A breaded pork tenderloin sandwich was always my mom’s favorite when she would occasionally take my sister and me to a cafe for lunch. This was in west-central Illinois and I’ve been reading that the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich was either an Indiana thing or an Iowa thing.
I’m not sure where Illinois fits in all this, but it seemed to me that all the little cafes would serve some sort of pork tenderloin sandwich.
These breaded pieces of pork were usually twice the size of the bun they were served with, so you had a breaded pork tenderloin appetizer to bite off before you got to the real deal.
The sandwiches were way too big for a 5 year old to order, so mom would occasionally give me a bite of the appetizer part and I’d get to savor the crunchy goodness, if only for one bite.
And as I recall, these tenderloins were breaded with saltine crackers. Not bread crumbs or panko crumbs but ordinary Nabisco saltine crackers.
Sort of a dueling banjos thing over who makes the tastiest breaded pork tenderloin sandwich.
Making the Sandwich
Honestly, I can’t recall making a breaded pork tenderloin sandwich in the past. Maybe I have.
All I know is my recollection of the taste from so many years ago. It was a simple, no-frills pork tenderloin, pounded flat, floured, drenched in egg wash then generously coated with saltine cracker crumbs and deep-fried until golden brown.
There are different cuts of pork you can use for these sandwiches. First, there is loin which is like the boneless pork chops that you will find in grocery stores.
You can pound these flat but they tend to be a bit less tender than the ‘tenderloin’.
The other is the actual tenderloin or pork filet which is a long thin cut from the central spine area of the pig.
It is more tender and flavorful and my choice for these pork sandwiches.
How to Flatten the Pork Tenderloin
The tenderloin is small, only 3 to 3 1/2 inches in diameter. You cut off the silver skin if there is any, then cut off fillets that are 1 inch wide, then butterfly the fillets by cutting down the middle with a very sharp knife to about 3/4 to 1/2 inches of the other side, then laying them flat.
Then one by one, cover the butterflied pork with plastic wrap and use a meat tenderizer mallet or a flat bottomed 8-inch skillet as I did, to pound the pork flat to about 1/4″ to 3/8 inches thick.
Just don’t go so far as to start putting holes in the tenderloin. It took me 8 to 12 hits to get them to where they seemed flat enough.
When I make these now, I use a tenderizing mallet and it does a better job and is easy to control the thickness you are getting. You should end up with a 5″ to 7″ diameter pork patty.
Being this flat, it only took about a minute and a half to fry each side in 350° oil, and the pork was perfectly done and still nice and juicy on the inside.
When you cook these, use a heavy skillet, preferably a cast-iron one to hold the heat.
I used my infrared thermometer to keep tabs on the oil temperature. When frying these, I actually had to turn off the gas at one point because it got too hot.
Just keep an eye on the temperature the best you can. As you can see, even with these somewhat smaller tenderloins, I just did one at a time but the cooking went really fast.
You can use a sheet pan with a drying rack to place the finished tenderloins in the oven with the toasted buns. These are best when served nice and warm.
How to eat a breaded tenderloin sandwich
Now to put this sandwich together. First I lightly buttered the bun halves and toasted them in the cast iron skillet before I did anything else.
I put them on a plate and in the oven on super low to keep warm. Then traditionally you need lettuce, hamburger pickle slices, and a slice of red onion.
The final touch is a good amount of plain old yellow mustard.
Never, ever use ketchup! That would be just wrong. You can use ketchup if you want to call your sandwich something else…like maybe, spoiled breaded pork tenderloin sandwich.
If you need any other condiment with this, maybe a small amount of mayo on the bun would be acceptable, but just so no one else could see it!
That’s how my mom’s breaded pork tenderloin recipe would look like. And Mary Jo said, “where has this been all my life?…you can keep making this on a regular basis.” I think I will.
Classic Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwich
- 12 oz . pork tenderloin , sliced into 4, 1" fillets then butterflied and pounded to 1/4" to 3/8" thickness
- 4 bakery hamburger buns , insides lightly buttered and toasted on the stove top in a heavy skillet, kept warm in a low oven.
- 1 cup flour
- 2 eggs
- 3 tbsp whole milk
- 1 sleeve of saltine crackers (40 crackers)
- 1 tbsp onion powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp salt
- vegetable oil , enough to fill a large skillet 1/2 inch deep, about 1 cup
- lettuce leaves
- sliced red onion
- hamburger pickle slices
- yellow mustard
- Lightly butter then toast the buns in a heavy skillet on the stovetop and keep warm.
- Cut, butterfly, and pound the pork thin, (1/4" to 3/8"), with a tenderizing mallet and place on a plate
- Beat eggs and milk together and place in a large, shallow bowl or pie plate.
- Put saltines in a food processor and pulse until you have a coarse to medium chop then add onion powder, garlic powder, and salt and give one or two more pulses to combine.
- Put saltines in a shallow bowl or pie plate.
- Put flour in a shallow bowl and set up a dredging line with flour first, eggs second and saltines last.
- Heat vegetable oil to 350°-375°m preferably in a cast iron skillet or other heavy skillet.
- Take one of the pork fillets and coat with flour, then place in the egg wash, let the excess drip off then place in the seasoned cracker crumbs and coat well by patting the crumbs on.
- Place in the 350° oil for 1 1/2 to 2 mins. until the crumbs are browned.
- Use a spatula and fork to gently turn to the other side and fry that side until browned 1 1/2 to 2 mins.
- Remove from the oil and place on a cooling rack over a paper towel lined baking sheet and place in a warm oven.
- Continue with the remaining pork.
- Serve right away on the hamburger bun with lettuce, pickles, onion and mustard. (A tomato slice is good also).
- This recipe will also work with store bought tenderized pork loin cutlets. Just make sure they are 1/4" to 3/8" thick and trim any fat from the edges.
- Canola oil or corn oil is the best for frying.
- An instant read thermometer or a laser type thermometer is good to use to make sure the oil doesn't get too cool or too hot.
Here are a couple more pork tenderloin recipes to try.