No matter how long you’ve been cooking, coming up with new ideas for different dishes can be a struggle. However, mealtime should be an opportunity to unwind and enjoy delicious food in the company of friends and family.
What it shouldn’t feel like is a scavenger hunt in the pantry for the right ingredients every single night.
The good news is that there are plenty of great-tasting and nutritious meals that you can whip up with ease. For example, let’s dive into one of our personal favorites: pork loin. Whether you’re just starting out in the kitchen or are looking to mix up your weekly menu, pork loin can make a great addition as a new mealtime favorite.
Cooking pork loin: What you need to know
When you’re shopping for pork loin, it’s important to keep in mind that not all cuts of pork are the same. In fact, you’ve probably run into pork loin’s cousin the last time you were in the meat aisle: pork tenderloin. Although the names are similar, the two cuts do have their distinct differences.
A pork tenderloin is a long, narrow, boneless cut of meat that comes from the muscle that runs along the backbone. A pork loin is wider and flatter, comes from the back of the animal, and can be a boneless or bone-in cut of meat. Deciding whether to go with a boneless or bone-in cut all comes down to the recipe you’re using and the time you’ve budgeted for cooking, but we’ll cover that shortly.
Both are a fairly lean cut, making them a great option for a nutritious meal — which is why you’ve likely heard pork referred to as “the other white meat” before. However, pork loin is packaged with a small cap of fat on the top, resulting in a juicy and more meaty taste once it’s cooked. Plus, since this cut is larger by nature, it can be an excellent pick if you’re looking to feed a crowd or prepare several meals in advance.
There are several different ways to serve a roasted pork loin. From eating your loin as is to throwing it on top of sliders, in a salad or even as the base to a cheesy quesadilla, the only limit is your creativity. If you’re looking for different ways to prep and cook your pork roast, be sure to explore our recipe page for some inspiration.
How to tell when your pork loin is ready to eat
For many first-time chefs, working with pork loin can be a bit nerve-wracking. The meat in a pork loin is light-colored, leaving it with a pale pink or white color even when it’s cooked all the way through. Don’t let that discourage you, however. If you’re someone who’s guilty of overcooking for fear of undercooking (we’ve all been there) there are plenty of ways to ensure your meat is juicy and cooked to perfection.
No matter which tools you have in your kitchen, there’s one essential item you should be sure to have on hand when you’re cooking pork: a meat thermometer. It’s entirely normal for cooked muscle meats to remain pink even when the meat has reached a safe internal temperature, as explained by the USDA. That can make it pretty difficult for even the most experienced chef to simply eyeball the right cooking time. However, if your pork loin has reached 145 degrees Fahrenheit, you can safely dive right in.
There are several different ways to cook your pork loin, but for this example, we’ll go with a classic: the oven. To bake your pork loin, you’ll just need to follow these steps:
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place your pork loin in a roasting pan with the fat cap facing upward.
- Bake your meat for 20 to 25 minutes per pound, taking it out once it hits an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
One thing to note is that you can bake your pork a little longer if you’re looking for a more medium level of doneness. For that, the National Pork Board recommends cooking the pork loin until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees.
In just three steps, you’ll have a delicious cut of meat worthy of being plated at any smokehouse. However, there is one important “step zero” you’ll want to follow before your loin ever reaches the oven: flavoring your pork.
How to flavor your baked pork loin filet
Like any cut of meat, the real flavor of your pork loin comes down to how you decide to spice it up. When it comes to roasting your pork loin, you have two options: a dry rub or a marinade.
As the name implies, there’s no liquid involved when you’re creating a dry rub. Instead, it consists of any complementary spices you have on hand. For example, a delicious combination for pork loin may look something like this:
- Brown sugar.
- Chili, onion and garlic powder.
- Smoked paprika.
And of course, don’t forget the salt and black pepper. Once you’ve mixed all of your spices in a bowl, all you have to do is directly apply the rub to the meat. You can do this right before placing your pork loin in the oven, however applying your rub ahead of time plan for at least an hour can really kick the flavor up a notch. In addition to tasting great, a dry rub can also add a crispy sort of texture to the outside of your meat.
