How to make pulled pork from a tenderloin?
July 22, 2014 8:26 AM   Subscribe

So I've got a two-pound tenderloin defrosting in my fridge, and I'd like to make pulled pork out of it. I've never made pulled pork at all, but I understand it generally calls for pork shoulder, so I feel like I need some extra-special hand-holding to help me figure out how to make it work with a totally different cut of meat.

I started Googling for recipes and only found a few specifically geared to tenderloin, and wasn't totally convinced by any of them, so my question is: do you have a tested, fail-proof technique for turning tenderloin into pull-apart tastiness? Any other tips or suggestions?

I have an oven and a stovetop but no BBQ/grill/smoker. Thanks all for your ideas!
posted by ladybird to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You can't make pulled pork out of a tenderloin. Pork shoulder has lots of fat and connective tissue that melts over the long cooking time, keeping the meat moist and succulent, and giving it a texture you can pull apart. Tenderloin is extremely lean, and needs a quick cooking time so that it doesn't dry out. I love pork, and there have been a few times when I could only get tenderloin, and trying to replicate anything about the deliciousness of pulled pork has only resulted in disappointment. You will get the best results if you calibrate your expectations and make something intended for a lean cut like a chop or loin.
posted by sarahnicolesays at 8:34 AM on July 22, 2014 [26 favorites]

Do you have a slow cooker? Put it in a slow cooker with a can of cola. Leave on high for four hours. Drain and mix in some BBQ sauce. Delish!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:35 AM on July 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

I would really advise against using tenderloin for pulled pork because the end result will be exceedingly dry. Tenderloin is a very lean cut of mean and it's really the fat in the pork shoulder that makes the end result fall apart, moist, buttery and delicious.

It sounds simple, but there really is a reason that Pork Butt is the preferred meat for pulled pork, just in the same way you wouldn't use a beef tenderloin for beef stew.

That being said, if you're really adamant on using it for pulled pork, you could probably make it *decent* if you put it in a slow cooker all day, or a Dutch oven on very low heat in the oven - you'll need lots of sauce though.
posted by JenThePro at 8:35 AM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

For those who say this is impossible, I make pulled pork from tenderloin in a slow cooker about twice a month. It works and is super easy.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:36 AM on July 22, 2014 [15 favorites]

just in the same way you wouldn't use a beef tenderloin for beef stew

Just FYI, beef tenderloin can be used to make a terrific--and quick--beef stew
posted by donovan at 8:39 AM on July 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

My never-fail prep method for pulled pork involves pouring a bottle of beer (lager only!) over the meat and cooking on low in the slow cooker for 8-10 hours. Without a slow cooker, you could probably replicate the same process by cooking in the oven at ~195 F in a roasting pan.

I have done this with pork *loin* (not an overly fatty cut), and it turned out fine-- the meat itself was dry, as people have noted, but it shredded beautifully and you can cut the dryness by adding plenty of barbecue sauce and a little of the beer roasting liquid back into the meat. I can't imagine tenderloin would be that much different. Kind of a waste of a more-expensive cut of meat, though, imho.
posted by Bardolph at 8:39 AM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

You can't. Don't do this. There isn't enough connective tissue and fat to melt and and give you that texture.

If you insist on doing something BBQ-ish I would recommend brining, hot smoking and then finishing in the oven.
posted by JPD at 8:48 AM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Tenderloin is even leaner and less able to stand up to slow cooking then loin is.
posted by JPD at 8:49 AM on July 22, 2014

Be real careful about drying it out- so be sure to cook it low slow and not too long in a crock pot.

Here's a tip: add a healthy amount of apple cider vinegar.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:49 AM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you insist on trying this, then at least render some bacon and add the fat to the finished pork, which will help with the dryness in a way that water-based liquid (like beer, cola, or barbecue sauce) just can't.
posted by rtha at 8:50 AM on July 22, 2014 [9 favorites]

Sorry, this is simply not going to work. The texture is never going to pull apart, because that's just not how a tenderloin's muscle fabric works. They're short strands that will pull together tightly when cooked just a little bit. They're not going to shred naturally. You really need a shoulder or some other tough cut that has a ton of connective tissue and long muscle strands. With a cut like that, you need a long time at 190 degrees to melt the collagen, which turns to gelatin and makes everything delicious. If you tried to get to 190 degrees on a tenderloin (you want to aim for 150), you'd end up with a pork brick.

