Finally, the government agrees that pig should be pink. On the inside, at least.New guidelines released Tuesday by the USDA – just in time for the Memorial Day kickoff of grilling season – recommend that pork be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees, 15 degrees cooler than the previous standard.
"Our consumer research has consistently shown that Americans have a tendency to overcook common cuts of pork, resulting in a less-than-optimal eating experience,” said Pamela Johnson, director of consumer communications for the National Pork Board. “The new guidelines will help consumers enjoy pork at its most flavorful, juicy – and safe – temperature.”
Chicago chefs welcomed the change.
"I'm ecstatic," said Blackbird's Paul Kahan. "I do a lot of work with The American Pork Council, and I know this is something they've been working on for a long time. Frankly, I never cook pork to 160 degrees, that's just hammering it. If you cook it to 138 and let it coast to 145, that's pretty close to where you need to be."
Andrew Zimmerman of Sepia agreed."I think it’s great. It’s a long time coming, especially as the quality of pork – particularly heirloom pork – continues to improve. The original reasons for cooking pork to a higher temperature (namely trichinosis) are no longer much of a problem these days," he said.
"Really good heirloom pork is best served at medium/medium-rare. I’d still love to see it go down a bit more, to about 135, but it’s a huge improvement over 160. Our guests request their pork chops cooked medium rare all the time, so chefs and consumers are both winning here."
But food writer Michael Ruhlman said even 145 degrees got it wrong."It's a good thing they lowered the temperature because the 160 degrees is not only ridiculous, it is inaccurate and therefore harmful," he said. "But 145 degrees still doesn't make sense to me because it fails to include time. I cook my pork to 135 degrees because that is the point at which its flavor and texture are best."
Here's how other Chicago chefs reacted to the news:
Randy Zweiban, executive chef/owner of Province: "It is a good thing and it is important to always know the source of your food. If you are eating pork from a great farm, you can trust it was handled correctly and disease free. I'd trust that way more than a commodity hamburger."
Bernie Laskowski, executive chef of Park Grill: "Good quality pork can and should be handled like beef. I prefer 130 to 140 (degrees) for loin cuts of pork."
Jason McLeod, formerly of RIA, now of Box Tree in San Diego: "Most chefs have been cooking to a lower temperature for many years. I think the younger generation had no idea of why Pork was to be cooked to a certain temperature in the past. Trichinosis programs have been in place for some time with great success nearly eliminating the disease in domestic pigs. I think it could go down to at least to 140."
Patrick Quakenbush, executive chef of Zed451: "It is about time! I don't think they need to make it any lower. Just like ground beef needs to be cooked to 155 but we still serve it 120 (mr). I think it is good that they finally realized that trichinosis has not been around since the 50's and that you don't need to cook pork till it is done, is leaps an bounds heading in the right direction. I love my medium rare pork chops!"
Paul Fehribach, executive chef/owner of Big Jones: "It's definitely a good thing and that temperature is about right. I could see going lower, but the USDA probably has more information than I do."