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Taking the Temperature of Pork

November 11, 1998|RUSS PARSONS

Old cookbooks (and some not so old) say that pork should be cooked to an internal temperature of 180 degrees. Most cooks today recommend cooking to between 165 and 170, depending on the cut.

But 145 degrees? That's the recommendation of Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly in their recently published "The Complete Meat Cookbook" (Houghton Mifflin, $35).

Aidells came to that conclusion after years of testing and experimentation. It's the result of trying to keep moisture in what has become a distressingly lean cut of meat.

"As soon as the meat gets above about 140, it begins to lose water," he says. "And that really gets to be a big issue at 160. In order to keep it juicy, you really don't want to get above that."

An important part of Aidells' kitchen calculations is the "push" that all roasts go through in the 10 to 15 minutes after they're pulled from the oven. Depending on the size of the piece of meat and the temperature at which it was roasted, that can range from 5 degrees to as much as 15 or even 20 degrees.

That means a piece of pork pulled from the oven at 145 degrees will be around 160 degrees when it's cut. At that point, pork will be noticeably pink and--in our tests--even a little red. But it will still be juicy.

"I want to see juice," says Aidells. "I can live with meat that is still pinkish gray, as long as it is firm but still juicy. I consider the texture of overcooked loin to be so dry and hard you can't produce enough saliva to lubricate it in your mouth. Once it gets there, there's nothing you can do about it."

Old methods for cooking pork were dictated by the need to eliminate trichinosis, a parasite found in the muscles of the pig. New research has shown that the trichinae that cause the disease are killed at 137 degrees.

Still, to my taste, 145 degrees is extreme except in very large cuts (say, a leg of pork). I prefer to cook mine to 160 to 165, at which point the meat is still moist, though it is thoroughly firmed.

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