Pork has a notorious reputation for being dry, tough, overly fatty, and unsafe to eat unless cooked to very high internal temperatures. We’ve listed 8 things you didn’t know about cooking pork, to get deliciously juicy and flavorful pork back on your weekly dinner menu!
1. Some Pork is as Lean as a Skinless Chicken Breast
It is a common belief that pork is a fatty meat. This simply is not true for all cuts of pork. In fact, pork tenderloin is now as lean as a skinless chicken breast. In the image to the right, you can see the difference in fat content between the pork chops, chicken breast, and steak. On average, today’s pork is about 16% leaner than it was 25 years ago, and saturated fat has dropped by 27%.
2. Safely Cook Pork at a Lower Temp Than You Might Think!
The current USDA recommended temperature for pork is a significant 15°F (8°C) less than what was previously recommended just a few years ago (160°F [71°C] with no rest). The 145°F (63°C) recommended internal temperature—followed by a recommended 3-minute rest—applies to whole-muscle cuts such as loin, chops, and roasts. (As with all ground meat, sausages and ground pork should be cooked to the recommended temperature of 160° F [71°C].)
3. Pork Doesn’t Have to be Dry to be Safe
It only takes one past experience with unsafe meat to become apprehensive about eating undercooked pork in the future. Fear is the number one reason we overcook pork. As Bruce Aidells explains, “…if you’re worried about trichinosis, fear not: The spores are killed when pork reaches 138°F (59°C) and is held there for just a few minutes.”
4. Pink Pork is Safe to Eat
Cooking pork at the USDA recommended temperature of 145°F (63°C) will typically yield a finished product that is pinker than what most home cooks are accustomed to. Doneness cannot be accurately determined by color. Internal temperature measurement using a thermometer is the only way to know if the meat is safe to eat.
5. Pork Can Be Juicy…Really!
Research performed by the National Pork Board has found that most at-home cooks have a tendency to overcook common cuts of pork, resulting in tough, dry cuts of meat. The new guidelines will help alleviate some of the stigma associated with undercooked pork and help people enjoy this “other white meat” at its most flavorful, juicy—and safe—temperature.
6. Use a Digital Thermometer!
The number one, safest way to cook pork is by internally monitoring the temperature using a digital cooking thermometer to ensure an accurate final temperature. An instant read thermometer like the Thermapen® Mk4 is an excellent tool to have. It gives you an accurate temperature reading in 2-3 seconds wherever you insert the tip. When compared to a dial thermometer that only gives an average reading.
7. Pork Continues To Cook When Taken Off Heat
Depending on the cut of meat, cooking method, and thickness, it can increase 5-10° in the center after being removed from heat. This carryover cooking happens when the latent heat in the outer edges of the meat continues moving toward the center (lowest temperature area) after being removed from the heat source.
Knowing this, it’s important to pull your pork from the heat source before it reaches the desired doneness temperature. Meats prepared with high heat cooking methods will see a greater carryover cooking factor than those cooked with a low-temperature method. Smaller cuts of meat will have a less significant increase in temperature than will larger roasts.
The length of the rest time is directly proportional to the size of the cut of meat. See the table below:
This is another reason why owning a Thermapen can come in handy—you will know exactly when to take it off and factor in carryover cooking.
8. Cooking Pork Can Be Quick, Simple and Creative!
Pork can be cooked in as little as 30 minutes and still have delicious flavor! Other recipes may take 30 minutes to prep and 6 hours to cook, but it is still simple to prepare. (Low and slow cooking is the only way to transform tough pork shoulder into succulent pulled pork.)
Don’t be afraid to play around with different recipes and applications for pork in your cooking. Try using it for festive Pork Carnitas, juicy Grilled Pork Chops, or add new flavor to pork chops with this Canadian Maple Syrup Glaze.
When cooking pork, it only takes a matter of a few degrees before pork goes from tender and succulent to being fibrous and completely bereft of moisture. With the right temperature tools and so many different recipe options for pork, your family can be enjoying something new and delicious every week.