One of the major downsides to smoking meat is the amount of time it takes. Low and slow is always the name of the game when smoking, but when it is a Wednesday afternoon and you are just starting to think about what’s for dinner, smoking something usually goes out the window.
But if you are looking for a delicious and fast way to smoke up dinner on a random weekday, look no further than a pork tenderloin. Tenderloin is almost always easy to find and affordable, and this lean cut of pork smokes up fast with tender and tasty results.
Pork Loin vs Pork Tenderloin
Before we dive into how to cook a pork tenderloin to perfection in the smoker, let's make sure we are working on the right cut of meat. You probably have seen tenderloin and loin sold in the store, often right next to one another. While these cuts sound similar, look similar, and come from similar areas on the animal, they are actually quite different.
A tenderloin is a thin, short hunk of meat that is taken from under the backstrap next to the backbone. It is boneless and extremely lean with little to no fat on the outside and a nearly uniform color and texture. Loin is larger, fattier, and has more interconnective tissue. The loin is taken from the back of the hog above the ribs. The loin is what is most commonly cut into pork chops and can be bone-in, boneless, whole, or trimmed and cut into center-cut chops, sirloin chops, or loin chops.
A tenderloin will typically weigh around one pound and is usually about three inches wide and a foot long. The loin stretches from the hips to the shoulders, making it a significantly larger, flatter piece of meat that weighs upwards of three pounds. If you are looking at a cut of pork and you aren’t sure whether it is tenderloin or loin, size is the easiest way to tell. Tenderloin simply doesn’t get that large.
Trimming a Pork Tenderloin
Pork tenderloin is very lean, so you won’t need to spend a lot of time trimming fat from the meat, but you might need to clean it up a little. The tenderloin has a silver skin on one side that is not edible and prevents rubs and marinades from penetrating.
The trick to removing the silver skin is to start with a very sharp knife and carefully cut along the leading edge of the silver skin while trying to keep the edge of the knife from gouging into the meat. Grasp the skin with one hand and use the edge of the knife to carefully slice and peel the silver skin off the tenderloin.
That is typically all it takes to get a pork tenderloin ready to go.
Marinade vs Dry Rub
Tenderloin is a very lean cut, so adding moisture can be beneficial when you are cooking this cut. Of course, marinating means that your meal prep is going to take a bit longer than a dry rub will.
We have tried it both ways and have found that the dry rub method we are showing you today comes out just as juicy and tender.
Feel free to try out your favorite marinade when you have the time to wait though. We recommend a marinade time of six hours to overnight, but not longer than 24 hours.
Dry Rub for the Ultimate Smoked Pork Tenderloin
Pork is generally one of the best options for flavor since it is a fairly bland meat on its own. Tenderloin is particularly great for a dry rub because the lean meat takes the flavors exceptionally well.
There are a ton of different ways to flavor a pork tenderloin, but our favorite is to make it a little sweet – which enhances the smoky flavor you get from cooking it. The sugars will also help to develop a nice crispy layer that will help our sauce stick to the pork.
Our secret weapon for delicious pork tenderloin is to use the Bearded Butcher Hollywood Blend. This blend starts with cane sugar and brown sugar, adds a little spice from paprika, and kicks up the flavor with a touch of molasses. Use as much or as little as you like, but we recommend giving the tenderloin a really good, thorough rub making sure to completely cover every bit of the meat with seasoning.
The dry rub can be applied just before smoking or it can be left on for a few hours in the refrigerator to help develop a more robust flavor.
Tenderloin Perfection: BBQ Sauce
Once the tenderloin is nearly finished smoking, we are going to mop on a layer of barbecue sauce that will caramelize and absorb smoky flavors. The sauce is vital for giving the tenderloin the perfect finishing touch and it locks in moisture at just the right time to make sure your pork is tender and juicy.
The Bearded Butcher BBQ Sauce is absolutely perfect for this tenderloin recipe. It has a bit of heat, a subtle tanginess, and a delicious sweetness that will amplify the Hollywood seasoning.
If you haven’t tried our sauce yet, you are missing out. Many of our customers will order the small bottle, then turn around a few days later and order the three pack which is available for a better value.
