The Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich & Some Friendly Fire

Sometimes called the Breaded Pork Tenderloin = so classic, so good!

I recently came under some “friendly fire” from Ginger of Ginger&Bread. She threw the kitchen mitt down with a challenge, given innocently enough. It went something like, “Why don’t you make a recipe of German origin as it is made in the States, and I’ll make it as it is traditionally made in Germany?” “What great fun it would be!” I replied.

The Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Breaded Pork Tenderloin BPT
The Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich – a classic

I sent off a few suggestions, one being the Iowa Pork Tenderloin sandwich, one of my favorites as a child, which is based on the Austrian Schnitzel. Ginger promptly replied that she and her brother were known as children as the Schnitzel-kids at a cafe they frequented as children, she had veal in the house and was ready to go. Now, I’m not sure how my humble little diner sandwich will compare, but as my Austrian mother in-law used to say, “It is what it is,” and I know I’ll see a great Schnitzel recipe prepared by a master!

If you hail from the Midwest of the United States, you might be familiar with this simple, sandwich, the Iowa Pork Tenderloin. If you hail from Iowa, you should be familiar! This is a sandwich my Parents would recognize, my Grandparents, for sure, and I’ve no doubt my Great Grandparents, as well. They were from Germany and made their way to Iowa in the 1880’s; I have a few recipes here from that side of the family, an Apple Cake with Rum Sauce, my Grandmother’s Ham Loaf and a German Beef Rouladen with a Mushroom Gravy.

An arial view of Graettinger, Iowa
An arial view of Graettinger, Iowa

Often on the menu of drive-ins, road side diners and cafes, when the Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich is done well it is sublime. One bite through the soft bun yields a cacophony of texture and flavor: The soft bun should yield to the crispy lettuce, the bite of the onion, the bright brininess of the mustard with just a hint of sourness from the pickle, right into the rich, crispy perfection of the crust and the tenderloin, oh, the, delicate, juicy, sweet tenderloin!

lays wavyAnd that tenderloin – it should hang off the bun, to be nibbled in all of its crispy perfection before you even get to the bun! It’s like an appetizer before the dinner. The perfect accompaniment is a sturdy, ridged potato chip, preferably Lay’s, which I believe can be purchased through-out most of the United States, now. But let’s not get into the Lay’s/Ruffles debate just yet. It’s enough to point out Lay’s are more Midwestern. (Onion Rings or Fries go well, too.) And the mustard & pickle? A nod, for sure, to the heritage of the Pork Tenderloin. No fancy mustard here, just the yellow Ballpark style, and don’t even think about Ketchup.

If you’re thinking about a beverage, I’d suggest a Root-Beer or an ice-cold Hamm’s, brewed originally in Minnesota, “The land of sky-blue waters.” Hamm’s is toted as an “American Style Lager” and dates back to 1864 when Theodore Hamm set up his brewing company over an artesian well in St. Paul, near the Swede Hollow area. If you can’t find it, another simple Lager will do here, just keep to the simple spirit of the sandwich.

The sandwich is easy to make, with one caveat! Head this well, readers and cooks out there: Your sandwich will never be all it can be if you start out with a boxed or packaged bread crumb. With so few ingredients, the bread crumbs have to be right or disappointment will ensue!

Start with bread crumbs like this, then toast them
Start with bread crumbs like this, then toast them

There will be weeping and wailing and rending of garments. Well, maybe not, but you get the point! Take a few minutes to make your own; pulse your breadcrumbs in the food processor and lightly toast them in the oven. (No food processor? Use your blender or grate them.)

And do use breadcrumbs, not crackers, for your breading. Crackers are fine if you came from Indiana and don’t know any better, but if you’re from Iowa? Bread crumbs are the way to go. The last “real deal” secret? The tenderloin sandwich isn’t traditionally made with tenderloin, but plain old loin, pounded and tenderized with a meat mallet. Hence “tender loin.” This is the same process I’ve detailed out on my post for the Beef Rouladen.

So, here it is, the Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich, a simple diner food with roots as deep as the Iowa pioneers who came to the New World, leaving so much of what they loved behind. Once here, from nothing, they plowed the fields, built homes, farms, towns, and cities. They worked from dawn to dusk, and had a Hamm’s now and then, when the day was done. And they formed new traditions, here, from the old.

I cannot wait to see the post from Ginger & Bread, and see what a Schnitzel from the “Old Country” looks and tastes like. Truly a master at her craft, and one who is never to turn down a challenge, whether it is making Filo or an old world cheesecake, (or a Schnitzel) you’ll want to visit. Make sure you have a snack, maybe a change of clothes, because once you’re there, you won’t be able to tear yourself away.

The Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Breaded Pork Tenderloin BPT
The Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich

Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

  • 1 pound of boneless pork loin
  • 1 cup to a cup and a half of toasted breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup of flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • good pinch of cayenne
  • 1 egg with 1 tablespoon of milk
  • Oil for skillet

Trim the loin and cut it into four equal pieces. Butterfly each piece but slicing almost all the way through it. Open like a book, place on a cutting board, covered with a piece of plastic, if desired and pound to a thin cutlet, about 6 to 7 inches in diameter, or more, up to 10 inches. It should be about 3/8ths of an inch thick when finished. It is best to use both the pointy and flat side of the mallet, and be careful, there should be no holes and the cutlet shouldn’t be too cut up when finished, it needs to hold together in one piece. Set aside.

Set up a breading station with three large, shallow plates. Place flour in the first, egg and milk in the second, and the breadcrumbs, salt & pepper and the cayenne in the third. Mix together the egg and milk and the breadcrumb and seasonings.

Add about 3/4 inch of oil to a skillet, cast iron works well and heat to 350 degrees. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

In the meantime, bread the cutlets, dipping first into the flour, pressing gently to make certain flour is thoroughly adhered. Shake off any excess. Dip next into the egg/milk mixture, letting any excess drip off. Lay the cutlet into the breadcrumbs and toss more bread crumbs on to the top. Press gently to make sure they adhere. Turn over and do the same to the other side. Gently pick up, trying to avoid bending the tenderloin so that fewer breadcrumbs are lost. Turn vertically to dump off any excess bread crumb and carefully place into the hot oil. Repeat with remaining cutlets, working in batches if necessary.

Fry in the hot oil until golden brown, two to three minutes per side. Remove to a wire rack over a baking sheet and place in the warmed oven until all cutlets are cooked.

Serve on a bun with lettuce, pickle and onion, mustard is the condiment of choice.

Note: if desired, other spices may be added to the breading. Onion powder and paprika are not uncommon.

from the kitchen of

If you’re curious to learn more about the Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwich, Road Food USA has a forum dedicated just to the Pork Tenderloin. 39 pages of discussion and growing…