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Oven temperature for Pork Chops

Oven temperature for Pork Chops – The USDA has longadvocated cooking pork to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, which cooks the meat to medium doneness, but now many chefs are cooking it only to 140-145 degrees, which is medium-rare. The concern for a long time has come from a parasitic disease called trichinosis that is caused when trichinae (a type of roundworm) infect the intestines.

Technically, this parasite is killed off at 137 degrees, so the lower temperature of 140 isn’t going to make you sick, but food safety concerns continue to linger.

Trichinosis, however, is not the problem it once was in the US. There are less than 50 cases per year nowadays, and many of those don’t come from pigs but other forms of game meat. Essentially, modern pork is a lot safer and less contaminated than it once was.

But you can even cook pork at lower temperature and still kill the parasite if you can ensure an even distribution of heat throughout the meat and maintain it for a longer period of time, but I wouldn’t recommend this for most home cooks. For instance, if you cook meat to 132 degrees and maintain it for 15 minutes, the trichinae worms will also be killed. Sous-vide cooking in a water bath achieves this type of heat distribution and control, but that cooking technique is not often in the repertoire of the the average home cook.

Oven temperature for Pork Chops – temperatures

The reason for the higher recommended temperatures by the USDA and CDC (which recommends an even higher 170 degrees) is because most cooks can’t ensure an even distribution of heat and maintain it for a long enough period of time when cooking meat. Depending upon the cut of meat and cooking method, internal temps will vary, so a safer higher temp is recommended to ensure all parasites are killed. So in other words, the recommended cooking temperatures reflect our inability to cook and compensate for our ‘errors’. It is not, however, what is best for the taste of your food. At 170 degrees, you can kill everything off in a very short period of time, but there is also very little moisture left in the meat.

The main issue with foodies when cooking pork medium-rare versus medium, is about texture and moisture. Some cooks find medium-rare meat too chewy, but others find it juicer and more flavorful. The higher the temperature, the more the meat proteins shrink and expel moisture, so at lower temps moisture is preserved better.

But then again, not all cuts of meat are equal. Fattier cuts also preserve moisture and are more forgiving than lean cuts of meat when cooking. Heritage pork meat, for instance, is darker and fattier, so it is harder to overcook than exceptionally lean supermarket pork.

Oven temperature for Pork Chops – recommendations

And then you can always artificially enhance moistness by brining your pork. Essentially you marinate the meat in a water, salt and sugar mixture to enhance both tenderness and moisture content. Cook’s Illustrated gives a couple recommendations for brining pork.

  • For 4 bone-in chops (1 1/2 inches thick), combine 1 1/2 quart water, 3 tbs salt, 3 tbs sugar and let the chops soak for 1 hour.
  • For a pork roast (3-6 pounds), use 2 quarts water, 1/4 cup salt, 1/4 cup sugar, and let the meat soak for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

What brining meat does is change the structure of the proteins. The ions from the salt force the meat proteins to adjust and they become more tender in the process, and the salty water is also absorbed into the meat through osmosis. Salty water evaporates less than regular water so the meat retains more moisture during the cooking process, and the end result is added moisture and more tender meat.

Lastly, it is important to keep in mind that the internal temperature of meat will rise as you let it rest after cooking. This happens because the exterior of the meat is hotter than the center, and that residual heat will have a ‘carry-over’ cooking effect even though it isn’t directly being cooked.

For instance, pork tenderloin recipes usually suggest letting the meat rest for 10 minutes after cooking, so you should actually take the meat off the heat before the internal temperature reaches your desired doneness. This allows some room for the carry-over cooking effect to finish your meat without over cooking it.

I personally take my pork tenderloin off at 135-140 degrees, which allows a rise of 5 degrees to 145. I like mine more medium rare as the tenderloin is very lean and will quickly dry out if cooked too much. At that temp, the loin ends are more towards medium and the center more medium rare.

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