Pork

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

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

by:
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.
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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 is the Senior Editor and 'Table for One' columnist at Food52. Formerly the Digital Manager of FoodNetwork.com, he writes about food, travel, and culture and lives in a tiny shoebox in Manhattan with his dog.

26 Comments

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.
 
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?
 
Author Comment
Eric K. May 11, 2019
Instant Pot version coming soon!
 
Shadeau M. May 11, 2019
Hello
In the photo with the carrots, can you please tell me what the pork is sitting on?
 
Author Comment
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!
 
Author Comment
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?
 
Author Comment
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.
 
Author Comment
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.
 
CameronM5 May 2, 2019
I have not made the recipe but you could be describing my fridge. Bottles of Chardonnay, 1.2 million ketchup packets and lots of leftovers in takeout containers.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. May 2, 2019
Ketchup from the little packets taste kind of...better?
 
Renee May 2, 2019
Just wanna say I love Eric Kim. Love his recipes, love his writing and sense of humor. I'm a 66 year old woman and I simply love this young man. And there you have it.
 
Whiteantlers May 2, 2019
Renee, I'm your age and I feel the very same way. : ) What a dear man he is.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. May 2, 2019
You are way too good to me.
 
Renee May 2, 2019
Now I've gotta add humble to the list. You just upped the ante, Eric.