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I got a recipe from America's Test Kitchen for "slow-roasted pork" using a bone-in pork shoulder. They say to cook it at 325F until it's 190F internal temperature.

However: you normally need to cook pork only until 160F to kill microorganisms. Wouldn't cooking it until 190F dry it out? Why would they say to cook it until 190F if 160F is normally sufficient?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 15 down vote accepted

They say to cook until 190F because that's the temperature at which the stuff that actually makes your slow-roasted pork moist, the collagen, fat, etc. is breaking down and coating the meat. Less than that and you'll have all those bits still intact in your shoulder, which you don't want.

ATK explains this in their footnote on the recipe:


Just like in a pot roast, cooking the pork low and slow (325 degrees for 5 to 6 hours) pushes the meat well beyond its “done” mark into the 190-degree range, encouraging intramuscular fat to melt, collagen to break down and tenderize the meat, and the fat cap to render and crisp.

ATK's foot and header notes have taught me a lot over the years and I highly recommend them.

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It's not the fat (it melts much earlier, and would break down at above 150°C). But you are correct about the collagen, it needs a long time at 68°C and above. A thing neither you not DHayes mentioned: The muscles will indeed dry out, so this method is only suited for certain cuts, rich in collagen. Dried out muscle fibres lubricated by melted collagen feel good in the mouth. –  rumtscho Jul 14 '11 at 13:16
I never noticed the footnote -- thanks! –  Paul J. Lucas Jul 14 '11 at 13:27
Also, why is 325 considered a "low oven" -- it's not that low. When I make ribs in the oven, I cook them at 250 for 4 hours. 250 is definitely low. Why not cook the pork roast at 250 for a longer period of time? –  Paul J. Lucas Jul 14 '11 at 13:29
@Paul - most ATK meat recipes that aren't for slow roasting cook at more like 450-500. –  justkt Jul 14 '11 at 14:51
325f is low, by oven roasting standards. Granted, in barbecue, that would be considered the low end of the "high heat" range. –  Sean Hart Jul 14 '11 at 20:43

Going to that temperature ensures that the collagen breaks down in the shoulder. Much higher than that and it will start to dry out. Reaching 190 though is a good point and if you cooked it slow it will be fork tender. The bone will even slide out clean!

Now all you need is a smoker for those pork shoulders and you'll be set!

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I am a former pro chef and serious home cook. I can assure you that the temperatures talked about here are way too high. Most chefs do not cook meats to 190 because that would get them fired or demoted to dishwasher. Low and slow pork is awesome at 145-150 degrees, you will not see any blood and it will be med-well. The idea with low and slow is to keep that meat at 145 for a few hours. 145 is completely safe and I've heard from the local health dept in Seattle that the USDA is talking about bringing the temp down to 135 for beef lamb and pork.

You can read the government's rules for restaurants here: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Factsheets/Keep_Food_Safe_Food_Safety_Basics/index.asp

I roasted a pork shoulder for my poker club yesterday. It was a 9-pound bone-in pork shoulder that I seasoned with a dry rub, kosher salt and olive oil the night before. I took it out of the cooler at 6 a.m. the next morning to rest at room temp while I preheated the oven to 500F. I put the roast in the hot oven and roasted for 30 minutes with the hood vent on. This type of roasting creates a lot of smoke. Keeping the oven door closed, I then turned the oven down to 195F and then went to work. I pulled the roast out of the oven at 6:15 p.m. The internal temp of the roast was 147F. I served the roast taqueria style with fresh tortillas, salsas, cilantro, radishes and chopped onions. The meat was cooked perfectly throughout with juices running clear and the bone was completely cooked. All 12 poker buddies said that it was the best pork they've had. You can not overcook this meat using this process. I slow roasted it for 12-hours but could have gone 16-20 hours without a problem.

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"Most chefs do not cook meats to 190 because that would get them fired or demoted to dishwasher" - then the kitchen chefs haven't read enough food science. Meat fibres get tough at around 65°C for pork. Collagen starts melting at 68°C. Once you have brought your meat to collagen-melting temps, the meat gets tough as strings. It doesn't matter if you put another 10 degrees C on top or not. What makes it juicy in this case is melted connective tissue, but the actual muscles swimming in them are already tough. –  rumtscho Apr 11 '12 at 17:44
The proof is in the taste. This type of cooking is older than books. –  Darryl Apr 11 '12 at 18:03
If its older than books, its also older than thermometers. –  Beofett Apr 11 '12 at 19:29
@Beofett : and it's older than slow cookers : cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/488/… –  Joe Apr 13 '12 at 19:21
Darryl, you missed the boat entirely. They are referring to pulled pork which is not happening at 145-150 (I don't care how long you cook it). Pork starts to pull at 190 and many will take it up to as high as 205. There is enough fat in this piece of meat to keep it moist and tender when cooked to higher temperatures (you couldn't do this with a filet mignnon). –  user19186 Jul 13 '13 at 2:47

Without question low and slow is best for pork shoulder roasts. Roasting the meat to at least an internal temp of 180 degrees is critical. Once this temp is reached, remove the roast from the oven, cover loosely with foil and rest until the in the internal temp reaches at least 190 degrees.

Anyone that suggests a temp of lower than 190 degrees is not a professional chef. No offence intended. Testing my instructions against theirs will tell you everything you need to know. Best regards and good eating!

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With this particular recipe I have had better results at 270 degrees uncovered until the pork reaches 180-185. Turn off oven and leave in until it reaches 190 then let rest out of oven covered for 20-30 minutes. Pulled pork for sure.

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