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Ask a Foodie: Can Any Pork Be Cooked at Lower Temps?

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Q. I read the news this week that the USDA has now said it is safe to cook pork to 145 degrees, rather than to 160 degrees. My first question is: Will chefs now be making all pork so that it is pink inside? What about those of us who don’t like pink in any cooked meat?  Also, what about pork that is served braised, like pork belly?   — L.M.

Pit-roasted Pork Pibil is an example of pork that is cooked thoroughly before it is shredded.

A. Don’t worry, you certainly have the right to tell your waiter to have the chef cook your pork to order, just as you would a steak. If something such as a pork roast is served pink on a buffet carving table, you can ask them to cook your slice a little bit more (and they can say “yes, we can” or “no, we won’t.” If they won’t accommodate your request, then of course you can choose not to eat the pork or even not to visit that buffet in the future.)

While chefs and plenty of home cooks have been cooking pork to lower temperatures for some time, the USDA does recommend letting the meat rest for 3 minutes or more after it’s cooked to let the temperature rise a few degrees. Also, just as with hamburger, ground raw pork products, like bulk sausage, should be thoroughly cooked (to 160 degrees). The reason for this, when cooking ground meat, is that pathogens lurk on the surface of meat. When the meat is ground, these are more likely to be transferred throughout the meat.

Remember to use a digital meat thermometer to check the temperatures on meat.

Pork is a naturally tender meat, which is generally true even if cooked to 160 degrees. But, some cuts really need to be braised, and pork belly is one of these. It is juiciest and most tender with this type of cooking. Also, when making pulled pork, the meat is usually cooked slowly and thoroughly to the pull-apart stage. Carnitas and items such as Pork Pibil are other examples.

For more on cooking pork, from the USDA, click here.

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