Now, y’all listen up, because where I come from, we take our pork seriously. It’s been a family tradition for generations to cook that meat just right, and let me tell you, it’s all about that internal temperature.
You see, the only way to know if your pork is cooked to perfection is to use a meat thermometer and check that temperature in the thickest part of the cut. And let me tell you, that internal temperature is nothing to mess around with, whether you’re cooking in the kitchen or out on the grill.
To make sure your pork is not only delicious but also safe to eat, it has to reach a minimum internal temperature of 145°F (63°C). After you take the pork off the heat, allow it to rest for at least 3 minutes before carving it.
This golden rule applies to whole pigs and pork cuts only. If you’re cooking ground pork or sausages containing pork, the minimum internal temperature that the USDA recommends is higher, at 160°F (71.1°C). This is because grinding introduces surface bacteria inside the meat.
While I know it may seem like common sense, you’d be surprised how many folks forget to check or ignore it altogether.
And let me tell you, raw pork can carry some harmful bacteria, like Yersinia enterocolitica, and a specie or two of worms, like Trichinella, that can make you mighty sick if you don’t cook it to the right temp. The food safety experts warn: you don’t want any of these pathogens inside your body.
As the family grill masters, it’s our responsibility to cook food that’s not only tasty but also safe to eat. Don’t do the mistake that many a home cook do and rely *solely* on the color of the meat or the juices running clear — that’s not a reliable way to tell if your pork is cooked through.
So, whether you’re searing up some pork chops or smoking a whole Boston butt overnight, make sure you have a trusty meat thermometer at hand, and check that temperature before you carve it up and send it to the table.
And always take the internal temperature in the thickest part of the cut. Once that pork reaches at least 145°F (63°C) for whole hogs and cuts and at least 160°F (71.1°C) for ground pork and pork sausages, you can safely take it off the heat and let everyone dig in. Trust me, your tummy will thank you for it.
Temperature of Safety vs. Temperature of Tenderness
I know what you’re thinking!
“This may be true, Sammy. But then why do we pull a pork shoulder or Boston butt from a smoker at a much higher temperature than the USDA prescribes?”
Well now, when it comes to BBQ, there’s more to cooking meat than just making sure it’s safe to eat. Cooking that cut of meat to tenderness is just as important as cooking it to safety — and that’s especially true when it comes to smoking pork.
See, when you smoke a tough cut of meat like a pork shoulder, it’s all about melting the collagen. Tough cuts of meat contain a lot of collagen, which is a protein that gives the meat its structure. But collagen also happens to be tough and chewy, which means it needs to be broken down if you want your pork to be juicy and tender.
The trick is to smoke the meat low and slow, at a cooking temperature between 225°F and 250°F (107°C and 121°C), until the collagen has had a chance to break down and melt into the meat. This takes place at a higher internal temp than the one for just cooking it to safety.
That’s why the USDA recommends cooking whole hogs and cuts of pork to a minimum internal temperature of 145°F (63°C), so they come out perfectly safe to eat, but it’s also why you’ll want to pull tough cuts of pork from the smoker at a higher temperature, around 195°F (91°C).
Why the difference?
Well, like I said, all meats must be cooked to safety, but tough cuts of meat need to also be cooked to a higher temperature to break down the collagen and become tender. And because the heat takes a long time to get to the center of the meat when smoking, you need to keep the meat in the smoker until it reaches that higher temperature.
Before pork is eaten, it must be cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C) for whole hogs and cuts, and 160°F (71.1°C) for ground pork and pork sausages.
For tougher cuts of pork like shoulder or butt, it needs to be braised, stewed, slow-roasted, or smoked until it reaches an internal temperature of 195°F (91°C), give or take 5 degrees, for it to be both safe to eat and tender.