RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Most Americans tend to overcook pork, rendering it dry and tough. But cooking juicy, tender pork chops may soon become the norm: The common assumption that every trace of pink should be eliminated from cooked pork has been officially debunked by the USDA. What’s important for safely cooked pork is actually the internal temperature of the meat, and a mandatory rest period.
THE DETAILS: Though the previously recommended safe cooking temperature for whole cuts of pork was 160°F, the USDA now recommends cooking all whole cuts of meat—including pork—to 145°F (measure this with a food thermometer placed in the thickest part of the meat). Along with the adjusted temperature for cooking pork, the USDA is also adding a new rest time of three minutes for all whole cuts of meat before they’re carved or eaten. This step reflects the fact that after meat’s removed from the heat, its temperature remains constant (or continues to rise) for three minutes, which destroys pathogens. And the USDA asserts that pink meat doesn’t signal undercooked, unsafe pork: Just like whole cuts of beef, whole cuts of pork—like roast pork, braised pork, chops and tenderloin—can be pink even when the meat has reached a safe internal temperature.
WHAT IT MEANS: The best way to judge when meat is thoroughly cooked is to knows its temperature. The color isn't a reliable indicator.
Now that we're clear on the proper temperature for cooking pork, let's not forget about the taste. For expert pork cooking tips, we turned to chef Julian Medina of New York City’s Yerba Buena, Toloache, and Coppelia restaurants. Here are his trade secrets for pork goodness:
Try cooking slow and low. To make the most tender pork you have ever tasted, cook the meat slowly and at a low temperature for 6 to 8 hours at 145°F, in a braise that includes alcohol—it helps break down the fat and tenderize the meat. "My favorite beer to use is Negra Modelo," says Medina.
Prep it for crispness. A tip to make your pork skin extra crispy: Rub the skin of the pork with kosher salt and let it sit in the refrigerator, uncovered, for 24 hours. The salt will remove the moisture from the skin. Cook for 10 hours at 145°F, and you will have juicy, succulent pork with delicious crispy skin.
Go for the grill. "The best way to cook pork on the grill is Argentinean-style," says Medina. Use a charcoal grill for extra flavor, and check to make sure the temperature stays low. Place a pork loin (rubbed with kosher salt) on the grill for 20 minutes without touching it. Only flip the loin once, and cook for another 20 minutes (or less) on the other side, until its internal temperature reaches 145°F. The loin’s flavor will be seared in, since you’re not disturbing it too much. Shave off pieces of pork the wat the Argentineans do for pork tacos or pork with rice and beans.
Experiment with rubs. "As a Mexican chef who draws inspiration from all over South America, I just can’t get enough of chiles," say Medina. "My favorite way to prepare pork is with a dry chile rub. The chile peppers adds tons of flavor, and I always add sugar to my rub which gives the pork that extra caramelization, intense flavor, and beautiful color." Check our healthy recipe finder for some spice rub recipes.
Cook extra! "When cooking pork, it is always best to cook it in large batches. That way, you can have leftovers for my favorite sandwich of all time, the Cubano," says chef Medina. "At my restaurant Coppelia, we make it with pulled roasted pork, slices of ham, Swiss cheese, mustard, pickles, and of course, crispy pork skin or chicharron—my mouth is watering just thinking about it. I always make sure to have enough pork and leftover skin to make this really special sandwich." More options: a basic Cuban sandwhich or Cuban pannini.