Pork has had quite a varying reputation through the years. In the mid 20th century, most pork had to be cooked well done because of the fear of trichinosis. But today pork is fed and raised differently and the meat is safe to heat when cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. If the juices run very light pink, the pork is done.
The phrase 'Pork, The Other White Meat' was introduced in the 1980s. Pigs don't move around as much as cattle do, so the muscles don't have to work as hard and don't use as much oxygen. Less oxygen means less myoglobin, the red colored molecule, so the meat is a lighter color. Today's pork has been bred to be 31% leaner than the pork we ate in 1983. And, pound for pound, it has more nutrients than chicken. Of course, with a lower fat content, it's more difficult to cook pork so it's safe to eat, yet stays tender and juicy.
Pork contains protein, water, sugar, connective tissue, and fat in varying quantities. To see how these components work together, see How to Cook Beef. Just remember, we're searching for a balance of a safe final cooked temperature and keeping moisture in the meat.
There are five main cuts of pork:
- Leg (ham, cutlets, boneless roast)
- Side (spareribs, bacon)
- Loin (rib roast, sirloin roast, rib chop, loin chop, country style ribs, tenderloin, and Canadian-style bacon)
- Shoulder Butt (blade roast, ground pork, sausage)
- Picnic Shoulder (smoked hocks, picnic roast)
Notice that the loin, the most tender part of the animal, is where most of the common consumer cuts come from. This means that pork should be cooked like any other low fat meat: either for a short period of time at high temperatures, or for longer times at lower temperatures. Moist heat, such as braising, poaching, simmering, and crockpot cooking, also works well.
The amount of cooking time really is based on how thick the cut of pork is. Thinly cut pork chops can be pounded and then sauteed for 5-7 minutes and they'll be done. Thicker pork chops, up to 1-1/2" thick, can cook in the crockpot for 8-9 hours. Pork roasts usually need to cook for hours. And the super-tender pork tenderloin can be thinly sliced and cooked in seconds in a stir-fry.
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