This stuff is otherworldly good and you will find yourself making recipes just so that you can slather some sauce on something. From french fries to chicken, this sauce is versatile and delicious. We even use it as a dipping sauce for veggies – it’s that good.
Choosing the Perfect Wood
Whether using a pellet grill like the Traeger or a charcoal smoker like the Big Green Egg, you will want a mild, mellow wood smoke for the pork tenderloin. Heavier flavors from the smoke tend to overpower this cut of meat, so it is best to stick with lighter-flavored hardwoods and fruitwoods.
Our go-to lately has been apple wood. Apple gives the meat a delicate, sweet, subtle fruitiness that compliments the dry rub and the sauce without overpowering the mild tenderloin.
Other good choices are oak, which produces a similarly light smokiness, and pecan for a slightly nutty finish. Avoid strong flavors like mesquite and hickory for this recipe as they will simply be too much for the tenderloin.
Smoking the Tenderloin
You will want to get your smoker running at 225 to 250 degrees. The goal is to keep the temperature low to prevent overheating the tenderloin which will result in dry meat.
Since the tenderloin is pretty small, the lower temperature will still cook the meat pretty quickly, so there is no reason to try and rush through the smoking process.
It is a good idea to use a water tray in the smoker to increase the humidity and limit the drying effect of the smoker.
Remove the tenderloin from the refrigerator and place it on the smoker grill grates. Insert a meat thermometer temperature probe into the thickest part of the tenderloin, then close the lid. Smoke the tenderloin until the internal temperature hits 135, then immediately coat it with a thick layer of barbecue sauce. We like to use a mop for adding sauce, but a silicone brush will also work. Make sure to coat the entire pork tenderloin in sauce.
Place the tenderloin back into the smoker and close the lid. Continue smoking until the tenderloin hits 145 degrees, then remove it from the smoker and allow it to rest. Resting helps the meat retain its juiciness and this is a good opportunity to clean up the smoker before sitting down for dinner – this way it's clean the next time you want to use it.
The pork tenderloin doesn’t need to rest for a long time. It can be sliced after three minutes, but we usually wait about ten minutes, which is about how long it takes to clean the grill in the smoker. We don’t typically cover the tenderloin while resting unless there are lots of flies around, in which case we usually just pop it in a cold oven.
Slicing and Serving Pork Tenderloin
Slicing the tenderloin is easy as there is no guesswork involved to find the direction of the grain. Simply use a very sharp knife to slice across the short distance so the pork is cut into medallions.
You can make slices any thickness you want or however thick is best for the meal you are serving. We usually will slice our pork tenderloin into half-inch slices.
Smoked pork tenderloin is a great accompaniment to smoked mac & cheese, baked potatoes, and coleslaw. Make sure you have plenty of barbecue sauce on hand for the pork. Potato rolls are great for making a little smoked pork slider.
Smoked Pork Tenderloin Recipe
- One trimmed pork loin
- Bearded Butcher Blend Hollywood Seasoning, enough to coat
- Bearded Butcher Barbecue Sauce, enough to coat, plus additional for dipping
- Trim any remaining silver skin from the tenderloin. Coat the tenderloin in the Hollywood seasoning and rub to coat the pork. Refrigerate until ready to smoke.
- Preheat the smoker to 225-250 degrees using lightly flavored wood. Be sure the smoker is producing clean smoke before putting the pork on.
- Place the pork tenderloin in the smoker, close the lid, and smoke until reaching an internal temperature of 135 degrees.
- Remove the tenderloin from the smoker and coat with barbecue sauce using a mop or brush.
- Place the coated tenderloin back in the smoker and continue to cook until reaching an internal temperature of 145 degrees.
- Remove the tenderloin from the smoker and rest for 3-10 minutes.
- Slice the tenderloin against the grain (the short direction) into 1/2-inch slices
- Serve immediately with other classic barbecue foods and additional sauce for dipping.
This smoked pork tenderloin recipe is about as simple as it can get and produces a tender, juicy, and delicious meal that only takes about an hour or so to smoke. That makes it ideal for an easy weekday meal or a simple solution to quickly make more food if you ever have more guests than expected. The combination of the Hollywood seasoning and the Bearded Butcher BBQ sauce is one of our all-time favorite flavors that pairs very well with pork tenderloin.