The minimum internal temperature for pork to be done and safe to eat is 145 degrees Fahrenheit. And the best way to tell if it’s cooked that well is by using a meat thermometer. These are what the USDA recommends. And it’s easy to see why.
No harmful parasites found in pork carcasses can survive this temperature. If you don’t have a meat thermometer handy, no problem. There are still some ways to tell if pork is cooked through and safe to eat. Throughout my cooking career, I’ve tried the thumb test, skewer test, and even the time test.
Checking for pork doneness is quite simple. But I’d say this is something you must get right every darn time. Or you might be inviting some nasty guys in your body system. So, check out the full deets about the procedures and tips on how to check pork for doneness in the article.
6 Ways for Checking Pork Doneness
We all know medium rare at 145 degrees is the safe temperature level to aim for. That’s agreed! Now, let’s see some ways to ensure your pork cuts cross this line and are safe to eat.
Method 1: Use a Wired Probe Thermometer
My best technique for monitoring the internal temp of cooked pork is by using a meat thermometer probe. That’s a way to BBQ pork like a boss.
Unlike with an instant thermometer, you’re not poking the pork every now and then and letting those nice juice escape. This method is great for slow-cooking pork.
But there are rules…
First off, your pork slice should be at least 1.2 inches thick! Yup, that’s necessary. Anything thinner might not play well with this food thermometer method.
And what goes well with this method are the pork chops, roasts, and the like. Meanwhile, things like ribs and bacon are not meaty enough for the thermometer method. They’re either too bony or thin to get an accurate number and let the meat probe stick.
How to Test With a Meat Probe?
Once you’re sure your pork cuts are perfect for this, get your meat probe ready. If you don’t have it, make sure you get one. I’ll say go for the ThermoPro TP-16 Meat Probe. I like that it’s got preprogrammed temperature settings, according to the USDA guidelines. Plus it sets things up for your preferred doneness level, whether it’s well-done, medium, medium rare, or rare.
Once you have your meat probe, start by prepping your pork meat. Marinades, rubs, and all that pork BBQ jazz? Get ’em done before the meat thermometer takes the stage. Some people start with the thermometer insertion first. But trust me, it’s like trying to wear socks without taking your shoes off first – not a good look.
Gently slide that thermometer into the meat’s heart. Aim for the middle. Avoid the bones like you’re dodging a game of tag. If your slice is on the slimmer side, consider sliding in from the side. For the thicker ones, it’s a top-down approach.
It’s time to play the waiting game for the slow-cooked pork. When the thermometer hits 145°F (that’s around 63°C), you’re in the safe-to-eat territory.
USDA used to say 160 degrees (71°C). But they stepped it down to 145 degrees recently because the standards for breeding pigs were raised a bit, and some harmful parasites were no longer found.
But I still like to play it safe by aiming for the older recommendation: 160 degrees. Pork is not like beef. It’s still way too pink for my liking at 145 degrees, as the new USDA revised guidelines recommend. I don’t want to eat while nurturing the fear the medium rare meat may not be adequately cooked.
So I always yank that meat out at 158 to 159°F. Yep, at this point, the meat is still cooking, and the remaining degrees will add up as it rests. Note that you may need to cook the pork for longer. It depends on the recipe you’re working with and the type of pork cut. For example, you’d need to cook it up to 195 degrees for fall-off-the-bone pork ribs or up to 200 degrees for pulled pork shoulder/butt.
Once the properly cooked pork is off the grill, hold it for a bit. Let it rest. For big boys (1.2 inches thick or more), let them rest for 15 minutes. Thinner slices? Give them a shorter break.
Method 2: Assess Doneness With an Instant Thermometer
The difference between the instant-read meat thermometers and the meat probes is that the instant-read ones are not meant to be in the meat while it cooks. They’re more like quick consultants when you need to know the internal temp.
Digital models like the Alpha Grillers Meat Thermometer or the ThermoPro TP19H Thermometer are the instant-read thermometers that stand out best. I like that they read the temperature instantly and accurately and display it digitally on the screen.
Word of advice: Don’t even think about using those gun-shaped infrared whatchamacallit meant for food surface temps. They won’t tell you squat about what’s happening inside the meat. Stay sharp and temperature-savvy!
How to Use a Meat Thermometer?
Have that instant-read thermometer nearby while you work and cook the pork. Just pop the needle part of the meat thermometer onto the meat every now and then to get a read on the inside temperature.
You don’t need to take the meat out of the oven, grill, or off the heat source before checking the temp, as some folks say. Doing this will give you an inaccurate reading. Insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat as it cooks. You don’t need to give that meat a breather before probing it.
Stay away from the bones, though; we’re not looking for bone temp here. If the meat’s on the slimmer side (under 1.2 inches), pop the thermometer horizontally. And hey, when you’re done getting the scoop, make sure to take it out before you send the meat back to its hot hangout.
Pop that meat back into the grill or oven and kick back. Wait until it hits the desired temperature. You might have a recipe telling you how long to cook pork. But don’t stick to it like glue. Keep an eye on the temperature. Keep on cooking until it’s reached 160°F, whether it’s organ meat, ground pork, pork patties, or even pork chops and steaks.
As soon as the meat reaches the recommended safe internal temperature, you can yank it off the heat. Let it chill for a few minutes before digging in. Oh, and by the way, ground pork doesn’t need a timeout after cooking. You can go ahead and dig in straight away!
