A lot of amateur home chefs don’t realize that you can cook meat from its frozen state without bothering to defrost it. You just have to make sure the meat cooks to a safe temperature without spending too much time in the danger zone.
Read on to find out how to cook frozen pork tenderloin while allowing it to maintain its prized qualities.
How To Cook Frozen Pork Tenderloin
To cook frozen pork tenderloin, estimate how long the meat would take to cook if it were fully thawed, then add 50 percent. For example, if the recipe calls for a total cooking time of 20 minutes, increase that to 30 minutes. Since tenderloin cooks quickly anyway, this is a viable option.
What Is Pork Tenderloin?
Another mistake that a lot of amateurs make is assuming that the pork loin and the tenderloin are interchangeable. In fact, the tenderloin is a segment that intersects the loin, but the two cuts have different characteristics.
A whole pork tenderloin is long and cylinder-shaped, with a thicker butt end that tapers to a thin point on the opposite side. It should have a thin membrane of silverskin attached, but very little fat.
By contrast, a pork loin is broader and flatter in shape. There’s usually a decent fat cap attached, which provides a bit of moisture. The meat itself doesn’t have much intramuscular fat, but it’s not quite as lean and tender as the tenderloin.
Occasionally, a butcher will cut the whole pork tenderloin crosswise into round medallions. These take well to marinades and cook through in a hurry, making them a great choice for weeknight meals.
How Long Does Pork Tenderloin Keep In The Fridge?
Fresh raw pork tenderloin should keep for 3 to 4 days when stored in the fridge. The refrigerator temperature needs to be set below 40 degrees, and it’s best if you keep meat products on the lower shelf, well away from the door.
You can extend the life of the pork by cooking it off. Once the pork is cooked, it can keep for an additional 3 to 5 days.
How To Freeze Pork Tenderloin
When your plans change and you don’t have a chance to cook the pork within a 3-day window, it’s better to put it in the freezer. Since freezing the meat halts the growth of dangerous bacteria, you’ll be able to wait until you’re ready to cook it.
Freeze the pork as soon as you know you won’t be cooking it in the next day or two. If you let it sit in the fridge until it’s on the brink of spoiling, you’ll have to cook it off as soon as possible after it thaws.
Pork tenderloin is a lean cut, which means it’s prone to drying out when overcooked. Meat that’s been frozen and thawed is sometimes a bit drier anyway, especially if you froze it again after thawing it once. This means you should take care when freezing this cut.
Make sure to wrap the pork tightly in plastic wrap or freezer paper first. After it’s well wrapped, add it to a zip-top bag or a sealed container with a tight-fitting lid. Fill the bag or container as full as possible, and squeeze out any excess air.
Before adding the package to the freezer, label it with today’s date, along with the contents. If the pork is still raw, be sure to mention that on the label as well.
Lean cuts like this will benefit from shorter stints in the freezer. Try to cook the frozen pork tenderloin within 2 to 3 months. Otherwise, it won’t be as moist when it finally comes off the grill.
Can You Season Pork Tenderloin Before Freezing It?
Marinating or seasoning the pork prior to freezing it will save time when you’re ready to start cooking. What’s more, the seasonings will have more time to penetrate, resulting in a finished product that’s bursting with flavor.
A mixture of lime juice, chili powder, garlic powder, beer, and a pinch of cayenne pepper is a good basic marinade for pork tenderloin. Marinate the pork for 2 to 4 hours before wrapping and storing it according to the steps we’ve outlined above.
Don’t leave the pork tenderloin in the marinade mixture for too long. If you marinate lean meats for too long, the acid will break down the protein strands past the point of desirable tenderness, and the cooked meat will be mushy as a result.
Recommended Internal Temperature
In the past, experts recommended cooking all cuts of pork to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Those of us who suffered through a generation of dry pork chops were gratified to learn that those guidelines have changed in the last decade or so.
Thanks to improved sanitation practices, it’s now considered safe to eat pork at just 145 degrees. Although naturally tough and fatty cuts like spare ribs and pork shoulder still need to cook longer, pork tenderloin is more enjoyable when cooked to medium rare.
