Smoking Pork Tenderloin: Juicy Results, Expert Guide

by Matt

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Smoking a pork tenderloin is an art form that transforms this lean cut into a mouthwatering feast. I've honed my technique to ensure every slice is infused with that irresistible smoky flavor and tender enough to melt in your mouth.

In this article, I'll guide you through the steps to achieve the perfect smoked pork tenderloin. We'll cover everything from selecting your meat to the final, savory bite. Stick with me, and you'll be the pitmaster of your backyard in no time!

Ready to up your grilling game? Let's dive into the secrets behind smoking a pork tenderloin that'll have your guests coming back for seconds.

Raw Pork Loin with Two Slices Laid on a Wooden Cutting Board.

Selecting the Perfect Pork Tenderloin

When it’s time to pick your pork tenderloin, knowing what to look for is crucial for the best smoking results. I always head to the butcher’s counter rather than grabbing a pack from the freezer aisle. Freshness makes a significant impact on both the flavor and the tenderness of the meat.

I prefer choosing a tenderloin that's uniform in shape. This ensures even cooking and consistent smoke penetration throughout the cut. Something else I watch out for is the color of the meat; it should be a nice blush pink rather than pale or overly dark. The color can indicate the quality and the freshness of the pork.

Marbling is another factor I consider seriously. While pork tenderloin is leaner than other cuts, having slight marbling will boost both flavor and juiciness. I avoid tenderloins that are too lean because they can end up drier after smoking.

A good pork tenderloin should be firm to the touch, but not hard. A tenderloin that's soft or mushy suggests that the meat is not fresh. Also, don't forget to check for the smell — any off odors are an immediate red flag.

Here's what I look for:

  • Uniform shape
  • Blush pink color
  • Slight marbling
  • Firmness to the touch
  • Fresh smell

Finally, consider the size of the tenderloin. If I’m cooking for a group, I'll go for a larger piece or multiple tenderloins to make sure there’s enough to go around. Remember, the tenderloin will reduce in size as it smokes, so always buy a little more than you think you’ll need.

Seasoned Pork Loin with a Peppery Crust on a Smoker Grill.

Preparing the Meat

Once you've selected the ideal pork tenderloin, it's time to get it ready for the smoker. Proper preparation is critical to enhance the tenderness and flavor of the meat. I'll walk you through the essential steps to ensure your pork tenderloin is seasoned to perfection and ready for smoking.

First, you want to trim any excess fat and silver skin from the tenderloin. Although a bit of fat can provide flavor and moisture, too much can impede the absorption of smoke and seasoning. A sharp knife will make this task easier and more precise.

After trimming, it's time to brine or season the meat. Many swear by a simple brine solution for several hours to help the pork stay juicy during the smoking process. If you prefer to just use a dry rub, combine your chosen spices in a bowl. Here's a classic mix to consider:

  • Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Garlic Powder
  • Onion Powder
  • Paprika
  • Brown Sugar

Make sure to coat the pork tenderloin evenly with your choice of rub, then wrap it in plastic wrap and let it sit in the refrigerator. This allows the flavors to penetrate deeply into the meat. For a rub, anywhere from two hours to overnight should suffice, while a brine can be done for a similar time frame, depending on your taste preference.

Next, allow the pork to rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes before you place it in the smoker. This step brings the meat closer to room temperature, promoting even cooking. While the tenderloin rests, you can prepare your smoker.

Preheat your smoker to the optimal temperature range, typically between 225 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Use your favorite wood chips for smoking; applewood and hickory are popular choices that complement pork well. Ensure your smoker reaches the desired temperature and is producing a steady stream of clean smoke before introducing the meat.

As the smoker preheats, take the moment to dispose of any prep waste, clean your workspace, and gather any accessories you'll need for checking the meat's temperature during smoking. A reliable meat thermometer is a must to ensure that your pork tenderloin reaches the safe internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Remember, keeping all these details in check is the secret to perfectly smoked pork tenderloin.

Creating a Flavorful Dry Rub

When smoking pork tenderloin, choosing the right spices for your dry rub is essential to enhance the meat's natural flavors. I always start with a base of kosher salt and coarse black pepper to lay down the fundamental flavors. From there, the possibilities become endless. The key is to find a balance that complements the pork without overpowering it.