If you insist, then cook quick and chop what you want into pieces and add some kind of sauce. It's not going to be good, and you're wasting an expensive piece of meat.
posted by General Malaise at 9:04 AM on July 22, 2014

I use an adaptation of this recipe to make coffee-braised pulled pork in the slow-cooker all the time. I generally try to get a shoulder, but I've made it several times using a tenderloin and it's turned out fine.
posted by Oktober at 9:08 AM on July 22, 2014

I make this fairly regularly for my kids using the two-pound pork sirloin roast from Costco. Place it in a slow cooker on the Low setting for about eight hours and pour about a cup of barbecue sauce over it. Cover the pot with cling wrap rather than the lid to keep in as much moisture as possible. You will be surprised how moist it can be. When it's done, you will be able to pull it apart with two forks. Add some more sauce to taste before you served.

It's not as good as a Boston butt would be but it is still a decent version.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:08 AM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm in the camp that says this is the wrong cut of meat. The reason pulled pork is so succulent is that shoulder has so much delicious fat and connective tissue that liquefies after hours an hours of cooking.

Tenderloin may be okay, and braised in liquid may be juicy enough, but it's never going to be as good as shoulder.

Here's a great recipe for the tenderloin. Everything's better with bacon.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:14 AM on July 22, 2014

I only use tenderloin for my pulled pork! Use a crockpot, throw the tenderloin in. Season well with pepper and garlic salt, then pour in about half a can of root beer. You don't need to cover the meat, the liquid should come up about halfway. Cook on high for 4-5 hours, then use a couple forks and shred away. Add some BBQ sauce and cover back up and leave on low for half an hour to an hour while you get everything else ready and warm up the buns. Stir the meat mixture and serve on warm, buttered buns with some slaw and more sauce. Enjoy!
posted by notaninja at 9:24 AM on July 22, 2014

The cola-and-crockpot suggestions may fail to meet the technical definition of pulled pork, but I doubt you'd be unhappy with the end results.
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:25 AM on July 22, 2014

There's two ways to do "pulled pork" in the general sense.

The first is traditional BBQ pulled pork which is a dry heat low and slow method, usually sauced at the end.Tenderloin won't work for this method as others have noticed because of the lack of connective tissue and fat.

The second is a braise, which is a wet, low and slow cooking method Frequently employed by a slow cooker. This method is going to be more successful because you add liquid and flavor to the mix with your braising liquid. This isn't as traditional but will work fine with a tenderloin and generally will work. But its a different type of pulled pork then the one you may be thinking of.
posted by bitdamaged at 9:40 AM on July 22, 2014 [9 favorites]

It's not going to really produce good pulled pork. At best, it'll sorta shred. But it won't "pull" like a good shoulder will.

If you are hell-bent on doing this, I'd cook it with your choice of cooking liquid (beer, cola, Dr Pepper, whatever) in a Crock Pot to an internal temperature of 200F. Or smoke it, if you have a smoker.

Then I'd make up a couple of pieces of bacon, saving the fat.

Once you've pulled/shredded the meat, which is going to be tough and unsatisfying I suspect, you can pour some of the cooking liquid and bacon fat over the meat. Otherwise it's going to be bone dry.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:42 AM on July 22, 2014

As everyone says - wrong cut for this.

If you want to do this, you don't just need sauce. You need FAT. Toss a pork belly in the slow cooker with the tenderloin. (Doesn't get much fattier than pork belly!) Toss in a bit of bbq sauce and some water/cola/beer. You'll get mix of braise and fat that will yield something shredded and tasty (but not exactly pulled pork).
posted by 26.2 at 9:52 AM on July 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

If your idea of pulled pork is expansive enough to include tenderloin in cola recipes then consider the latest ask.MF craze, roasted tenderloin "pulled pork rounds!"

Roast the tenderloin in the oven, slice to medallions, put on a bun with lots of BBQ sauce and your are done.

The reason shoulder is used in pulled pork is the price. I'm looking at prices in upstate NY and I see 2.99 per lb. for tenderloin and 1.79 per lb. for shoulder. Making pulled pork takes a less expensive, tough cut and turns it into a great dish. Tenderloin is already tender so it doesn't need hours of cooking.

