This Is Our Most Popular Recipe of All Time...but Why?

The slow-cooker pork you can't stop cooking.

May  2, 2019
Photo by Bobbi Lin

Don't tell any of my friends, but whenever I go over to someone's house, the number-one thing I love to do is peek into the refrigerator.

I've always felt that the food a person chooses to stock is a window into that person's soul. (My fridge has bottles and bottles of chardonnay, 1,000 ketchup packets from takeout, and dozens of eggs.) The dishes we cook are telling, too—they're indications of our identities in the kitchen.

As an editor at Food52, I'm always thinking about what home cooks like to eat. And when I'm not spying on the contents of someone else's crisper drawer, I'm often looking to numbers (i.e., page views and clicks) to observe patterns of behavior.

One that's emerged loud and clear over the years is how much you all love this recipe:

Since its publication in 2013, this simple slow-cooker pork tenderloin with brown sugar and balsamic glaze is the most-popular recipe in Food52 history.

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Top Comment:
“But of course you would do the right thing and swap the tenderloin for shoulder - the best cut of pork! I just love reading your articles! ”
— Cheryl M.

Of our nearly 50,000 recipes, it's had the most page views of all time—not to mention the glowing comments and 100-plus reviews.

Back in 2016, Caroline Lange tracked down its origin story. It's a fun read if you're interested in how recipes get passed down and adapted and tweaked. But if you're just here because you clicked through from a really delicious-looking photo of pork, here's the SparkNotes version she drew up:

The main (and some might say unfortunate) event was when it somehow went from pork loin to pork tenderloin, a cut that's more delicate but also leaner and sans fat cap, making it a dangerous contender for the low-and-slow cook of a Crock-Pot.

Food52's Test Kitchen Director Josh Cohen remembers when he had to cook the dish for its photograph: "The original one?" he asks, when I show him the picture. "The one that didn't taste good?"

"Yes," I say. "The original one."

Here he pauses, as if suppressing a bad dream. "You know when you open up a can of tuna fish and you dump it into a bowl?" he tells me. "Just imagine tasting only the tuna, how dry and crumbly and neutral in flavor it is, without the mayo and lemon juice and salt. That's what it tasted like."

So then why do people love it so much?

Genius Recipes columnist Kristen Miglore attributes the recipe's success to the brown sugar and balsamic vinegar glaze: "You could put this on anything."

I suspect it also comes down to the white meat of it all. Like with boneless, skinless chicken breasts (one of Google's most-searched food terms), many people just prefer white meat. And in the pork world, tenderloin is as lean as you can get.

But "ultimately, the slow cooker just isn't the best method for cooking this recipe," Lange writes in her research, "especially with as lean a cut as a tenderloin or even a loin."

Pork shoulder > pork tenderloin. Photo by Julia Gartland

And so, per Miglore's suggestion one late night at the office, I've taken the uber-popular recipe and repurposed it with boneless pork shoulder. Fatty shoulder, more than lean tenderloin, gets effortlessly tender when slow-cooked like this. In addition to making the recipe totally hands-off, the Crock-Pot is an insurance policy against the meat drying out.

I upped the ante on the glaze, too, adding a little mustard powder to balance out all that sweet and salty.

Whether or not you like it as much as the original, you tell me—or, next time you invite me over, I'll just check your fridge for leftovers.

Have you made the original recipe before? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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Eric Kim was the Table for One columnist at Food52. He is currently working on his first cookbook, KOREAN AMERICAN, to be published by Clarkson Potter in 2022. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can find his bylines at The New York Times, where he works now as a writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @ericjoonho.


Lisaincabbagetown June 25, 2022
I have been making the original, much loved version for ages, but develop a lot of easy and worthwhile, but time consuming, modifications to get deeper flavor and a more syrupy, clingy consistency from the glaze. However, I just found an amazing hack which I think I like even better than the original - sweet soy sauce (I think it’s Indonesian) mixed with tamarind concentrate and a tsp of soy sauce - so fast, so easy, perfect flavor, perfect consistency. No need to cook or add corn starch. In fact I think I like the flavor better - brighter, deeper, ever so slightly less cloyingly sweet, with just a tiny bit of bitterness that makes it taste like it caramelized on the grill.
Joanie April 10, 2022
Could you please convert cooking time from crockpot to dutch oven. I love my beautiful
Le Creuset and Staub cookware!
Cole J. August 10, 2020
Yeahhhhh, I would never put a pork tenderloin in a slow cooker. That's just dumb. I suspect that the metric of "popular" on your site has more to do with people clicking to something they *think* they would like that appears appetizing. Glad you repurposed the recipe to include a properly fatty pork cut for the slow cooker. Just as a point of technique, I would sear the meat well on all sides for 2 minutes each BEFORE putting into the slow cooker (on low for 6 or 7 hours) and reserve the liquid ingredients for a quick sauce on the stove to pour over once the meat is ready. I'm leery of cooking corn starch that long. For that matter, you could keep the sauce as a glaze for an actual pork tenderloin that you seer then roast in an oven. Would give you the slices in your pictures, and a lovely glaze that everyone seems to want. :)
Jeremy T. September 8, 2019
OMG, I am so effing disappointed. I am a foodie, and I generally trust Food52 implicitly, but this recipe is just freaking awful. I do not understand the people in the comments raving about it. This recipe is a freaking mess. The "glaze" (aka sad braising liquid) is weak and watery and doesn't work well as a sauce or a glaze. The pork comes out bland as hell and lacks any flavor at all. Who the hell thinks this is good? It's just effing terrible! The whole time I was preparing it, I thought, "This seems too easy; this can't possibly be good." I should have trusted my instincts. I am so mad that I wasted 4 lb of pork butt that I could have done something better with, and really angry that I wasted time on this. Food52, my opinion of your site has been dramatically altered, and not for the better. This dish is effing gross.
Eric K. September 12, 2019
Hi Jeremy, I'm so sorry it didn't work for you. I've tested the recipe over and over, and the one published has been vetted by our test kitchen. Though the pork lacked flavor for you, I'd like to think that at least those 4 pounds were soft and tender after slow-cooking for so long? Maybe you could mix it with another sauce of your liking, or refashion the pork into another dish.

