The first time I tasted my friend Brooks’s kickass grilled pork tenderloin was at a funeral reception. Good friend that Brooks is to so many, she showed up at the reception with a platterful of sliced, perfectly cooked, and beautifully seasoned grilled pork tenderloins. A few days later, I called her for the recipe. I wrote the list of ingredients down on a piece of paper and then promptly misplaced it. That was ten years ago, 1/18/06. I know this because I wrote the date on the recipe. You would think someone meticulous enough to date scrap paper would have a decent method for saving it.
I thought of Brooks’s juicy and flavorful recipe every time I cooked pork using my pathetic but quick get-some-food-on-the-table-after-driving-boys-around- town- all-afternoon method of throwing two pork tenderloins into a bag with a salty steak marinade and roasting them at 400º until they were very well-done. In fact, the pork was so salty and dry; I quit making pork tenderloins all together. That was until Brooks’s recipe resurfaced a few weeks ago, and I learned how to cook pork to the right temperature.
Let’s talk about how pork came to be the dry, well-done, other white meat and not the juicy, tender pink meat we enjoy now.
Trichinosis; It’s no longer a health epidemic
I grew up in the 60s and 70s. My mother and her mother before her cooked pork until it was well-done. They did so because of the prevailing fear of an illness known as Trichinellosis, aka Trichinosis, which came from the ingestion of parasitic roundworms known as Trichinella spiralis. Trichinae were found most commonly in the muscle tissue of pigs and wild game. The U.S. Public Health Service started counting Trichinellosis incidents in the mid-1940s, around the time my mother was coming of age. At the time, 400-500 cases were reported each year. Because of my mother and grandmother’s respect for and fear of this malady, I knew the word Trichinosis as a ten-year-old. It translated into a disease that could surely kill you dead if you did not cook pork until it was well-done.
This all begs the question, Where were pigs picking up this parasite? The answer was garbage. In the old days, many pigs were fed raw garbage on pig farms. In the 50s and 60s, food laws changed, and the government said the garbage needed to be cooked, and BTW, no more feeding raw animal carcasses to pigs, either. New farm hygiene protocols were established, and rodents, like rats and raccoons, were no longer allowed to access the pigpen.
Along with tighter control over farm hygiene, the government embarked on a massive publicity campaign instructing Americans to cook pork until it was well-done. The message stuck. In 1987, another ad campaign came along this time from the National Pork Board. It pitched pork as a white meat alternative to chicken and turkey. “Pork, the other white meat,” became the slogan. That slogan served to reinforce the concept of cooking pork until it was white and well-done.
Technique Time: Heat Transfer
So, if you don’t need to overcook pork anymore, to what internal temperature should you cook it to get a moist, light-pink center? The U.S.D.A says a minimum of 145º for all pork roasts and 160º for ground pork and patties. When using a meat thermometer, it should be inserted into the loin’s thickest part without touching any bones. Finally, let the meat rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. During this time, the meat’s internal temperature will rise by about five degrees and finish cooking the meat to 150º. Theoretically, you could cook the meat to 140º and let it finish off to 145º, but I tried that, and it was too pink and chewy for me.
This five-degree temperature increase that happens when cooked meat rests is due to the rules of heat transfer. The temperature on the surface of the meat when you pull it out of the oven is the same as the inside of the oven, in this case, 400º. If the room temperature is 70º, the heat on the pork’s surface has to go somewhere for the meat’s temperature to equilibrate with room temperature. Some of that heat is released into the room, and some goes back into the center of the meat, raising its internal temperature to 150º.
Back to the recipe
When I finally got the chance to make Brooks’s marinade, a full ten years later, it wasn’t as kick-assy as I remembered. I think I had mismeasured on the side of timidity when it came to gauging how much was a glug or dollop of this and that (Brooks’s measurement terms!). I called Brooks for clarification and to ask if I could blog the recipe. The conversation started like this, “Brooks, do you remember making pork tenderloins for Buck’s mother’s funeral TEN years ago? [Yes.] Are you still making them the same way?” [Yes.] To my surprise and amusement, she told me her newlywed son Alex had just called for the same recipe, so the ingredients were fresh on her mind. That, Dear Reader, is what keeper-recipes and motherful moments in cooking are all about.
Yield: 1¼ cups marinade (for 2-3 pounds of meat or two logs)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup bourbon or rye
1 tablespoon “Tamari” Soy Sauce (a refined, more delicate, gluten-free soy)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
2 slightly heaping tablespoons Dijon Mustard
1 teaspoon Beau Monde Seasoning (a salt and spice blend made by Spice Islands)
2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
Pinch of crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons brown sugar
5-8 large garlic cloves, sliced (or a heaping tablespoon of jarred, minced)
5-6 stems fresh thyme, coarsely chopped (I use lemon thyme)
Zest and juice of one lemon
A dollop of cognac (optional)
2-3 pounds (2 logs from one package) pork tenderloin, rinsed and patted dry
Remove pork tenderloins from the package. Rinse under cold water and pat dry.
Into a two-cup liquid measure, add olive oil to the ¼ cup mark, then add bourbon to the ½ cup mark, and then all the other ingredients: Tamari, Worcestershire, Dijon, Beau Monde, red and black peppers, peppercorns, brown sugar, garlic, the zest and juice of one lemon, and the thyme. Do not add salt. There is plenty of salt in the Tamari, Worcestershire, Dijon, and Beau Monde. Stir marinade with a fork, being sure to mix in the brown sugar that settles to the bottom.
Mix pork and marinade together and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for eight hours or overnight. Turn it over and massage it every few hours.
Cook in a preheated 400º oven or on the grill at the same temperature. Cook ten minutes on one side and turn over. Cook for another ten minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers at least 145º. Let rest 5-10 minutes before serving. Our favorite degree of doneness was 148º, with a rise to 154º on the meat thermometer.
Even at 154º, the meat is still pink.
If the meat is too salty, decrease the Tamari and Worcestershire Sauce to two teaspoons of each.
Lemony Grilled Chicken Breasts
Mom’s Marinated and Grilled Lamb
Mom’s Roasted Lamb with Herb and Goat Cheese Topping
Lemony Grilled Chicken Breasts
Judy’s Mom’s Meatloaf
Brooks’s Pork Tenderloin Marinade
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