So here's the question, Should pork still be "pink" after it's cooked? Am I straddling the fence by answering sometimes "yes" and sometimes "no"? My reasoning just might surprise you ... and I'd love to know yours, too. Please do chime in ...
Should Cooked Pork Still Be Pink?
Well, Yes. And No. Both Answers Are Right!
So what do you think, is that pork tenderloin (photo, above) just "a little too pink" for your taste? Does it make you squirm? Or worry that the pork has been cooked to a safe temperature? Here's the story on whether or not pork should be cooked until pink.
First, the "YES" Answer.
THE NEW SAFE TEMPERATURE FOR COOKING PORK Back in 2011, the USDA lowered the "safe" cooking temperature for whole cuts (that's important) of pork from 160 degrees to 145 degrees plus a three-minute rest period (that is too).
Even before the USDA announcement, knowledgable chefs and cooks, including me, were already cooking pork to 145F (or even lower) for a long while, preserving pork's natural juicy tenderness. Maybe it was just me, but I was glad when the USDA made it official: It's just as safe to cook pork to 145F degrees plus a three-minute rest period as to cook it to 160 degrees. Source: FoodSafety.gov.
COLOR IS AN UNRELIABLE INDICATOR OF DONENESS Pork can be affected by two factors, a function of pH and cooking heat. First, there's "persistent pink" color when high pH pork stays pink even after cooked to a high temperature, the pink color can even become more pronounced after the pork is sliced and thus exposed to air. Second, there's "return to redness" or "color reversion" where well-cooked and vacuum-packed pork returns to a pink color even though it's been well-cooked. The bottom line? Beef doneness can be determined by color. But judging the doneness of cooked pork by its color just doesn't work. Even very pink pork can be safe! Source: Extension.org (a consortium of U.S. land-grant universities)
REMEMBER WHEN PORK WAS THE "OTHER WHITE MEAT"? Wanting to join the healthy-chicken parade and avoid the bad-red-meat bandwagon, the National Pork Council once dubbed pork the "other white meat". Color-wise, the slogan worked because pork cooked to 160 degrees is a pale, languid white-gray color. In contrast, pork cooked to 145 degrees remains decidedly pink. It's not "bloody" like rare-cooked beef but still, the pork's color can be described only as pink-pink-pink.
But then again, some times "NO" is the Right Answer.
OLD HABITS ARE HARD TO BREAK Many of us were taught that pork should be cooked long past the pink stage. So any time we encounter "pink pork," concerns about safely cooked pork take hold, we almost can't help it. This happened to me just recently when I cooked pork tenderloin for a casual family supper. I cooked the meat to 145 degrees. Intellectually, I knew this was the safe temperature for pork. But visually, it just looked "too pink". I worried that our guests would worry – and so I put it back in the oven to cook awhile longer, cooking out nearly all the pink color. That pork tenderloin? It was gobbled up!
So even if you "know" you're right that pork should still be pink after cooking, consider cooking pork past the pink stage to make your guests feel comfortable: better that than having them leave hungry!
Hungry for More Detail?
SO WHY WERE WE OVER-COOKING PORK SO LONG ANYWAY? Cooking pork to a safe temperature prevents the parasitic disease called "trichinosis" [trick-i-NO-sis]. Heat is the only way to kill this particular parasite, freezing doesn't kill it, low cooking temperatures don't kill it. Typically, most infections produce no symptoms at all or mild cases of nausea, heartburn, indigestion and diarrhea. Few infections occur in the so-called developed world (only 11 cases per year in the U.S. from 2002 to 2007) and these are caused by undercooked pork and by undercooked wild game. In a small bit of irony, there has been a recent upswing in cases as the back-to-the-land-movement means that more families are raising a pig or two. Source: Wikipedia
IMPORTANT DETAIL The 145-degree temperature applies only to whole cuts of pork, that's pork tenderloin, pork chops, pork roasts, pork shoulders, pork butts and other whole cuts. It does not, repeat, does not apply to ground pork. Ground pork should still be cooked to 160 degrees.
IS A MEAT THERMOMETER NECESSARY? To neither undercook or overcook pork, it's helpful to use a meat thermometer, this is my favorite digital meat thermometer, the one I've been using for many years. Be sure to understand your thermometer's requirements, mine needs to have at least two inches inserted into the thickest area of the meat. Be sure to avoid touching bone, fat or even gristle, these can distort the thermometer's reading.
TALK TO ME IN CELCIUS, ALANNA What is 145 degrees in Celcius? It's 63 degrees.
TALK "PINK PORK" TO ME
SO WHAT DO YOU THINK? Is your pork "pink" or are you still cooking it way past pink? Where's your comfort zone? What color is the pork in your corner of the world?
More Pork Thinking
Favorite Pork Recipes
© Copyright 2013 & 2015 Kitchen Parade