Sweet-And-Smoky Grilled Pork Tenderloins


Brine the tenderloin in the morning, and it'll be ready to grill by the time dinner rolls around.

Southern Living Sweet-and-Smoky Grilled Pork Tenderloins sliced on a cutting board

Victor Protasio; Food Stylist: Ruth Blackburn; Prop Stylist: Christine Keely

Active Time:
30 mins
Refrigerate Time:
8 hrs
Total Time:
9 hrs 15 mins

Brines aren’t only for turkeys, and this grilled pork tenderloin recipe proves it. The brown sugar rub, also known as a dry brine, penetrates through the exterior of the pork, imparting a lovely smoky-sweet flavor. The rub chars and caramelizes when grilled, but doesn’t burn or become bitter.

The dry brine hydrates from the juices of the pork and soaks back into the exterior to create an extra juicy tenderloin. Since pork tenderloins are such a lean piece of meat, it’s quite easy to dry them out while cooking. Think of this dry brine as your new moisture insurance policy. 

Southern Living Test Kitchen Tips

For a perfectly charred and succulent grilled pork tenderloin, follow this advice from our Test Kitchen:

  1. Before you get started, make sure to liberally oil the grill grates by dipping a towel in canola oil and using tongs to brush it onto the grates. 
  2. Try to buy a pork tenderloin with even thickness to prevent the thinner ends from over curing. If that’s not possible, apply less rub to the thinner ends and more to the thickest part of tenderloin. 

All About Dry Brines

When you hear the term brine, likely you think about a liquid solution, whether that’s pickle brine or turkey brine. You’re not wrong to jump to that conclusion, but dry brining is another method of seasoning your meat and ensuring it stays moist while cooking.

Technically, the term "dry brine" is a colloquialism for a rub or cure, as a brine by definition is water saturated with salt. Semantics aside, dry brines or whatever you want to call them, are a great way to infuse meat with flavor, and without the mess of gallons of salt water contaminated with raw meat juices.

Serving Suggestion


  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar

  • 2 Tbsp. kosher salt

  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika

  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder

  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder

  • 1/2 tsp. ground mustard

  • 2 (1-lb.) pork tenderloins

  • 1 Tbsp. canola oil


  1. Marinate pork tenderloins:

    Place a wire rack inside a rimmed baking sheet, and set aside. Whisk together brown sugar, salt, smoked paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, and ground mustard in a small bowl. Pour sugar mixture into a gallon-size ziplock plastic bag, add pork, and seal well. Shake bag until pork is coated. Let stand 5 minutes; shake bag again to coat pork. Remove pork from bag, and transfer to prepared rack; discard sugar mixture. Refrigerate, uncovered, 8 to 12 hours.

  2. Preheat grill:

    Remove pork from refrigerator; let stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Gently brush pork with oil (do not brush off dry rub). Preheat grill to medium-high heat (400°F to 450°F).

  3. Grill pork tenderloin:

    Place pork on oiled grates; grill, uncovered, turning occasionally, until charred in spots and an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest portion of pork registers 140°F, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from grill; let stand 15 minutes. (Temperature will rise to 145°F.) Slice and serve.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you keep pork tenderloin from drying out on the grill?

    Brining the meat will help keep a pork tenderloin moist—as will following the proper cooking times and temperature. For a juicy, perfectly cooked center, pull the tenderloin off the grill when an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest portion of pork registers 140°F. As it rests, the temperature will continue to rise to 145°F, and resting is important so that you don’t lose all the flavorful juices when you slice the tenderloin.

  • Should I sear my pork tenderloin before grilling?

    The grill is more than hot enough to sear and char the outside of your pork tenderloin, so there's no need to sear it on a stovetop ahead of grilling like you would if roasting it in an oven. 

  • Should I wrap my pork tenderloin in foil when grilling?

    No, you don’t need to wrap pork tenderloin in aluminum foil when grilling. Direct contact with the grill is what will char the outside of the meat nicely, and impart a smoky flavor, two things you won’t get if you wrap the meat in foil. Some say wrapping the tenderloin in foil can prevent the meat from drying out, but our dry brine combined with proper cooking times and temperatures will do the same.

  • Do you grill pork tenderloin on direct or indirect heat?

    For nice charring, we cook the tenderloin over direct heat. That said, you can move the tenderloin to indirect heat (the cooler part of the grill) if it starts to char too much. Continue grilling the tenderloin over indirect heat until it reaches the correct internal temperature, which might take a few minutes longer. 

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