If you have more time to plan ahead, you could also opt for a marinade. A marinade takes your same mixture of spices and adds an acidic liquid component such as vinegar. This can help intensify the flavor as your marinade penetrates the pork loin and really soaks through, giving it an even juicier taste.
Just remember that if you decide to create a marinade, your pork will need to soak in the fridge for at least 12 hours and up to 24. You can get around this wait time by setting up your marinade the night before or on your way out to work in the morning.
If your spice pantry is running low or you just don’t have the time to make a marinade, there are still plenty of options to choose from. One example is opting for a pre-marinated loin that comes packaged and ready-to-cook. This can be especially helpful if you have other side dishes to prepare or simply just came home from a long day at work or school. All you’ll have to do is remove your loin from its package, follow the cooking instructions and dive in!
Other ways to cook your pork loin
If your kitchen or pantry is overflowing with small appliances and kitchen gadgets, you’re far from alone. The silver lining here is two of those appliances will come in handy if you’re planning on a pork night; you can cook your loin in the instant pot or a crockpot.
Instant pot instructions
The instant pot has quickly become one of the home chef’s favorite tools — and for good reason. If you’re running low on time or just are looking for a quick and easy meal, this appliance can help get your pork on the table faster than anyone can ask “When’s dinner ready?” All you’ll need to do is follow these steps:
- Place the trivet in your instant pot, adding one cup of water and the pork loin roast.
- Lock the lid and use the pressure cook setting on high for 15 minutes.
- Allow pressure to naturally release for 15 minutes, then quick-release any remaining pressure.
- Let the meat rest for five minutes before slicing against the grain.
If you don’t have an instant pot, you can also use an air fryer to achieve a quicker cooking time than the traditional baking method. In that case, all you’ll need to do is place your pork loin filet in the air fryer and set the temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes.
Slow cooker instructions
Although it will take a little longer than your instant pot, don’t let the word “slow” deceive you. Your slow cooker can have your meal ready in under two hours depending on your settings:
- Place the unpackaged pork roast inside of your slow cooker and set the temperature to low.
- Pour about a half cup of water around the pork — make sure the bottom of your slow cooker is covered.
- Place lid on and cook on low for about two hours or until your pork reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
- If using a high-temperature setting, cook for 1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes.
- Remove from the slow cooker and let rest for 3 minutes before slicing.
There’s truly no shortage of ways you can cook your pork loin and create a delicious meal. In addition to those we mentioned, you could also lean into the barbeque energy and throw yours on the grill, or even use a skillet for a smaller piece.
Choosing your sides: brussel sprouts, mashed potatoes and more
Now for the grand finale: selecting which sides to pair with your delicious main dish. For many new cooks and experienced chefs alike, juggling several dishes at once can feel like a hassle. However, depending on which method you use to prepare your pork loin, you may be able to easily whip up any sides while the meat cooks, cutting down on your total cooking time.
If you’re looking for new ideas when it comes to great-tasting side dishes, some of our favorites include:
- Vegetables: A side of veggies is always a classic. If you decide to bake your loin, you could even do a one-pan pork recipe and bake some Brussel sprouts on the same pan. Talk about a low-mess meal. Another way to add some green to your plate is with a hearty side of creamy spinach.
- Potatoes: Baked, mashed or roasted, potatoes in just about any form will serve as a perfect side to your pork loin. If you have spare bacon in the fridge and are really going for the ultimate BBQ feeling, try your hand at making this Applewood bacon potato salad.
- Classic rolls: They’re a classic for a reason. A side of warm, buttery bread is always a great (and easy) option for any meal. Plus, you can always split a piece in two and have a slice of your loin as a sandwich the next day.
If you’re looking to create the ultimate traditional meal, Sauerkraut and pork have also been paired together for many years.
Keep in mind that these aren’t the only sides that pair well with your pork loin. Due to the fact that you can truly flavor your pork any way you’d like, you can also do the same with your side dishes. The only important thing is that they’re your family’s favorites. Feel free to mix up your sides from night to night to always keep things interesting and delicious.
Start cooking with pork loin
No matter how experienced you are in the kitchen, pork loin can be the perfect, ready-to-eat meal. Plus, depending on how you prepare it, you could even be dishing dinner in just 30 minutes, leaving you plenty of time to enjoy your food and the company of others.