Here's a simple yet delicious dry rub recipe I often use:

  • 1 tablespoon of brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon of chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons of black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon of onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper

Combine these ingredients in a bowl and mix them until well blended. Don't hesitate to adjust the quantities to suit your taste or add other spices like smoked paprika, cumin or dry mustard for an extra kick.

Before applying the dry rub, ensure your pork tenderloin is pat dried with paper towels to remove any excess moisture. This step is crucial because a dry surface allows the rub to adhere better and form a flavorful crust during smoking. Generously coat all sides of the tenderloin with the spice blend, pressing gently to make sure it sticks.

If time allows, wrap your seasoned pork in plastic wrap and let it marinate in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours or ideally overnight. This waiting period allows the salts and sugars to draw out moisture, which then dissolves these granules, creating a brine that is reabsorbed by the meat, ensuring your tenderloin is seasoned throughout and extra tender.

After the meat has marinated, let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before placing it in the smoker. Room temperature meat cooks more evenly, and the rub will have a better chance to form that characteristic smoked crust we all love. Remember, smoking is a low and slow process, so patience here will reward you with a succulent, flavor-packed tenderloin.

Prepping the Smoker

Once my pork tenderloin is happily marinating in its rub, I shift my focus to prepping the smoker. The key to a well-smoked tenderloin is consistency and control during the smoking process. For those who haven't done this before, it's simpler than it seems, and I’ll guide you through each step.

First, I ensure the smoker is clean. Residual ash or grease can affect the flavor and performance of the smoker. I always remove old ash from the firebox and clean the grates with a stiff wire brush. This might seem mundane, but trust me, it's crucial for optimal smoke flow and heat distribution.

Next comes the choice of wood chips or chunks. Fruit woods like apple or cherry impart a slightly sweet, mild smoke that complements pork wonderfully. Hickory or oak will give you a stronger, more classic BBQ flavor. The secret is to match the wood to your taste preference. And remember, if using chips, it's best to soak them in water for about an hour before smoking; this helps them smolder and smoke longer rather than burning up too quickly.

Charcoal Arranged in the Snake Method for Lighting a Smoker, with Lit Coals at the Start of the Chain.

With the stage set, I preheat the smoker to the ideal temperature between 225 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s essential to bring the smoker up to temperature before the meat goes in. I use a reliable thermometer to monitor the smoker's temperature throughout the cooking process.

Once the smoker has reached the desired temperature and is producing a steady stream of smoke, it's time to give the tenderloin the heat and smoke it needs to transform into a mouthwatering dish. Maintaining a consistent temperature is vital, and I usually check every 30 minutes, adjusting vents or adding more fuel as necessary. Patience here, like with the earlier steps, will serve you well in achieving that perfect tenderloin.

Seasoned Pork Loins on a Grill with a Water Pan for Smoking.

Smoking Techniques for Perfect Results

The secret to mouthwatering pork tenderloin lies in mastering the art of smoking. Here's my guide on how to ensure your meat comes out juicy, flavorful, and infused with that unmistakable smoky taste.

Choose the Right Wood

Wood choice is crucial; different woods impart unique flavors. Fruit woods like apple or cherry offer a sweeter touch, while hickory or oak provide a stronger smoky profile. It's essential to match the wood to your desired flavor complexity.

Control the Smoke

Managing the smoke flow is a balancing act. Too much smoke can lead to a bitter taste, and too little won't give that deep-flavored aroma we're all after. Adjust the air vents to control the temperature and smoke density. Ensure there's enough airflow to prevent the smoke from turning acrid.

The Importance of Temperature

Maintaining an even temperature is vital. Aim for a smoker temperature around 225°F; it's the sweet spot for smoking pork tenderloin. Use a reliable meat thermometer to track the internal temperature of the pork, which should reach around 145°F before it's ready to be taken off the smoker.

Basting for Moisture

Keep the tenderloin moist by basting it with a flavorful liquid. Create a basting solution with ingredients like apple cider vinegar, honey, or your favorite marinade. Baste every 45 minutes to ensure the pork does not dry out.

