Can Pork Be Pink In The Middle?
Depending on how old you are and when you first started cooking, your thoughts on how pink can pork be can vary wildly. If you or your parents (or grandparents) grew up cooking before the 1970s, you’re used to the idea that pork needs to be cooked to 165°F at the minimum. The problem with that…
Depending on how old you are and when you first started cooking, your thoughts on how pink can pork be can vary wildly. If you or your parents (or grandparents) grew up cooking before the 1970s, you’re used to the idea that pork needs to be cooked to 165°F at the minimum. The problem with that is that you end up with some pretty dried-out pork.
Then if you spend time online looking at recipes for things like pork loin, pork chops, or pork tenderloin, you’ll see pork that’s pink in the middle. 60 years ago, that would have been horrific. Nowadays, with the advancement in raising and caring for pigs, we know that the answer to the question “Can you eat pink pork” is generally yes as long as you’re paying attention to the internal temperature of the meat.
I say generally for a couple of reasons. One, we need to make sure that we are cooking the pork to the proper internal temperature per United States Department of Agriculture guidelines for food safety. Two, not all pork products follow the same rules, and we will break that down further in this article.
So let’s tear into the question of how pink pork can be and all of the relevant information as if it was a beautifully smoked pork butt, shall we?
Why Do People Ask “Is Pink Pork Safe To Eat?”
If you started cooking pork in recent years and weren’t necessarily taught by members of an older generation, you might think this is a weird question. However, it wasn’t all that long ago that people were told to cook pork to 165°F. Why, though?
It used to be that undercooked pork, i.e. pork cooked to under 165°F, could harbor the larvae of a parasite worm called Trichinella. These larvae would infest pigs during their lives and stay put throughout the preparation process. If the pork wasn’t cooked to 165°F, the larvae could survive and then infect and reproduce in humans. Then you would be diagnosed as having trichinellosis, more commonly known as trichinosis.
Suffice it to say, this is the stuff of nightmares for people preparing meals at home for their families. At first, the symptoms were similar to food poisoning. However, if left untreated, trichinosis could be fatal. Plus, even if you were treated and only developed a mild to moderate case, symptoms could last for months according to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention.
So if you encounter an older person fussing over pink pork, it’s good to keep in mind that they were raised and/or cooking in a time when undercooked pork wasn’t just going to give you a stomachache for a few days.
Can Pork Be A Pink Color When Fully Cooked?
So now that we have some background on why some people from older generations are borderline terrified by the prospect of a lower temperature that results in pink pork, we can turn to modern-day standards. Advancements in the modern farming practices of how hog farms raise, care for, and slaughter pigs as well as the ability to freeze pork more easily both in commercial and residential settings have all but eliminated the risk of trichinosis in pork that you buy in stores. That’s why current USDA recommendations state that we can safely cook pork to 145°F internal temperature.
So if you’ve found yourself wondering if pork tenderloin can be a little pink, the answer is yes! When pork is cooked to the safe temperature of 145°F, it’s like a medium steak, pink in the middle and warmed all the way through. This delivers a piece of pork that is safe to eat while still tender and juicy. Remember, a lot of cuts like the tenderloin, the loin, and pork chops do not have a lot of marbling so they will dry out if you aren’t careful. We want pork that has juices running through it and a tender texture, not dry and chewy.
Now trichinosis has not been completely eradicated. Per the CDC, “16 cases were reported per year on average” from 2011-2015. However, these cases are related to people not properly cooking wild game meats like wild boar before consuming them. In terms of pork that you will find in your local grocery stores and supermarkets, the majority of it will be safe to consume when cooked to 145°F.
So Is There Pork You Can’t Eat When Cooked To 145°F?
Yes, there is. So when you cook, say a pork chop, the surface of the meat is not cooked to 145°F. It’s usually quite higher, hot enough to kill any surface-level bacteria that would normally be on the outside of the meat. So 145°F is perfectly fine for cuts like a pork loin, tenderloin, and pork chops.
However, ground pork products are entirely different. That can be ground pork that gets seasoned and browned for tacos or sausages made from ground pork. The reason they are different? All that surface-level bacteria that would normally get destroyed during the cooking process is instead chopped up and worked throughout the entirety of the ground meat. So now you need to cook it to at least 160°F per the USDA guidelines.
Now that’s a food safety issue. Are there other cuts of pork that we simply do not want to cook to only 145°F? Hey, this is a grilling and barbecue website. We all know that we want our spare and baby back ribs as well as our pork butts to go well beyond those temperatures. We need higher internal temperatures to break down all that connective tissue and render as much of that fat as possible.
How Can I Keep An Eye On The Internal Temperature Of Pork?
So even if trichinosis is an extremely low, nearly negligible risk with store-bought pork, that doesn’t mean we can ignore food safety entirely. The USDA guidelines are great for establishing what is safe to protect us from all manner of foodborne illness, but they don’t mean anything if we can’t accurately track those temperatures. There are two main tools for doing this, and it largely depends on your cooking method.
Roasting Or Smoking? Start With A Wireless Meat Thermometer
If you’re planning on smoking or cooking a cut of pork for more than a few minutes, you’ll want to look into using a wireless meat thermometer. These thermometers with a probe that you leave in your meat are perfect for a cooking session that lasts a bit longer. You’ll be able to keep an eye on the internal temperature of the meat without having to constantly open your grill or oven which lets all that heat (and smoke if you’re smoking) escape.
If you’re looking for a wireless meat thermometer, we’ve got a list of some of our favorites. We’re constantly on the lookout for the latest and greatest, and that includes the ThermoPro Twin TempSpikes which came out earlier in 2023. It’s perfect if you’re cooking two tenderloins at the same time.
When it gets close to the desired internal temperature, you can always pull out the next tool we are going to talk about for an even more precise reading.
Cooking Hot And Fast? Then You’ll Want An Instant-Read Thermometer
If you’re searing pork chops on the stovetop in a cast iron skillet or grilling them on your favorite grill, you aren’t going to use a wireless meat thermometer. You’re planning on having these chops cooked pretty quickly. So you want something that will be even quicker.
You want an instant-read thermometer. A really good instant-read thermometer like the ThermoWorks Thermapen ONE will give you a super-precise reading in under one second. Perfect for when you’re working around high temperatures and don’t want to burn yourself or overcook your food. We have a whole list of our favorite thermometers if you’re looking for more options.
Wrapping It Up
So if you’re cooking a pork roast like a loin or tenderloin or a pork chop, pink pork is fully cooked pork. So if someone tries to tell you that your pork tenderloin that you cooked to a perfect 145°F is undercooked pork, you can just point to the current USDA guidelines and keep on cooking. We don’t want any overcooked pork that is just terrible.
Just remember that pork sausage or any ground pork products need to be cooked to a minimum of 160°F for food safety. You sure as heck want to go well beyond that for pulled pork, too. Start checking to see if your pork butt is probe tender around 195°F, but we usually find it’s somewhere between 203°F and 205°F when it’s just right.
Do you have any questions about safe temperatures for pork? What about a favorite recipe or technique? Let us know in the comments!
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