In recent years, advances in both food safety and nutritional content of pork has prompted the USDA to revisit their recommended pork temperatures. As pork producers improved feeding and breeding practices (in accordance with industry-wide efforts covering food safety), the Department of Agriculture decided it was time to make a change.
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There is, perhaps, no one more in agreement with the changes in pork guidelines than the world-renowned meat expert, Bruce Aidells. Aidells says, “It (USDA) has finally agreed with those of us who write recipes and tell our readers to cook pork to a much lower temperature.”
The USDA now recommends cooking pork (whole muscle cuts such as loins, roast and chops) to a minimum internal temp of 145°F – a full 15° lower than what was previously recommended. Aidells says, “This is a vast improvement over the old recommendation, and the results will be more palatable.” It should be noted however, that ground pork, like all ground meat, should be cooked to 160°F.
In his book, The Great Meat Cookbook, Aidells provides pork doneness charts based on what he believes will give at-home cooks the best results. While a quick glance at Aidells’ chart may have readers wondering why his temps are slightly lower than what the USDA recommends, he assures us that when using dry-heat cooking methods, carry-over heat will put the internal temp right where it needs to be. Of course, Aidells says, “…carry-over heat will vary depending on the size of the piece of meat and the intensity of the heat source, consult the individual recipes to determine exactly what internal temperature the meat should be when removed from the heat source, and follow the resting times given in the recipes.”
Regardless of what a recipes says however, Aidells cautions those who are immunologically compromised or pregnant to cook pork to 160°F, as recommended by the USDA.
Aidells calls medium (140 to 145°F) the ideal range for lean pork tenderloin, loin cuts and leg roasts. The end result promises to be tender, juicy and most important – safe to eat. If you’re concerned about the lower-than-recommended internal temperature, Aidells reminds us that, “…if you’re worried about trichinosis, fear not: The spores are killed when pork reaches 138°F and is held there for just a few minutes.”
This is where using a super-accurate thermometer, like the Thermapen®, is of the utmost importance. If your thermometer is off by several degrees it’s very easy to cook right past medium on to medium-well and well done, inadvertently ruining an expensive piece of meat. On the other hand, an inaccurate thermometer can have you believing you’ve reached a food safe temp to kill trichinosis (137°F), when in actuality you’re several degree below the target temp.
Well-marbled loin cuts from heirloom pork, such as blade end of the loin can be cooked to higher temps to help render fat. Aidells suggests cooking these cuts medium-well (150 to 155°F). He says, “The meat will usually be almost uniformly gray, with a pinkish tint near the bone.”
Aidells identifies other cuts that should be cooked to higher temps (165 to 170°F). Spareribs and Boston butts are two examples that are suitable for moist-heat cooking to higher than recommended internal temps. He doesn’t recommend cooking to this degree of doneness for lean pork unless it has been flavor-brined. For more information on meats that require higher temps read, “Some BBQ Meats Must Be Cooked to Higher Temps.”
Grill-Roasted Pork Loin
There really is no better way to put the new USDA pork temps to the test than with a tried and tested recipe from the folks at America’s Test Kitchen. Their Grill-Roasted Pork Loin is the perfect center piece for any family gathering and is especially perfect during a holiday celebration. This recipe is taken from the pages of Cook’s Illustrated’s Meat Book.
1 – Dissolve 1/4 cup of salt in 2 quarts cold water in a large container. Submerge pork loin into brine, cover and refrigerate for 1 to 1.5 hours. Cook’s recommends using the blade-end roast for this recipe because the fatty pockets that separate the different muscles add moisture and flavor. Of course any loin can be used. Be mindful of what kind of loin you’re using because your pull times will vary depending on the amount of fat on the loin.
Aidells suggests pulling leaner meats off the heat at 135 to 140°F and letting the residual heat carry the internal temp to 145 to 150°F. However, if you’re cooking a fattier loin – like the blade loin recommended by Cook’s – Aidells suggests pulling it off the heat a little later (145 to 150°F) so the fat has a chance to render.
2 – Remove the loin from the brine, pat dry and rub with oil and coat with pepper. Let it temper at room temp for 1 hour.
3 – Build a “two-level” fire in your grill. Set up one side with hot coals for searing and leave the other side devoid of coals for indirect roasting. For this recipe, you’ll sear the roast over the hot coals and finish roasting over indirect heat.
If cooking on a gas grill, preheat grill with all burners on. With grill preheated, leave primary burner on and turn off remaining burners. Sear over primary burner (set to high) and roast over cool the cooler side of the grill. Adjust primary burner to maintain a temp of 300 to 325°F to finish cooking to the ideal internal temp.
4– Clean and oil cooking grate. Place pork loin on hotter side of grill, fat side up (cover if using gas), and cook until well browned on all sides, 10 to 12 minutes, turning as needed. Move to cooler side of the grill, positioning roast parallel with and as close as possible to the heat. Cover and cook for 20 minutes.
5 – Rotate roast 180 degrees, cover and continue to cook until meat registers 145 degrees. A leave-in probe thermometer with an alarm, like the ChefAlarm, is the ideal tool for this application. With a probe placed as near the center of the roast as possible monitor the internal temperature without having to open the lid on the grill. Set the alarm to sound when you’ve reached your ideal internal temperature and there will be no guessing as to whether the roast is finished cooking.
6 – When you’ve hit your ideal temp (145°F), transfer roast to carving board, tent with aluminum foil and let rest for 10-15 minutes. During the rest, residual heat will have taken the internal temperature to your ideal finish temp (150 to 160°F). Continue to monitor the internal temp of the meat with your leave-in thermometer. The ChefAlarm, with its timer and “Max” temp display will come in handy for this part of the process. Set your timer for 15 minutes and monitor the gradual temperature rise on the digital display. The “Max” readout will show you the peak temperature reached during the rest – even as the internal temp begins to cool.
Comment below and Share these Pork Temperature Tips for a chance to win a copy of Bruce Aidells’ Great Meat Cookbook. Winner will be selected Sunday, March 22nd. Closed! Winner: Audra