Remember, taking your time with smoking adds to the meat's tenderness and flavor. Don't rush the process. Allow the smoke to slowly permeate the tenderloin, and let the constant heat work its magic. Adhering to these techniques, I've consistently delighted family and friends with impeccably smoked pork tenderloin.

Monitor and Rest

After it's reached the perfect temperature, remove the pork from the smoker and let it rest. Resting allows the juices to redistribute, resulting in a tender, moist final product. Cover the meat loosely with foil and let it sit for about 10 minutes before slicing. This resting period is just as crucial as the smoking itself for achieving a succulent pork tenderloin.

Monitoring and Maintaining Temperature

While smoking pork tenderloin, maintaining a consistent temperature of 225°F is critical. To achieve this, I rely on a quality digital thermometer. By inserting the probe into the thickest part of the meat, I'm always aware of the internal temperature without constantly opening the smoker, which can lead to heat loss and longer cooking times.

Temperature control also hinges on the type of smoker I'm using. For electric and gas smokers, setting the temperature is straightforward, but for charcoal or wood smokers, it's a bit more hands-on. Managing the airflow with vents is essential. Opening vents increase the temperature as more oxygen fuels the fire, while closing them will starve the flame of oxygen, thus lowering the temperature.

Here are the key steps I take to ensure consistent heat:

  • Preheat the smoker to slightly above the target temperature to account for the drop when the meat is placed inside.
  • Monitor the smoker's internal temperature gauge, if available, to have a secondary confirmation.
  • Adjust vents gradually. Sudden large changes can overshoot the desired temperature, so fine adjustments are better.

It's not just about setting and forgetting. Smoking is an active process, and I often find myself checking in every half hour or so to ensure everything stays on track. If I notice fluctuations, I'll make slight adjustments either to the vents on a charcoal smoker or the temperature setting on an electric or gas model.

Remember to also watch for changes in outdoor temperature and wind conditions, as these can affect the smoker's internal climate. If it's colder or windier than usual, the smoker might need a higher setting to maintain the 225°F sweet spot.

Ensuring the pork tenderloin is cooked evenly, I sometimes rotate the meat midway through the smoking process. This step is especially helpful in smokers where the temperature varies from one area to another. It's all about that even cook, so the result is a tender, succulent piece of meat that's been smoked to perfection.

Glazed Smoked Pork Loin Garnished with Green Onions.

Knowing When It's Done

Knowing when your smoked pork tenderloin is ready is as important as the preparation and smoking itself. You can't judge by looks alone; using a reliable digital thermometer is the best way to ensure your pork tenderloin is perfectly smoked and safe to eat.

The USDA recommends pork be cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F, but for a tenderloin, I like to take it out of the smoker once it reaches an internal temperature of 142°F. Here's the deal - it'll continue to cook due to residual heat, reaching the ideal temperature during the resting period.

Keep in mind a few key points to nail the timing:

  • Check the temperature in the thickest part of the tenderloin for the most accurate reading.
  • Digital thermometers offer a quick and precise measurement.

Remember, temperatures will vary slightly depending on the size and shape of your tenderloin, so it's always best to check at regular intervals, especially as it seems close to being done.

In the case your pork tenderloin finishes cooking earlier than expected, don't panic! Rest your pork, wrap it in aluminum foil and then a towel to keep it warm. Place it in a cooler without ice to maintain temperature until you're ready to serve. This will also aid in the redistributing of juices within the meat, ensuring it stays moist and succulent.

Regularly monitoring your pork tenderloin and responding to what's happening in the smoker rather than just setting a timer enhances your chances of serving up a flawlessly smoked piece of pork. It's about being responsive and adaptable to what the meat and smoker are telling you, which, in essence, is the art of smoking.

Sliced Smoked Pork Loin with Herbs and Red Onion on a Plate.

Resting and Slicing the Pork Tenderloin

After pulling my pork tenderloin off the smoker, the next crucial step is resting. Resting the meat isn’t just an old wives' tale—it's a critical phase in the smoking process. Here's why:

  • Retains Moisture: When allowed to rest, the juices within the meat settle back into the fibers, making the tenderloin more moist and tender.
  • Continues to Cook: The internal temperature of the pork can continue to rise slightly, a phenomenon known as carryover cooking. This helps in achieving the perfect doneness.

