intensely delicious pan sauce, without fuss. Repeat this trick with any meat you roast or sear, then try not to eat the pan you made it on.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Bob Quinn
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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Bob Q. June 24, 2020
Here's one-eazy pezy "hack" recipe with TONS of flavor and that yields a great, moist tenderloin with a pan sauce that's great over rice and your sliced pork. Pat your tenderloin dry and then rub it with a good amount of pureed garlic, refridgerate for 30 min. then let it come back to room temp. Preheat your oven to 425°. Place the loin or loins on a rack and coat liberally with Trappist Monks Ginger preserves. Add 1/2 cup white wine or white vermouth to the pan to avoid the melting preserves from burning, and pop in the oven and reduce temp to 350° until meat reaches 145° for medium. If pan dries out add more wine. While meat rests deglaze and reduce pan juices and then thicken with butter or a roux for a thicked sauce. The Trappist preserves are the real key here.
Maureen February 18, 2019
I've gone full Alice in Wonderland tonight reading through various articles and recipes on Food52, and am loving what I'm learning! I consider myself a still-growing but pretty knowledgeable home chef, and these are great tips and variations on the staples. Thank you for sharing the recipes and the thoughts behind them! Also, kudos on so elegantly handling the comment trolls :-) Can't wait to read more!
Kristen M. February 18, 2019
Welcome, Maureen! Thanks for your lovely comment—glad you're having fun finding rabbit holes. We've got almost 10 years' worth of them at this point!
Therese November 27, 2018
Delicious! I was sad because at 400 degrees, my oven burned all the juices. But the pork was outstanding and not dry at all. I let it marinate overnight which I’ll do again. I cooked for only 25 mins and that was plenty. I also added cumin as per the suggestions. A keeper!
kristen M. November 14, 2018
This was sooo good! Raves from all four of us, including two teenagers who usually don't like pork tenderloin. Mine didn't brown at all, so I had to broil it, and almost torched the thing, but rescued just in time. Maybe I was using the wrong pan? I didn't line with foil either, which was probably a mistake. But still delicious!
S November 9, 2018
Thank you for this tasteful recipe!
It was yummy.
Vicco November 8, 2018
This was an awesome recipe! Super flavourful! I just wish there was a way to make more of the pan sauce because it was so delicious!! Next time I’ll try adding a bit of cumin as the other commenters suggested, but this was really awesome as is! Thank you!
bobby Z. November 7, 2018
I'm sorry - stop using the descriptor: "genius" It has become synonymous with "don't bother looking at this because the author/publisher is desperate for you to look at their otherwise nondescript recipe" so they're forced to throw in the word "genius" to get you to look - this is an instant turn-off to me and I've learned to never click on a "genius" recipe...
Kristen M. November 7, 2018
Hey Bobby Z, I've been writing the weekly Genius Recipes column here on Food52 since 2011 and two Genius cookbooks have come from it, so I'm afraid we're stuck with it! Please don't hold it against the recipe though—it's really, really good.
Dawn E. November 7, 2018
This adobo recipe is SO simple and delicious it LITERALLY shines! I did however, double the garlic,added some rosemary then doubled the ingredients as we like it spicier and my tenderloin was 4# on sale for $8!
On the side I made quick cuban black beans and cheesy grits. Only wish I had some greens to round it out! The pan juice at the end was so good and simple, I can’t wait to try this adobo and sauce on roasted chicken next.Thank you- I WILL be buying that cookbook
Steven W. December 15, 2019
So it shines, but you changed it? LOL...I get it. Everyone has their preferred flavors. I just wish people would say "This is such a great jumping off spot for me. I made it exactly as directed and then the next time I made it did this and this." It disrespects the creator of the recipe to say how great it is except I didn't bother to make it as directed.
Patti H. November 7, 2018
Can you use bottled Adobo marinade with this recipe?
Kristen M. November 7, 2018
Hi Patti, you could, as much as any other marinade you like. I recommend Von's adobo though—it's super quick to put together and delicious!
Joe C. November 7, 2018
I started this comment a few minutes ago, and seem to have lost it. In any evenet, I am delighted the lady shared this recipe with Food 52, but I have to say we Cubans have had the same recipe for well over 100 years, and I have the cook books to prove it IN SPANISH!!! She did fail to tell you it should also have ground cumin. As a matter of fact, it is a mortal sin not to include ground cumin!!!! Start by placing the whole seed in the mortar, grind those, and then add the garlic, salt, oregano and fresh sour organge juice (if you can find it), or 2 parts regular orange juice, and one part each lime and lemon juice. I make that sauce/marinade at least twice a week. Fabulous with chicken!!!
Kristen M. November 7, 2018
Hi Joe, thank you for sharing this! Von's book Coconuts & Collards is about the food influences in her life from Puerto Rico and the Deep South, and was inspired in part by cooking from her grandmother's copy of the cookbook Cocina Criolla (which she says compares to the Joy of Cooking for Puerto Rican households). I'm excited to try the Cuban version with cumin next—it sounds delicious.
Dawn E. November 7, 2018
I added grated orange peel, and rosemary too to the adobo marinade and a pinch of cumin