Doneness: What 100 Pounds of Ham Taught Me About Pink Pork

Pink is the new white! Pork Tenderloin with Gorgonzola Sauce (recipe link below)

The National Pork Board came to this year’s IACP conference to party. They were celebrating last year’s USDA change in guidelines for pork doneness, and I celebrate with them, as this is embarassingly long overdue.

When I wrote about cooking fresh pork leg in The Oregonian in ’09, the 160 degree rule was still in effect. As was widely known in the industry (commercial preparation allowed temps as low as 140 at the time), 160 is way too high and dry for a lean cut like a leg, loin, or chop, and unnecessary. I couldn’t punish my readers by instructing this, but my editor wasn’t exactly excited about publishing recommendations far below government guidelines. So I wrote a full sidebar explaining the whole issue, how the risk of contracting trichinosis from pork (the reason for the higher temperature) was essentially eliminated when pork feed regulations changed in 1980. Yes, for those keeping score at home, that’s 31 years before the recommendation change. Today, the trichinosis-causing parasite can still be found in bear meat however, so please watch out for that everyone, with all the bear meat I’m sure you’re eating these days.

For the three recipes I developed for The O that year, I roasted my way through over 100 pounds of fresh pork leg (a.k.a. fresh ham). Recipe testing is not easy folks, and it’s not surprising that my family hasn’t asked for fresh pork leg since, tasty though it is.

Pork Doneness Temperatures

Please ignore the markings on your old meat thermometers, they’re all wrong! Lean pork cuts (for example chops, loin, tenderloin) should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees, followed by a 3 minute rest period. Some pink is okay. We typically cook ours to 150, as a texture preference.

Ground pork should be cooked to 160, and cuts which are suited for slow cooking, like pork shoulder, should be cooked to 170 actually, though this is not for safety but for the tenderizing effect these cuts achieve at higher temps.

Try A Little Tenderness

If you’re trying to reduce your fat intake and you have a little room in your grocery budget, fall in love with pork tenderloin. It’s as lean as boneless skinless chicken breasts, and there are lots of great recipes out there, although I don’t recommend the pre-marinated versions you can buy. I adapted one of our favorite Bon Appétit recipes for the Spinning Meals app, Pork Tenderloin with Gorgonzola Sauce, which you can find here.

How do you feel about pink pork? Glad about the change or still a little nervous about it?

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