I typically let my pork tenderloin rest for at least 15-30 minutes, tented loosely with aluminum foil. This not only locks in flavor but also ensures that I'm not serving a dry or tough piece of meat. 

When it comes to slicing, I've got a few pointers that truly make a difference. First, always use a sharp knife. A dull knife will shred the tender meat, whereas a sharp knife will make clean cuts. Then, I slice against the grain. This shortens the muscle fibers, which results in a melt-in-your-mouth feel with every bite.

The thickness of the slices can vary based on personal preference, but I aim for half an inch for a satisfying chew. Remember, slicing is an art—take your time to ensure each piece is as perfect as the last.

Here's a quick checklist for slicing to perfection:

  • Use a sharp knife
  • Slice against the grain
  • Aim for even thickness

Adhering to these steps when smoking and slicing pork tenderloin doesn't just yield optimum results—it honors the effort put into selecting the best cut and wood, maintaining the right temperature, and mastering the smoke flow. And that’s what makes every slice feel earned and every bite a small celebration of textures and flavors.

Smoked Pork Tenderloin Slices Topped with a Blueberry Reduction on a White Plate.

Serving the Perfect Smoked Pork Tenderloin

When it's finally time to relish my smoked pork tenderloin, I ensure it's sliced properly. Thin slices are ideal as they allow the subtle smoke flavor and spices to shine with each bite. I start by cutting against the grain to enhance the tenderness.

The perfect side dishes complement the pork tenderloin's smoky taste. I often opt for:

  • A crisp apple slaw to add freshness
  • Grilled vegetables for a savory balance
  • A buttery cob of corn for a classic barbecue touch

Serving smoked pork tenderloin isn't just about the food; it's about the experience. I like to present it on a pre-warmed platter to preserve its ideal temperature. A garnish of fresh herbs isn't just a decorative touch—it also adds a burst of flavor.

The drinks served can be as important as the dish itself. A light-bodied red wine like Pinot Noir complements the richness without overpowering it. For beer enthusiasts, a Pale Ale with its slight bitterness can enhance the taste of the tenderloin.

Remember, the ultimate enjoyment of smoked pork tenderloin isn't just in its taste but in the shared moments and the warmth that it brings to the table.

Conclusion

Mastering the art of smoking a pork tenderloin is a game-changer for any BBQ enthusiast. I've walked you through each step to ensure you're equipped with the know-how to produce that perfect smoky flavor and succulent texture. Remember it's all about patience and precision from choosing your wood to slicing the tenderloin just right. With these tips under your belt, you're ready to impress at your next gathering. So fire up the smoker and get ready to enjoy the fruits of your labor surrounded by friends and family—it's these moments that make smoking meats such a rewarding experience. Happy smoking!

FAQ: Smoking Pork Tenderloin

1. How do I select the best pork tenderloin for smoking?

  • Look for a uniform shape for even cooking, a blush pink color indicating freshness, slight marbling for flavor, firmness to touch, and a fresh smell. Avoid overly lean cuts to prevent dryness.

2. What's the key to preparing pork tenderloin for smoking?

  • Trim excess fat and silver skin, then apply a brine or dry rub for flavor. Allow the seasoned meat to rest in the refrigerator, then bring it to room temperature before smoking.

3. How do I make a flavorful dry rub for pork tenderloin?

  • Combine brown sugar, kosher salt, chili powder, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and a hint of cayenne. Adjust the spices to your taste and apply generously to the meat.

4. What are the best smoking techniques for pork tenderloin?

  • Use fruit woods like apple or cherry for a sweet smoke or hickory for a stronger flavor. Maintain a smoker temperature of around 225°F and ensure even smoke flow. Baste the meat regularly for moisture.

5. How do I know when the pork tenderloin is perfectly smoked?

  • The pork is ready when it reaches an internal temperature of 145°F. Use a digital thermometer for accuracy. Remember to let the meat rest for at least 15 minutes before slicing to retain juices.

About the Author

Matt Barrell

Hi, Matt Barrell here. A BBQ and Smoked meat enthusiast. I love grilling and smoking meat, it is not just my hobby its my passion. My goal is to share my passion with as many other like-minded people as possible.