The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Grillmaster Steven Raichlen Responds to Pork Doneness Question

January 5th, 2011 · 2 Comments · Posted in Blog

A man who knows his meat

You know him as the grillmaster of public television’s “Barbecue University” and author of numerous books from around the globe on the art of cooking meat over hot coals. Apparently Steven Raichlen also cruises the internet, or at least has a permanent Google alert tuned to his name. Because shortly after I published a piece showing how chefs, cookbook authors and federal authorities differ on the question of when pork is done–or safe to eat–I got a thoughtful reply from Raichlen. 

He says many of the pork lovers he knows would be put off by anything pink in their meat, despite the current trend among many professional chefs to cook pork loin less than “well done,” as traditionally prescribed. He gave me permission to print the text from his e-mtail to me as a comment under the original blog post. But I thought it, along with some of the other excellent comments I received from knowledgeable cooks, was worth highlighting. So here’s what Steven Raichlen had to say:

Hi, Ed,

Fascinating blog on cooking pork and it’s always nice to be mentioned. Thanks!

I have a few additional thoughts for you on the pork doneness and temperature issue.

1. Doneness has a psychological component as well as a chemical, thermal, and physical component. Pink pork may be safe to eat, but many people (including most of my students at BBQ U) would find it unappetizing.

2. In a wide variety of barbecue cultures, people like their roast pork medium-well to well done. The short list includes Germany (where Spiessbraten is always served well-done), Greece (where kandosouvle comes off the rotisserie well-done), and Spain (where lechon and pinchos) are cooked well-done. All three dishes are pork masterpieces–I profile them in Planet Barbecue.

3. Well-done doesn’t necessarily mean dry. Consider North Carolina’s pulled pork shoulder or the cochinita pibil of the Yucatan. Both are cooked to at least 190 degrees and both are as tender and succulent as any meat served rare or medium-rare. You need this high temperature to break down the muscle fibers enough so you can pull or chop the meat into the traditional shreds.

For roast pork, I’m sticking with 160 degrees (155 if you allow for a little additional cooking after the meat comes off the grill). For pulled pork, jerk pork, or Spiessbraten, 190 to 195 degrees.

Cheers!

Steven Raichlen

To this I would add that it really does matter what kind of pork you buy. The typical feedlot or factory pork sold in supermarkets these days is raised to produce meat quickly. Not only does that raise eithical and environmental questions for many, for cooks it means pork that’s too lean and lacking flavor. You can often find local, pasture-raised pork at the farmers market. The pork sold at Whole Foods here in the Mid-Atlantic region is from Niman Ranch, meaning a cooperative of mostly Midwestern farmers who raise a variety of breeds in more open, pig-friendly conditions. Generally, its far more succulent and flavorful than the supermarket variety.
And, as Raichlen points out, there are other cuts besides the loin worth roasting. Next time, try cooking a fatty pork should (pork butt), or make your own Carolina pulled pork.
Thanks, Steven, for contributing to this discussion. Any other chefs and/or authors mentioned in the piece want to weigh in as well?

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  • Sixy

    I can attest to the tenderness of slowly cooked pork, esp. Cochinita Pibil. I took a cooking class in Central Mexico last summer and have recreated this dish at home with awesome results. Regarding doneness, my husband’s family is a big crew of meat eaters and one of the main cooks always leaves his pork undone. And the rest of us send him back to the grill to finish ours off!

  • Sid

    In love my pulled pork low and slow to at least 190, but for chops and loin I’m going seared to the new medium rare safe guideline that the USDA lowered to 145 in May of 2011. I can not share with you how elated I am with the new guidelines … I’ve been “underdoing” my loins for years and hogging (pun intended) the pink slices for myself.