Cooking Times and Temperatures for Every Cut of Pork

Everything you need to know to ensure it's just right every time.

When it comes to cooking perfect pork that's safe to eat, the finished cooking temperature should be at least 145°F—but that number can increase depending on what cut you're working with and how you're cooking it (more on that below). To get a super-accurate temperature reading, make sure your meat thermometer is not touching bone, fat, or gristle. It's also very important to let the meat to rest for a few minutes before slicing. The USDA guidelines say that the meat should rest for at least three minutes to kill any harmful bacteria, but for most large cuts of meat (especially roasts), the meat should rest for at least 15 minutes to allow the juices reabsorb into the meat.

Pork with Apples, Bacon, and Sauerkraut

Photo: Hector Sanchez

No two pieces of pork are exactly the same; different cuts have varying amounts of collagen, fat, and muscle fibers. Therefore, the ideal cooked temperature can change depending on what you're cooking and how you're cooking it. Whether you're starting with a tough or a tender cut, the following guidelines will help you cook it perfectly, every single time.

Pork Cooking Temperature
Illustration by Kailey Whitman

Tough Cuts of Pork: Cooking Time and Temperature

Muscles that are responsible for movement or weight bearing are tougher and have larger deposits of collagen in the meat. Collagen breaks down into gelatin when the meat maintains a temperature of 160°F for a prolonged period of time, and it's this liquified gelatin that makes the meat succulent and moist when prepared properly.

The juiciest pork ribs and the tenderest pork shoulders—otherwise known as Boston butts—are best when cooked at a lower temperature for longer periods of time to allow the collagen to break down and achieve the aforementioned succulence. Pork shoulder and ribs should be cooked for a long time at a temperature at or below 275°F until the meat is tender. For this reason, these cuts are often used in slow-cooker recipes because the slow cooker gently cooks the meat at a lower temperature for hours at a time. But with this prolonged time comes the threat of moisture loss, so providing a liquid for the meat to cook in is essential to maintaining the ideal level of moisture in the meat.

Tender Cuts of Pork: Cooking Time and Temperature

The muscles that are used the least by the animal are the most prized for their tenderness and juiciness. If they are prepared like the tough cuts of meat, the more tender pork pieces will come out dry and hard—which is why you will never find a good pork tenderloin slow cooker recipe. The general rule is that these cuts should be cooked at a high temperature for the briefest period of time it takes to reach an internal temperature of 145°F. Cooking them any longer risks drying them out.

The most foolproof way to prepare a cut like a pork tenderloin or a nice bone-in pork chop is to sear the outside of the seasoned meat in a cast iron skillet to make a nice crust before transferring the cast iron to a hot oven (425°F) until a thermometer reads 145°F at the thickest part of the meat. As soon as the thermometer indicates the proper temperature, the meat should be set aside to rest, as the tender (and expensive) cuts are the easiest to overcook. Compared to the several hours it takes to prepare a larger, tougher cut of meat, these cuts are done cooking much faster—typically less than half an hour. This quick method of cooking allows for minimal muscle fiber firming and moisture loss, resulting in mouth-watering and tender cuts of pork.

Firming up your knowledge of the science behind the times and temperatures best suited for different cuts of pork will help make you a formidable cook. You will develop the intuition so many professional chefs rely on in their day-to-day work. And with this knowledge and intuition, you'll be able to cook up the perfect cut of pork in your very own kitchen.

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  1. Meat and poultry roasting charts.

  2. The BC Cook. Composition of meat. In Meat Cutting and Processing for Food Service.

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