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Do you put water in the pan with a pork tenderloin?

Quick Answer

Yes, it is recommended to put some water in the pan when cooking pork tenderloin. Adding a small amount of liquid to the pan helps keep the pork tenderloin moist and tender as it cooks. The water creates steam which prevents the tenderloin from drying out. About 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of water is usually sufficient.

Detailed Answer

Pork tenderloin is a very lean and delicate cut of meat that can easily dry out during cooking if not prepared properly. Here are some tips on using water when cooking pork tenderloin:

Use a Small Amount of Water

You only need a small amount of water, usually around 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup. Too much water will cause the meat to boil rather than brown properly. The water should just cover the bottom of the pan.

Add Water Early

Add the water to the pan before placing the tenderloin in to pre-heat it. Pre-heated water will create steam right away to start cooking the meat. Cold water added after may lower the pan temperature.

Use Broth for More Flavor

For added flavor, use chicken or vegetable broth instead of plain water. The broth will impart extra taste to the pork as it cooks.

Baste the Tenderloin

As the tenderloin cooks, spoon some of the hot liquid over top to baste it. Basting helps keep the surface moist.

Let the Liquid Reduce

Towards the end of cooking, let most of the liquid evaporate to concentrate the flavors. This allows the pork to brown and become crispy on the outside.

Pan Sauce from the Liquid

Once the pork is cooked, remove it from the pan and let rest. Add other ingredients like shallots, wine, or cream to the pan juices to make an easy sauce.

Don’t Submerge the Pork

Avoid adding so much water that the tenderloin is completely submerged. Too much liquid will result in boiling the meat rather than searing it nicely.

Why Adding Water Keeps Pork Tenderloin Moist

Here is a more in-depth look at how adding some water to the pan helps keep pork tenderloin from drying out:

Steam Cooking

Water creates steam, which is gentler way of cooking than just dry pan searing. Steam cooks the pork evenly from the outside in. The moisture gets trapped inside the meat rather than escaping.

Lowers Cooking Temperature

The water also lowers the overall temperature slightly compared to cooking over direct dry heat. The lower heat helps break down tissue more gently.

Provides a Barrier

The water forms a protective barrier between the pork and the hot metal pan. This allows the meat to cook more slowly in the steam without burning or overcooking the outside before the inside is done.

Opens up Pores

As the steam hits the meat, it causes the pores on the surface to open up. This allows any juices from inside to stay trapped in the opened pores rather than squeezing out.

Absorbs Flavor

Using broth rather than water allows the pork to absorb even more flavor as it cooks. The broth imparts a taste and aroma to the meat.

Promotes Browning

Once most of the water has evaporated at the end, the pork will start to brown and crisp more from the direct contact with the hot pan.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Follow these simple steps for moist, flavorful pork tenderloin using water in the pan:

1. Pat the Tenderloin Dry

Remove the silver skin and trim any excess fat from the tenderloin. Pat it completely dry with paper towels. Dry meat will brown better than wet.

2. Season the Pork

Season all over with salt, pepper, and any other spices or herbs. Popular options include garlic powder, rosemary, thyme, paprika, oregano, etc. Rub the seasoning evenly over the entire surface.

3. Preheat Pan with Water

Place the pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of water, broth, wine, or other liquid. Allow to come to a simmer.

4. Sear the Tenderloin

Place the seasoned tenderloin in the preheated pan. Sear on all sides until nicely browned, about 2 minutes per side. The liquid should gently bubble around the pork.

5. Turn Heat Down

Once browned, turn heat down to medium or medium low. The liquid should be at a gentle simmer, not a vigorous boil.

6. Baste and Cook

Occasionally spoon the pan liquids over the top of the pork as it cooks. Cook until it reaches desired doneness, 145°F for medium.

7. Remove Pork

Transfer cooked tenderloin to a cutting board and tent with foil. Let rest 5-10 minutes before slicing to allow juices to redistribute.

8. Make Pan Sauce

While pork rests, simmer the pan liquids to reduce slightly. Add butter, herbs, mustard or cream to make a pan sauce. Pour over sliced pork.

Tips for the Best Results

Use these tips for perfectly cooked, moist and tender pork tenderloin:

– Choose the Right Size

Pick a tenderloin that fits comfortably in your pan without overcrowding. Overcrowded meat will steam rather than brown.

– Dry Thoroughly Before Cooking

Pat with paper towels to remove any excess moisture on the surface for proper browning.

– Pre-Heat the Pan with Water

Get the water simmering before adding pork so it creates instant steam.

– Use a Meat Thermometer

Cook to the proper internal temperature, 145°F for medium doneness.

– Baste Frequently

Spoon pan juices over the pork often while cooking to keep it moisturized.

– Let Rest Before Slicing

Allowing it to rest seals in the juices so they don’t leak out when cut.

– Make a Pan Sauce

Deglaze the pan with wine or broth to make an easy sauce for serving.

How Much Water Do You Need?

The amount of water needed depends on the size of the tenderloin and pan:

Tenderloin Weight Pan Size Water Amount
1 lb 10 inches 1/4 cup
2 lbs 12 inches 1/3 cup
3 lbs 14 inches 1/2 cup

As a general rule, use about 1 Tablespoon of water per 1 lb of pork tenderloin. Adjust as needed during cooking. Add more liquid if the pan starts to look dry.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I trim a pork tenderloin before cooking?

Yes, it’s best to trim a pork tenderloin before cooking to remove any excess fat and silver skin. The silver skin is the thin, shiny membrane along one side that can be chewy once cooked. Use a sharp knife to remove it.

What temperature should pork tenderloin be cooked to?

Cook pork tenderloin to an internal temperature of 145°F for medium doneness. At this temperature it will be juicy and tender. Always use a meat thermometer for the most accuracy.

Can you overcook pork tenderloin easily?

Yes, it’s easy to overcook pork tenderloin because it is so lean and delicate. Following recipe cooking times is important to prevent it from drying out. Check the internal temp a few degrees before desired temp.

Should pork tenderloin rest before slicing?

Yes, it’s very important to let pork tenderloin rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing into it. Resting allows the juices to reabsorb back into the meat rather than leaking out.

What is the best way to sear a pork tenderloin?

Dry tenderloin thoroughly and use a very hot skillet with a small amount of oil or other fat. Sear on all sides until nicely browned before turning heat down to finish cooking through.


Using a small amount of water when cooking pork tenderloin is an easy trick to keep it incredibly moist and tender. The water creates steam that gently cooks the meat while retaining natural juices. After searing, cook over lower heat and baste frequently. Let rest before slicing and serve with a flavorful pan sauce for an easy yet impressive meal. With the proper technique, pork tenderloin can turn out juicy and delicious every time.