Thanks for your feedback.
Jeremy T. September 13, 2019
Thanks for your response. Sorry if I was a bit worked up in my commentary above. I’ve cooked pork shoulder in the slow cooker before with good results. Perhaps this would have been better on low for 8 hours. Honestly, I don’t know how it turned out so badly for me - it’s not like it’s a complicated recipe where I could have missed steps or executed it wrong. Anyway, I appreciate you taking the time to reply thoughtfully, even though I was ranting.
crustncrumb July 2, 2019
Followed the recipe exactly and it was very good. Husband thought the glaze was 'a bit much' - too sweet, too strong, too cloying. Maybe he just had an off night =) I'll be making it again!
Eric K. September 12, 2019
To each his own!
Brenda May 31, 2019
Made this with reasonable success. I reduced the water by half and it was plenty moist enough with good flavor. My only other deviation was to sub tapioca starch for cornstarch. I had to whack quite a bit of fat rind as it just looked too thick. Wanted to ask if anyone has tried a pan sear..seems to me it would help with a little drier finished dish and maybe increased flavor.
Brenda May 31, 2019
Should have said pan sear prior to putting in the slow cooker
Luciana May 21, 2019
I am unclear on the message of the article? This is the most popular recipe on the site, but it's really not very good....or as good as it could be with some tweaks? This actually seems like it would be overly sweet to me.
saltairelife April 1, 2020
My thoughts exactly!
S May 17, 2019
Much too much liquid for the slow cooker and fatty meat. I removed much of it midway and subbed pomegranate molasses for balsamic. Next time I might try the same recipe with a brisket flat.
jh May 17, 2019
Loved the recipe but have two questions for the next time: why was there so much liquid (the pork was practically doing backstrokes in it) and would you recommend making the day before, to skim off the considerable fat? Or do you have a technique for day-off? I even trimmed the pork to ameliorate the grease but even so...?
Deana May 17, 2019
These ingredients are fantastic. I don’t eat pork. What about subbing brisket with a nice pat pad on the bottom?
Eric K. May 11, 2019
Instant Pot version coming soon!
Shadeau M. May 11, 2019
In the photo with the carrots, can you please tell me what the pork is sitting on?
Eric K. May 11, 2019
Here you go! https://food52.com/recipes/78083-sweet-smoky-roasted-carrots
Shadeau M. May 12, 2019
Thank you!!!
Mary May 9, 2019
Would you please share how to make this recipe in either an instant pot or in the oven or both? Thanks!
Pat O. May 9, 2019
Okay, I'm intrigued, but I don't have a slow cooker or crock pot. Is it possible to do this in a dutch oven at a low heat?
Melissa N. May 3, 2019
How would a tenderloin work in the instapot? The first thing I ever made in mine(as a test to all the hype!) was a frozen chuck roast. Falling apart tender (not dry!) in 70 minutes. I was happily shocked!
Kelly M. May 3, 2019
Ok, THANK YOU - I made the original with pork LOIN and it was delicious, and I've never made it again because honestly, the thought of pork tenderloin cooking that long in the crockpot gave me shudders. My pork loin that I used originally had a pretty generous trimming of fat on it, which is why I think it was so successful. I've since made another crockpot recipe - a Cook's Illustrated/ATK one, no less - with a less fatty pork loin that turned out dryer than a desert), and it's made me shy away from ever cooking lean pork in a slow cooker again.

While I'll sub just about any other type of ingredient with abandon, I'm often afraid to sub out different cuts of meat because I just don't feel like I know enough about which cuts would work in a substitution. Thanks so much for posting this article and easing my mind about making this delicious recipe again without fear of desiccation!
Cheryl M. May 3, 2019
O.m.g! I love you even more now. I serendipitously stumbled on this while clicking through your story, Eric, since I have a pork tenderloin in the fridge that I been contemplating for two days now. But when I saw this recipe (hadn’t seen it before even though I’ve made many a Food52 recipe), I thought “slow cooker???” But of course you would do the right thing and swap the tenderloin for shoulder - the best cut of pork! I just love reading your articles!
Eric K. May 3, 2019
Try this! https://food52.com/blog/23320-genius-pork-tenderloin-pernil-style

...and thank you. x
Jennifer N. May 3, 2019
Don’t creepily “peek” into anyone’s anything.
gourmet B. May 2, 2019
So what actually is the difference between loin and tenderloin?
Eric K. May 2, 2019
I think it's a filet mignon/fillet of beef situation: https://images.food52.com/_drnjEmIHTn-ah2_XzJdRr_Ssr4=/660x495/b4819b5d-bdc0-4ed0-9294-193cc74593af--IMG_1341.JPG

"The tenderloin is just a small part of a pork loin—tucked up into a cavity."
amandainmd May 2, 2019
Hmmm... what if you took the recipe for tenderloin, cooked it in a sous vide, and seared it at the end. It would be mostly hands off, still lean, and (hopefully) juicy.
Eric K. May 2, 2019
I love that idea. The glaze is the same, anyway.
Jean May 17, 2019
I did just that, cooked it in the sous vide then broiled it with the sauce and it was amazingly good.