How to Make Indiana’s Beloved Pork Tenderloin Sandwich at Home
A food writer recalls the nostalgic childhood meal and provides a recipe for the fried delight
One of my earliest memories as a kid growing up in Indiana was going to a local diner with my dad every weekend. We would always order the same thing — onion rings for the table and two “pork sandwiches.” These sandwiches would always make me laugh because they were, quite literally, bigger than my head. Yet, heroically, I always found a way to clean my plate. I carried my affinity for these sandwiches through my college years at Purdue University, where many a late night would be finished off at the famous Triple XXX diner eating a pork tenderloin sandwich.
This sandwich is simplicity at its finest. Pork tenderloin is pounded extremely thin, coated in crackers or breadcrumbs and fried. The result is an ultra-savory cut that is often much wider than the bun it resides on, best paired with onion rings and a root beer float. The dish is unarguably inspired by the German wiener schnitzel, a thin, breaded and fried veal cutlet. In fact, the creation of the sandwich is attributed to Nick’s Kitchen in Huntington Indiana — founder Nick Freienstein is of German descent and started crafting his fare in the 1910s. Pork was swapped for veal, and the rest is delicious history.
Fast forward to modern times, and variants of this sandwich can be found all over the Midwest, especially in Indiana and Iowa. Most come just like the sandwich I enjoyed years ago, dressed with traditional burger toppings like onion, ketchup and pickles. Iowans tend to choose a mustard-pickle combo, while Hoosiers lean towards a lettuce, tomato and mayo lineup. Every diner, restaurant and bar seem to have their take on the classic, with one of the most popular being from Nine Irish Brothers, an Irish pub of all places.
While I have long left the Hoosier state, my affinity for Indiana’s official state sandwich remains strong. Luckily for me, it’s incredibly easy to prepare at home. The secret, if there is one, is careful trimming of the meat and even pounding. If that isn’t your forte, don’t forget that most butchers and meat counters will happily do so for you.
Indiana Pork Tenderloin Sandwich
- 2 pork tenderloins (about 1 to 1.5 pounds total)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp. paprika
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. onion powder
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 cup milk
- 2 cups crushed saltine crackers
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- Hamburger buns or sandwich rolls
- Optional toppings: lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, mustard, mayo, ketchup
Trim any excess fat from the pork tenderloins and place them in-between two sheets of plastic wrap. Pound them gently with a meat mallet or rolling pin until they are about 1/2 inch thick. This will help tenderize the meat and ensure even cooking.
In three separate shallow dishes, place the flour and salt in one, beat the eggs with milk in the second and mix the crackers with paprika, garlic powder, onion powder and pepper in the third.
Dip each pork tenderloin into the flour, shaking off any excess. Then dip it into the egg mixture, making sure it’s coated on all sides. Finally, press the pork tenderloin into the crackers, ensuring it’s fully coated with the breading. Repeat with the second tenderloin.
In a large skillet, add enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom of the pan by about 1/2 inch. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until it reaches around 350°F (175°C). Carefully add the breaded pork tenderloins to the hot oil and fry for about 4-5 minutes per side or until they are golden brown and cooked through. You may need to fry them one at a time depending on the size of your skillet.
Once cooked, remove the pork tenderloins from the oil and place them on a plate lined with paper towels to drain any excess oil. Let cool slightly and place between a bun with your favorite toppings.
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