If you prefer not to eat pork when it’s still pink in the middle, you can leave the tenderloin on the heat until it hits 155 to 160 degrees. Try to catch it before it climbs north of 160, though. Otherwise, the meat will be chalky and dry.
The Danger Zone
Whether you opt to thaw the pork before cooking it or not, it’s imperative not to let it remain at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees for longer than 2 hours. That’s why you should always keep your refrigerator set to a safe temp below 40 degrees.
The window between 40 and 140 degrees is known as the “danger zone.” At higher and lower temperatures, potential bacterial growth is slowed or halted altogether. Within the danger zone, dangerous bacteria can breed at an alarming pace.
Since the tenderloin cooks through quickly even from a frozen state, you shouldn’t have to worry about this while you’re cooking it. However, if you do decide to thaw the meat, remember not to let it sit out on the counter for too long.
About The Cold Water Method
Thawing meat in the refrigerator is preferable. But if you’re contemplating skipping the thaw altogether, you’re probably in too much of a hurry for that. In this case, a cold water bath is your best bet.
Start with a bowl or any container that’s large enough to hold the wrapped pork tenderloin. Fill the container with cold water. After ensuring that the pork is wrapped tightly enough to prevent water from leaking in, submerge it in the water bath.
Meat thaws at a rate of about 30 minutes per pound when it’s submerged in cold water. That means your pork tenderloin could be ready to go on the grill in 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how large it is.
If the pork still isn’t fully thawed after 30 minutes, swap out the cold water for a fresh batch. Or you could go ahead and cook it as is—the process may still take a bit longer than if you’d finished the process, but it will be quicker than if you hadn’t thawed the meat at all.
How To Cook Frozen Pork Tenderloin
When cooking meat from a frozen state, the basic rule is to increase the estimated cooking time by 50 percent. The meat is essentially defrosting as it cooks. As long as it doesn’t hover in the danger zone for longer than two hours, the method is perfectly safe.
For large cuts like the shoulder, this is problematic because the meat has to cook for such a long time anyway. In these cases, you probably won’t be saving yourself any time by skipping the thaw, especially if you use the cold water method.
With a smaller cut like the tenderloin, though, it’s fine to cook the meat off without thawing it first. It’s better to use high-heat cooking methods like grilling, because it minimizes the amount of time the meat spends in the danger zone.
A tenderloin that weighs 1 pound should cook in 15 to 20 minutes when it’s fully thawed. Therefore, when cooking from frozen, plan on a total cooking time of 22 to 30 minutes.
On The Grill
Our favorite method involves grilling the tenderloin over medium-high heat. Set the frozen pork directly on the cooking grate, then close the lid. Let the pork cook for 22 to 30 minutes, turning every 5-7 minutes to ensure that the meat cooks evenly.
When the tenderloin has been carved into medallions prior to freezing, it will cook through more quickly. Aim for about 6 to 8 minutes per side. Medallions that are cut less than 1 inch thick might only need 5 minutes per side.
When the pork has cooked to the safe recommended temp, remove it from the heat. Allow it to rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.
In The Oven
On rainy days, you can use the oven method. This method also works well for larger tenderloins weighing 1-1/2 to 2 pounds.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and set the frozen pork in a roasting dish or oven-safe skillet. Roast the meat, either covered or uncovered, until it reaches the desired internal temperature.
If you cover the pan, the meat will cook more quickly. At this temperature, a frozen pork tenderloin that weighs 2 pounds should be ready in about 1 hour and 15 minutes when cooked in a covered pan. Uncovered, it might take up to 2 hours.
No matter what cooking method you choose, don’t skip the resting period. This allows the juices to redistribute and the temperature to rise a bit higher, thereby minimizing the risk of food-borne illness.
The Bottom Line
Cooking frozen pork tenderloin without thawing it first can save time, especially if it’s already been cut into crosswise slices. Use your judgement about whether you have time to thaw it in a water bath, or if it would be better just to put it on the grill as is.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!