You might think, hey tenderloin is more expensive so it must be better. Tenderloin doesn't make pulled pork better because it is prized for its tenderness, not its flavor. Pulled pork doesn't need an expensive cut because it is intended to transform a tough, flavorful, inexpensive cut.
posted by bdc34 at 10:53 AM on July 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

Gosh, I am super surprised by so many people insisting this can't be done! I have ONLY ever made pulled pork using tenderloin. What I do is throw it in the crockpot with whatever liquid/seasoning my recipe calls for and cook on low for 8 hours. It comes out juicy and delicious!
posted by joan_holloway at 10:56 AM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have made pulled pork in the slow cooker dozens of times, and I frankly prefer a leaner cut. The fattier cuts are too... gelatinous. I'm sure it's different in a smoker or oven, but in the slow cooker I prefer tenderloin.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:03 AM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm guessing the prevalence of tenderloin in slow cooker recipes is that it creates a lower-fat version. In any event, in my extensive experience, it shreds fine. No, it's not the same fatty dish as other kinds of pulled pork, but it's doable and tastes fine. Good on rolls with cole slaw.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:38 AM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I make mine in the slow cooker with tenderloin. It comes out great, but I'm not a fan of fatty meat in general. I cook mine with two cans of apricot jumex and some garlic and chopped onions.
posted by shmurley at 11:41 AM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I did one this weekend. I made a rub out of chipotle powder, cumin, and chili powder, squeezed a yellow grapefruit into the crock pot over it, and then drizzled about a half cup of honey over that. It was based on this but I didn't have any limes in the house. So good on corn tortillas!
posted by Lardmitten at 11:49 AM on July 22, 2014

Honestly, I don't know what people are talking about saying that tenderloin won't pull apart. I cook tenderloin in the crockpot all the time (for pork and sauerkraut) and it pulls apart into long strings. If I wanted "pulled pork" specifically I might cut the loin into three pieces before cooking so the strands would be shorter. Dump a bottle of BBQ sauce over it in the pot, cook on low for 8 hours or so. Have more sauce on hand for mixing in after shredding in case it needs it.

I don't disagree that the pork tenderloin might be a bit drier than pork shoulder but any time I make it in the crockpot it is quite tender and good. I'm sure it wouldn't hurt to add a little bacon fat as suggested above (or a blob of good ol' butter, which is what I add to my pork n' kraut.) But I don't think you'd strictly need it.

Tl;dr: do it in the crockpot, it might not be quite as dreamy as the pork shoulder version but I'm sure it will be darn tasty anyway and hardly a waste of the meat.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 1:34 PM on July 22, 2014

I use a slow cooker. I take this recipe and alter according to whatever seasonings I'm in the mood for, but the basics involve a 2-3 lb. pork tenderloin and 1.5-2 cups of any sauce or dressing of your choosing. When I feel fancy, I'll do a spice rub on the pork first, and add about 1/4 tsp. of liquid smoke.

It's not authentic in the slightest, but it is quite tasty and always seems to go over well when I make it for dinner parties. It gets quite tender and is easily shredded for sandwiches after 8 hours or so on low.
posted by PearlRose at 1:41 PM on July 22, 2014

I conducted an experiment a couple years ago. Trial 1: I made a delicious, tender "pulled pork" from a pork tenderloin (slow cooker, good sauce). Everyone remarked at how how tasty and tender it was. Everyone ate most of their pulled pork sandwiches, but unconsciously seemed to limit themselves to one sandwich each. I noticed a small amount of dryness and a "flatness" to the tenderloin-based pulled pork, subtle but there. Trial 2: Same group of people, another dinner. This time I used a pork shoulder, using the slow cooker and the same spices and flavorings, but less liquid. At that dinner, people were asking for seconds and thirds and there were absolutely no leftovers. I noticed the improved quality - a subtle one - of an added depth of flavor and additional tenderness.

The lesson learned: pork tenderloin (cooked right) as pulled pork makes for a meal where dinner guests can stick to healthy portions and still feel like they've eaten a tasty meal. But if I'm ever planning a truly special feast, I will either (a) switch recipes (finding recipes optimized for pork tenderloin) or (b) switch the meat to pork shoulder and make the pulled pork sandwiches.
posted by apennington at 1:41 PM on July 22, 2014

I don't have a slow cooker, but I trust all the people who say it can work when cooked that way. Otherwise, put me down in the "won't work" column.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:44 PM on July 22, 2014

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