Method 3: Check if the Pork Juices Are Clear
Although using a meat thermometer is the best way to tell if pork is done, you can check if pork is done without a thermometer by looking at the color of the juices. That is the juice that comes out after poking it with a fork or slicing it with a knife.
If those juices are all clear or have a nice light pink, you’re in flavor town – your meat’s ready! But if things are a bit pinkish or cloudy, back to the heat it goes. Keep an eagle eye out and give it a bit more time for the heat to work its way in.
Method 4: Do the Skewer Test
You can also tell if pork is done without a thermometer by checking its toughness or texture with a metal or wooden skewer. Yeah, the same skewers for making BBQ kebab. Technically, I sometimes prefer using a knife for this test as skewers leave punctures that can cause the meat to leak juice. So, grab a long knife – the kind that can take on a hogzilla-sized pork chop.
So, give that bad boy a poke right in the middle. Stick that knife or skewer in. If it glides easily through, congrats, you’ve got a tender masterpiece!
But if there’s a bit of a tussle to get in with the knife, that shows the internal fibers, collagen, and other resistances are yet to break down. Show it who’s boss and let it cook a bit more. Then, give it another shot after a few minutes.
Method 5: Slice into the Meat and Take a Look
If you’ve got some cooked pork that’s not exactly Thick McThickerson, and your thermometer is like, “Nah, not sure I can measure this accurately, bro.” No worries! To avoid eating undercooked pork, grab that meat and give it a little slice. Part it open using your knife or fork, and let’s see what’s going on in there.
Your pork is done, mmm want that meat to be all opaque with no translucency. Just a hint of pink is cool when it’s cooked.
Method 6: Do the Thumb Test
Let’s start this way. Hold your hand. You’ll be comparing the feel of the meat to the thumbs and center of your palm. Give the meat a good press with your fingers or tongs.
When it’s done cooking, the meat should bounce back when you press it, just like how your palm feels firm when outstretched during a high five.
Reasons It’s Important to Cook Pork Properly
Undercooked pork, like raw meat, has serious health risks. This kind of meat is a breeding ground for trouble. According to the Healthline, undercooked pork can harbor parasites like tapeworms, and roundworms, and even cause food poisoning or foodborne illnesses such as trichinosis or taeniasis.
These nasties can mess you up. Especially if your immune system’s not at its A-game. So, stick to the USDA guidelines and the temperature-checking procedures. By properly cooking pork, you’re giving those pesky parasites no chance.
Pork Cut Cooking Temperature Chart
Safe Minimum Internal Temperature (in degrees Fahrenheit)
Pork Chops, Including the Tenderloin and Roasts
Whole Cuts of Pork
All Varieties of Sausage
Pork Doneness Temperature Chart
Pork Doneness Level
Tips and Tricks to Perfectly Cook Pork Chops
Planning to make some pork chops that are cooked well and taste good? Here are some secrets and tricks to pork perfection.
1. Not All Chops Are Created Equal
Before you start cooking, remember this: pork chops vary. Some are lean, tender, and quick to cook. Others need a little prep and time to cook. The pork tenderloin cooks fastest because it’s smaller than a pork loin roast, for example. So, get to know your cut before you start the show.
2. The Lowdown on the Loin
All pork chops come from the loin, which covers ribs, pork loin, shoulder, and sirloin areas. A label lookup or a chat with your friendly butcher helps you pick the star of your meal.
3. Enhancing the Taste
Pork is not naturally as flavorful as beef as it’s milder and lighter in taste. I like to combat this blandness in pork with a seasoning game plan. A sprinkle of salt, smoked paprika, onion powder, black pepper, garlic powder, and a pinch of sugar works. That’s the flavor posse for chops that pop.
4. Consider Brining It
Give your pork a flavor bath to enhance the taste and make it cook faster. A quick one-hour brine or an overnight soak turns chops into taste sensations.
1. What Color is Pork When Fully Cooked?
When pork is fully cooked, it usually changes from its raw pink or red color to a light tan or white color. Note, however, that the exact color can vary depending on the type of pork and how it’s cooked. Besides, eating slightly pink pork is safe, according to the USDA, as long as you’re sure it’s cooked up to 145 degrees. But the change from pink or red to a lighter color is a good indicator of its doneness.
2. How Long to Bake Pork Chops From Frozen?
Frozen pork chops baked at 350 degrees F take 40-45 minutes to cook. It depends on how thick the cut is. By the way, baking frozen pork chops without defrosting is safe. Except that it takes about one and a half more time to cook.
3. How Long to Bake Pork Chop in an Air Fryer?
When air frying pork chops, a cooking temperature of 375°F for 10-15 minutes is recommended. Just make sure not to overload your air fryer.
4. Can You Eat Pork Chops at 150 Degrees F?
Pork is safe to eat at an internal temperature of 150 degrees. Remember, the minimum safe temperature for pork meat is 145 degrees F.
I’ve shared with you some no-fail methods for checking pork doneness. The meat probe and instant-read thermometer method won’t fail you. They’re solid. Stick it in, get that number, and you’re in business. There are also quick hacks like the skewer or palm test. Yeah, they’re cool, but I’d say they’re for the seasoned masters out there.
Now, here’s the deal-sealer. A meat thermometer doesn’t cost more than three pounds of pork chops. So seriously, get your hands on one, and make sure you use it.