Pork Tenderloin Marinades

A great pork tenderloin marinade is as follows:

  • ½ cup of Jack Daniels
  • ½ cup of canola oil
  • ½ cup Creole mustard
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp each of salt, black pepper and thyme

If you are wary of a marinade with such a strong alcohol component then the next marinade is an excellent alternative.

  • ¼ lb melted butter
  • ½ cup Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ½ of a small onion, diced (between ¼ and ½ cup)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 1 tsp each of salt, black pepper and thyme

For all marinades make sure all components are well blended (dissolved where applicable) and allow the tenderloin to marinated at least four hours in the refrigerator with overnight being preferable.  Please note…marinades do not penetrate very deeply into the tenderloin.  To get the most benefit from the marinade it is sugested to butterfly the tenderloin before marination so as much surface area is exposed as possible.

Here are a few more good pork tenderloin marinades to try.

Teriyaki Marinade:  You will find a ton of variations on this recipe but what they all have in common is a base of soy sauce with some sweetness added to balance out the salt.  Typically there are some aromatics like onion, garlic and ginger thrown in to make it interesting.    A typical marinade time is four to six hours.  If you plan on marinating overnight you probably want to use a reduced sodium soy sauce to keep the meat from becoming too salty.  You can get some interesting flavor profiles by switching things up on the sweet component.  Molasses would give a deeper flavor while pineapple juice would really brighten it up.  I do not hesitate to use maple syrup in any recipe that calls for honey.

Teriyaki Marinade #1

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
  • 2teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Teriyaki Marinade #2

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon crushed garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Balsamic Vinegar and Olive Oil Marinade:  There are two basic variations on this marinade but the core components in both are balsamic vinegar, olive oil and herbs.  If you are working with fresh herbs and high quality vinegar and oil I would keep things simple and stop right there.  If you need to add a little extra punch to the marinade then two additional components are typically either honey or mustard.  Obviously a honey mustard mix works pretty well!  A typical marinade time is four to six hours.  If you plan on marinating overnight you probably are okay since the balsamic has a relatively low acid content.

Balsamic vinegar and olive oil marinade #1

  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 6 large sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 6 large sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

(Feel free to use oregano and garlic as well)

Balsamic vinegar and olive oil marinade #2

1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Balsamic Vinegar
2 T Honey
3 Garlic Cloves
1 T chopped fresh rosemary
2 T Dijon Mustard

The honey to mustard ratio is something to play around with to suit your taste.  Feel free to omit one of the other and you will still have a great marinade.

Lemon Herb Marinade:  If you are fortunate enough to have a supply of fresh Meyer lemons then this is a marinade that has to be tried at least once.  When I use this I always reserve a portion of the fresh marinade to drizzle on the pork after it has been grilled and sliced.  Let your tenderloin marinate for four to six hours.  I would not recommend marinating overnight due to the high acidity of the lemon juice.  If you do not have fresh lemons skip this recipe; bottled lemon juice isn’t worth the time.

  • 1 lemon, zest grated
  • 3/4 cup lemon juice
  • Olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp salt

Best in the World Speed Marinade:  This is one of my favorite marinades partly because of the flavor and partly because I get to play more in the kitchen.  I inject this marinade into the tenderloin with a syringe and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour to let it distribute throughout the meat.  I don’t have a set amount for how much I inject; as much as it takes up and every piece of meat is different.  If I had to guess I would say I inject a little over ¼ cup.

  • 1 14oz can of chicken broth (not reduced sodium)
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • ¼ cup honey

I avoid other herbs and spices in this since they will not readily dissolve. I don’t want my injection needle to clog and I don’t want to leave streaks inside the tenderloin.  This combination of salty and savory from the broth with the sweetness of the sugars is great.  By injecting you know you will end up with a juicy piece of meat.  An added benefit is that the sugars are on the inside of the meat which means they won’t char when you are grilling.  This works equally well for chicken breasts as it does for pork tenderloins

To understand what makes a good pork tenderloin marinade it is instructive to look at the similarities between these two recipes and to consider how they are both very different from brining.  Whereas brine delivers flavor from salt water, marinades deliver flavor from oils.

There are many great flavors that compliment pork; garlic, rosemary, onions, sage, mustard, etc.  The flavor components in these ingredients are often in the form of organic molecules that are simply not soluble in water.  In order to get the essential oils from an orange peel into the pork we must first extract that flavor into the liquid phase which can then be infused into the pork.  It turns out that although oils are not very soluble in water, they are highly soluble in other oils.  Thus the inclusion of oil or a fat in all basic marinade; they serve as a “flavor transfer agent” from the aromatics into the liquid.

Once the flavor is in the oil the oil needs to interact with the tenderloin.  The tenderloin will readily absorb water but will not take up much oil.  We overcome this through the inclusion of a component that sort of looks like an oil and sort of looks like water.  In the first marinade this component is the ethyl alcohol in the Jack Daniels, in the second marinade it is the acetic acid in the cider vinegar.  These compounds are the equivalent of diplomatic intermediates whose role is to bridge the two worlds of flavor from oils with solubility in water.

Both marinade recipes include a sweet component in the form of brown sugar.  Although the sweet is not a requirement it is a nice compliment to the savory aspect of the marinade.  Another sweet component that is an EXCELLENT addition for a pork marinade is the syrup from canned peaches. This is simply an extension of the fact that pork marries extremely well with fruit such as apples, apricots and even raspberries.  Another sweet component that is a real treat with tenderloin is real maple syrup.

So the fundamental recipe for any great marinade for pork tenderloin will include the following:

  • Flavors that match well with pork (garlic, rosemary, onions, sage, mustard)
  • A way to get the flavor components into liquid form (oil will dissolve them)
  • A way to transfer the flavors from the oil into the tenderloin (alcohol or vinegar)
  • A little sweet to add some balance.

In general try to have equal amounts of oil and vinegar or oil and alcohol.  Include as much of the aromatics as you like but try not to overwhelm your tenderloin.  Unlike a brine which will penetrate to the middle of the tenderloin, most marinades will only penetrate the outer ½ inch of the meat.  You will not get the same juiciness from a marinade as you will from a brine but the flavor impact will be much greater.

There are some recipes which are a cross between a marinade and a brine such as this one:

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sherry
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried minced onion
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pinch garlic powder

These recipes use the salt in the soy sauce to get a brined effect while still using the oil and alcohol to infuse the pork tenderloin with cinnamon, garlic and onion.

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