We try to be very thoughtful about featuring recipes (by naming them "Community Picks" or "Wildcard Winners") that weren't developed by the poster—or we're careful to attribute clearly and with the original recipe-writer's permission. The recipe clearly wasn't Melissa's, since she links to her source. And then, upon closer inspection, we realized that the recipe isn't original to the blog Melissa credits, either. We decided it would only be fair to feature the recipe on Food52 with the original recipe-writer's permission, and because that recipe-writer remained a watery figure somewhere off in the internet-distance, we never did.
But let's back up a few steps: The recipe wasn't original to Melissa Bossler or the blog she credits, Laura's Sweet Spot. Laura links out to a user-submitted recipe on the website BigOven, where it has 4 1/2 stars and has been saved over 2000 times. The only difference between the recipe on Laura's Sweet Spot and the recipe on BigOven is that the BigOven iteration is made with a pork loin, not a pork tenderloin. This is an easy mistake to make, writes our butcher friend Cara Nicoletti—and, as it turns out, a crucial one. Pork tenderloin has very little fat; the fat on a pork loin is necessary to keep the meat from drying out during its long cook time.
But people do make it, and overall, the comments on the recipe are hugely positive: "Just perfect." "Even the picky eaters loved it!!!" "One of the best things to ever come out of my crock pot." "SOOO tender!"
Our Creative Director, Kristen Miglore, attributes its success to the brown sugar-balsamic glaze, which is shiny and thick and sweet-salty. "You could put this on anything," she told me.
The rabbit hole goes on and on: A quick search using the same recipe name "Crockpot Brown Sugar Balsamic Glazed Pork Tenderloin" on Google gave me a string of recipes and blog posts 354,000-links long. The same search on Pinterest produces what seems to be a zillion results—many of them with different photos, each cook's own adaptation of another recipe. Sometimes that recipe is exactly the same as the one posted on BigOven and sometimes it's got a few variations: Maple syrup and honey appear in place of the brown sugar; blueberries make an appearance. Sometimes the meat is shredded for sandwiches. The loin becomes chops and ribs and, as on Laura's blog and on Food52, tenderloin.
In 2019, Test Kitchen Director Josh Cohen and Senior Editor Eric Kim decided to test a version of this recipe with half the cook time (2 to 3 hours), or until the pork reached exactly 145°F, and loved how tender it tasted once carved and slathered with the sticky glaze.
Mix together the seasonings: sage, salt, pepper and garlic, and rub over the tenderloin.
Place 1/2 cup water in slow cooker, followed by the tenderloin, and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.
1 hour before the roast is finished, mix together the ingredients for the glaze in a small saucepan: brown sugar, cornstarch, balsamic vinegar, water, and soy sauce.
Heat over medium and stir until mixture thickens, about 4 minutes.
Brush roast with glaze 2 or 3 times during the last hour of cooking. (For a more caramelized crust, remove from crock pot and place on aluminum lined sheet pan, glaze, and set under broiler for 1 to 2 minutes, until bubbly and caramelized. Repeat 2 to 3 more times until desired crust is achieved.)