Because they both include the word loin, it’s easy to get the sirloin and tenderloin confused.
This is true especially when it comes to pork, which often plays second fiddle to beef among serious carnivores. Let’s explore the intricacies of pork sirloin vs tenderloin to ensure that you don’t make this mistake.
Pork Sirloin vs Tenderloin
Pork sirloin comes from the rear section of the loin primal, near the animal’s tail. The meat is a bit tougher than it is in the center of the loin, but still very lean, with a mild flavor. The cylinder-shaped tenderloin bisects the loin and consists of exceptionally tender pork.
Pork Loin: The Basics
Perhaps because the sirloin isn’t as well-known, the pork loin as a whole is the portion of the hog that is most commonly confused with the tenderloin.
The loin primal runs along the back of the hog, close to the spine. This meat doesn’t get a lot of exercise, and as such, it has a lean texture and very little flavor.
Butchers often divide the loin into three smaller sections, or subprimals. These include the loin rib end, the loin center, and the sirloin.
While pork loin rib end roasts are leaner than shoulder cuts, they’re fattier than the center cut portions and the sirloin. The meat from the center is usually further divided into pork chops, whether bone-in or boneless.
The sirloin is located toward the rear of the hog. As such, it’s a bit tougher than the other subprimals. We’ll talk more about this in the following section.
The pork sirloin comes from the back end of the loin, close to the tail. A whole sirloin may include the eye of the loin, a bit of hip and back bone, and even some tenderloin meat—although the tenderloin is a separate cut, as we’ll discuss later.
You can cut a pork sirloin into chops or cutlets or prepare it as a whole roast. Since it’s so lean, it’s well-suited for dry heat methods like roasting, but braising provides moisture to the relatively dry meat.
The tenderloin is a slim, exceptionally tender cut of pork that intersects with the loin primal. It contains no bone, and the meat is very lean, although it does include a strip of silverskin that should be removed before cooking.
While the sirloin is tender when compared to cuts like pork shoulder and Boston butt, the tenderloin is even softer. It’s often sold whole, but some butchers will cut the meat crosswise into medallions before packaging it for sale.
Pork Sirloin vs Tenderloin: Breaking It Down
In this section, we’ll delve deeper into the pork sirloin vs tenderloin debate to help you decide which one to buy.
If budget is your main concern, pork sirloin is a better choice than the tenderloin. Pork tenderloin often costs more than $10 per pound. A sirloin roast, meanwhile, might be priced as low as $3 per pound.
To be fair, we should mention that the tenderloin is also much smaller. A whole pork tenderloin weighs 1.5 to 2 pounds. When you buy a sirloin roast, you’re investing in about 4 pounds of meat.
From a purely economic standpoint, though, pork sirloin is still the better choice. You’ll get more meat out of it, and depending on the market prices, a whole sirloin roast may still be cheaper than a pork tenderloin.
When sold whole, a pork sirloin has a broad, round appearance. It can also be cut into steaks that resemble pork chops, although the meat will be a bit tougher than traditional chops.
The tenderloin also has a cylindrical shape, but it’s narrower and longer. The meat is thicker on one end, tapering off to a point on the opposite side. When cooking pork tenderloin, you might have to fold this narrow end over on itself to avoid overcooking.
Both cuts may range in color from light to dark pink. When pork meat is dark in color, that means it contains more myoglobin. This translates into a richer flavor and a higher level of moisture.
As we’ve pointed out, the tenderloin has the softest texture of any cut of pork you’ll find. Although the shoulder cuts will grow tender after hours of cooking, the tenderloin comes by this texture naturally.
The sirloin is considered a lean cut in itself, especially when compared to the shoulder. However, if you want your pork to be so tender that it melts in your mouth after just a brief stint on the grill, then the tenderloin is the way to go.
Because the muscles toward the rear of the hog get a bit more exercise, the sirloin is the winner in this category. The tenderloin doesn’t move much at all during the hog’s lifetime, which is why the meat is so soft.
In terms of flavor, neither of these cuts can compete with Boston butt or pork shoulder, which are so rich and fatty that they resemble meat candy when cooked. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, as it allows you to experiment with seasonings.
Pro Tip: You can boost the flavor of pork tenderloin by marinating it for 2 to 4 hours. Try not to leave it in the mixture for any longer than that, or the meat will turn the corner from tender to mushy.
Pork sirloin is versatile in that you can use it for roasting, braising, broiling, or smoking. If you’ve carved the meat into chops or cutlets, it’s a natural partner for the grill.
Braising pork sirloin in a small amount of liquid will prevent the lean meat from overcooking. We recommend using apple juice or cider for the braising liquid, but you can substitute water if you don’t have either of those on hand.
The tenderloin cooks very quickly. It’s best to either pan-sear it and finish it in a hot oven or cook it on the grill. When the meat is cut into medallions, it only needs to cook for a few minutes per side.
Since neither the sirloin nor the tenderloin have much flavor on their own, feel free to get bold with the seasonings. Both cuts are especially delicious when rubbed with a mixture of fresh herbs and olive oil. Mustard sauces are also a welcome addition.
Side Dish Ideas
To a degree, your side dishes should depend on what ingredients you used to prepare the pork. That said, the qualities that distinguish these two cuts also require slightly different approaches.
When serving pork sirloin as a whole roast, try pairing it with baked stuffed potatoes and almond green beans. If it’s been cut into chops, mashed potatoes with gravy are a good choice.
Perfectly cooked pork tenderloin makes for an elegant presentation, whether it’s grilled whole or cut into medallions. Serve alongside grilled vegetables and flatbread with seasoned dipping oil for a meal that’s prepared exclusively out of doors.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, we don’t really prefer pork sirloin to pork tenderloin—or vice versa. Both cuts have fine qualities that make them excellent choices for the grill. It all comes down to what texture you prefer and how you’re planning to serve the meat.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!