Is ground pork tenderloin a good choice for homemade sausage? If not, why, and which cuts should you use instead? Read on to find out more about pork tenderloin’s unique qualities—and how they might affect the ground meat.
Ground Pork Tenderloin
Pork tenderloin is a very lean cut of meat. As such, it isn’t the best choice for the meat grinder, since the ground pork may be dry and crumbly once it’s cooked. You might have to either add more fat to the grinder, or save the pork for recipes that call for lean ground meats.
About Pork Tenderloin
Taken from a muscle that runs along the backbone of the hog, the pork tenderloin is a long, cylindrical, and narrow cut. It’s always sold boneless, and the meat is very lean and tender, hence the name.
There’s not much fat on pork tenderloin, but you should be able to detect a whitish membrane running along one side. This is known as the silverskin. You can remove this using a small, sharp knife prior to cooking. Otherwise, the silverskin will toughen up.
Are Pork Loin and Pork Tenderloin the Same Thing?
It’s easy for newbies to confuse pork loin with pork tenderloin. After all, the names are nearly identical. However, these are actually two different cuts. When you compare them side by side, the differences are obvious.
Pork loin is thicker in diameter than the tenderloin, with a flatter appearance. It’s taken from the back of the hog, and may be sold boneless or bone-in.
Unlike the tenderloin, which weighs in at just about a pound, a pork loin roast can weigh up to 5 pounds. The whole loin is larger still, but it’s customary to have it cut into roasts of 2 to 5 pounds apiece.
Pork loin has a mild flavor that lends itself well to various seasoning mixtures. There is a thick fat cap on one side, which helps to keep the meat juicy as it cooks.
While the tenderloin should cook quickly over high heat, pork loin can be slow-roasted as long as you don’t overcook it. It’s not quite as tender—which is a good way to remind yourself of the difference—but when it’s cooked right, it’s tender enough.
Is Ground Pork Tenderloin Good?
If you’re able to find pork tenderloin that’s already been ground, expect it to cost more than regular ground pork. The tenderloin is a pricier cut in the first place, and that’s not likely to change just because it’s been fed through the meat grinder.
In order to ensure that you’re getting 100 percent ground tenderloin, you might want to buy the whole tenderloin and grind it yourself. This works best if you have a meat grinder, but a food processor can also get the job done.
Since the tenderloin doesn’t have a great deal of fat, it’s best used in recipes that call for lean ground meat products. Tacos, burritos, and Thai-style salads and noodle dishes are all good bets.
We don’t recommend using this cut to make burgers or meatballs. There’s not enough fat to hold the meat together. You would have to add pork fatback or trimmings to the mixture, which would defeat the purpose of spending extra money on the tenderloin to begin with.
Can You Use Ground Pork Tenderloin to Make Sausage?
Similarly, pork tenderloin isn’t the best cut for homemade sausage. You want sausage to have a juicy texture. The leaner the meat, the drier the sausage will be. You’re better off reserving pork tenderloin for recipes like the ones we mentioned above.
In general, avoid cuts that end in the word “loin” when making homemade sausage. The meat-to-fat ratio should be about 80 to 20. If you do end up using pork tenderloin for your sausage, keep that in mind when you’re assembling your ingredients.
Best Cuts for Homemade Sausage
So which cuts should you use for homemade pork sausage?
Any cut taken from the shoulder of the hog is a good bet. The whole shoulder is made up of two subprimals, the Boston butt and the picnic shoulder. The butt is the upper portion behind the head, while the picnic shoulder is the lower section toward the shank.
Boston butt, or pork butt, has a rounded shape and a nice fat cap, plus an impressive degree of marbling. It should provide you with the 80-to-20 meat-to-fat ratio you’re looking for. To make the prep easier, look for boneless cuts when making sausage.
The picnic shoulder has a more lopsided appearance and less marbling throughout, but there’s still enough fat on the meat to make decent sausage. The cut is sometimes sold with the skin on, so if this is the case, remove it before you grind the pork.
A Word About Internal Temperature
You should cook all ground pork products to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. While whole muscle cuts can be safely consumed at 145 degrees, ground meat should be cooked to a higher temperature. Here’s why.
The bacteria that causes food-borne illness is found on the surface of contaminated meats. When you cook a whole muscle cut like a pork chop, you’re exposing the surface to enough heat to kill off the bacteria.
When it comes to ground pork, however, the surface meat gets all mixed together. A patty made from ground pork might have contaminated meat in the center. The only way to ensure the destruction of this bacteria is to cook the meat to 160 degrees all the way through.
How Long Does Ground Pork Keep In The Fridge?
Unlike whole muscle cuts, which should keep for up to 4 days after you purchase them, ground pork should be cooked off as soon as possible. Try to cook it within 2 days of bringing it home. Otherwise, you should consider freezing it (see section below).
Store ground pork on the lowest shelf in the fridge. Make sure the meat is well wrapped, and check the fridge temperature to ensure that it’s set below 40 degrees. After cooking the pork, refrigerate any leftovers within 2 hours.
Can You Freeze Ground Pork?
It’s a good idea to freeze the ground pork if you won’t have a chance to cook it within a day or two. Separate it into portions beforehand—we like to go with measurements of 1 pound apiece, but you can divide it as you see fit.
After adding the ground pork to zip-top bags, press it down so that it’s only about 1 inch thick. This will help it thaw more quickly when you’re ready to cook it off. Squeeze as much air as possible out of the bags, then seal them tightly.
Label all of the bags with the contents and the date before freezing. Ground pork should last for about 3 months in the freezer. In theory, it will keep longer, but the meat might start to dry out if you store it any longer than that.
Because pork tenderloin is such a versatile and delicious cut when it’s left whole, we don’t add it to the grinder very often. We like to reserve that tool for fattier cuts, especially if homemade sausage is on the prep list.
If you do opt to grind pork tenderloin, you can make healthier versions of numerous recipes that call for ground meat. In some cases, you might even be able to substitute it for ground beef.