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USDA guidelines for Pork state that you should cook it to 160F. I have heard over the years that you can undercook from that, which seems desirable, as 160F is going to be pretty dry.

I know the general temperature safety rules, but I'm curious about texture. Does anybody have a range of temperatures and descriptions, a-la beef for Pork? Are there other, non-bacterial concerns for keeping pork up at 160F?

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Update: As of May 24, 2011, USDA now recommends 145°F with a three-minute rest. –  derobert Mar 2 '12 at 6:26
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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The main goal with temperature is to kill anything nasty. Those nasties die based on temperature and exposure. Much like a human could live forever at 95 degrees, for a long while at 110, shorter while at 150, and would die instantly at 750, so for all the stuff in Pork. 160 is considered a safe temperature because at 160, everything dies instantly. The FDA has a chart for all this, here. You'll see that even 120 degrees is safe IF you cook it for 21 hours!

I cook a lot of sous vide, so these temperatures and times are easy to get and be precise about. The thing you need to be careful about is that the time table shows the amount of time that the whole piece of meat needs to be at a given temperature, so make sure you heat it through before you start counting.

I'll regularly do pork chops in the 135 range, and it's lovely and moist without the stringy overcooked texture you get when well done.

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Thanks from someone who thought 180 was the minimum for tenderloin. –  Tim Post Jul 22 '10 at 17:27
    
Thanks Yossarian, those charts are excellent. Feel free to contribute them to cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/2642/… –  Peter V Jul 22 '10 at 17:27
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I make pork chops and pork tenderloin roasts almost as much as most people make chicken and for both, I tend to pull it off heat at 135F and let it rest a bit.

In the years I've been doing that, I've repeatedly been asked "what kind of meat is this?". When I respond with "pork chops", the response is disbelief. A startling number of those people have told me that they thought they hated pork chops or that mine were the first pork chops they ever liked.

The dominant reason that people started cooking the hell out of pork was Trichinosis. The reality is that, today, Trichinosis infection has actually dropped to about 12 cases a year in all of the United States.

Compare that to the 540 people expected to be injured by *lightning" in a year.

For other contaminants, like e coli, the dominant source of infection is contamination on the surface (umm, that means someone got animal feces on the meat). Things like hamburger are such an e coli problem because that surface is then ground up and spread around the entire batch.

However, for whole cuts of meat like pork chops and pork tenderloin, that's not spread around. As such, proper searing (the kind you're likely to do for proper flavor) is so likely to take care of the problem that I'd come up with a long list of other things to worry more about and start enjoying tender, flavorful pork.

For instance, I'd worry more about spinach and other greens that regularly get contaminated with salmonella and e coli, yet are often eaten raw. But that's just me. I am not a government agency who's job is safety. I'm just the guy in this house responsible for making food we enjoy eating.

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