The Biggest Mistake You Make When Cooking Pork

Here's the secret to juicy and delicious pork dinners—every time.

There are tons of tasty ways to cook pork, but it can be hard to get that juicy texture we all want out of our favorite meat. You might be craving a succulent dish and end up with something chewy and hard to swallow.

A new study from the meat experts at the University of Illinois has revealed why it’s so hard to get the perfectly cooked pork we crave.

This Is What You’re Doing Wrong

If you’re like us, you’re probably used to the standard rules of cooking pork. We were taught that you shouldn’t pop that puppy out of the oven—or off of the grill—until it reaches at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. But, like most meats, the longer your meal cooks, the more moisture you’re drawing out. The University of Illinois has discovered that the optimal pork cooking temperature is actually 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Why? The new temperature avoids cooking out the juices necessary for a savory pork dish. In eliminating the dryness, you get tender, juicy meat with no flavor lost.

Boler first tested the theory with a focus group of trained taste-testers. Because he wanted the opinion of non-professionals, he then took to the streets with average consumers. In both studies, the 145-degree pork won in a landslide, regardless of color.

Pro Tip: Allow your cooked pork to rest for 10-20 minutes after removing it from heat. Cutting into it before this rest period makes the juices leak out, leaving you with a less flavorful dish.

Here’s how to cook the perfect pork shoulder.

Is This New Temperature Safe?

Dustin Boler, the associate professor of the Department of Animal Sciences at U of I, says 145 degrees Fahrenheit is a perfectly safe pork cooking temperature. In fact, the USDA has recently accepted it as the new standard. However, you should still be reaching these food-safe temperatures when cooking other meats.

Pro TipWhen checking your pork’s temperature, make sure your thermometer doesn’t touch bone, as it runs much hotter than meat and could give an inaccurate reading.

These are the best types of pork every home cook should know.

Does the Color of My Pork Matter?

If you’ve ever paid more for pork chops with “optimal” marbling and coloring, you don’t have to do it anymore. Believe it or not, neither of these things really matter when choosing the perfect pork from the grocery store. Boler adds that, like the price of different meats, neither of these cosmetic things changes the taste of the pork itself. It’s all in the way you cook it!

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Laurie Dixon
Having a passion for writing her whole life, Laurie joined the Taste of Home team to bring together her two favorite things—creative writing and food. She spends most of her time playing with her dog, drafting up short stories and, of course, trying out new recipes.