Do you have to cook pork to well done? Quite sim­ply, no. And the USDA agrees.

But we used to, but why not now? Because it’s not the mid­dle ages.

For years, decades and even cen­turies, peo­ple over­cooked and ate dry, tough pork. They did so for good rea­son. Pigs ate garbage for the most part which could infect the pig with all kinds of nasty things that could get into our bod­ies if not killed dur­ing the cook­ing process. 

Like what? Trichi­nosis for one. Trichi­nosis is not a dis­ease but a par­a­site. The trichi­na worm comes into the body and gets lodged in the intesti­nes where they latch on and pro­duce lar­vae that pass through your intesti­nal wall, trav­el through the blood­stream before they bur­row through mus­cle tis­sue. That sounds pleas­ant: worms bur­row­ing through mus­cle mass. What’s the cure? None until the lit­tle bug­gers die off on their own. To coun­ter that, peo­ple cooked pork to at least 160, but most didn’t stop there and took it all the way to 190 or 200. Noth­ing like a boot­strap pork chop!

Mod­ern pig farm­ing is reg­u­lat­ed by the gov­ern­ment and thus the trichi­na worm is non-exis­tent in the com­mer­cial pork indus­try.  They aren’t fed garbage and thus what goes into the meat coun­ter and onto our plates does not need to spend hours in a blast fur­nace to make sure there isn’t any­thing extra in a mess of baby back ribs or some pork ten­der­loin. Speak­ing of pork ten­der­loin, it’s OK for it to look like this:


Per­fect­ly Cooked Pork Ten­der­loin

The USDA also men­tions rest­ing. What is that all about? Grilling the meat to 145 is not the final step in the process. Rest­ing allows for the juices, which are in an excit­ed state from the heat, to calm down and redis­trib­ute through­out the cut rather than leak­ing all over the cut­ting board the moment you slice into that pip­ing hot meat. The USDA rec­om­mends a three min­ute rest time. That’s a lit­tle mis­lead­ing. Yes, rest­ing is good, but dif­fer­ent size cuts require dif­fer­ent rest­ing times. A thick 12 ounce pork chop could go with a three min­ute rest but a three pound pork loin would need 10 min­utes. 

What should I do if some­one will not let the old habit die of not eat­ing pork unless it tru­ly lives up to the “Oth­er White Meat” ad slo­gan and I have to cook it to 160 or beyond? That’s a tough one, par­tic­u­lar­ly with some­thing like a pork loin or pork loin chop that has lit­tle fat in it already and a very nar­row win­dow to ensure it is ten­der and juicy even if it could be cooked less than 160? The sim­ple answer is to add more liq­uid before the meat ever hits the grill. In oth­er words, brine. Brin­ing, in its most sim­ple form, is soak­ing meat in a salt­wa­ter solu­tion for 2–12 hours. 

But salt dries things out, right? Salt yes, salt­wa­ter, no. And I mean water with table salt added to it, not sea­wa­ter.

The salt solu­tion actu­al­ly will push liq­uid into a solu­tion that is less salty, in this case, the liq­uid inside the meat that’s soak­ing in the brine. So flu­id is forced out of the salt solu­tion and into the meat. Salt­wa­ter also breaks down con­nec­tive tis­sue so it will make the meat more ten­der. Both of the­se things make the win­dow for cook­ing a pork loin to 160 and still have it ten­der and juicy that much larg­er. And to take the process a step far­ther, add some fla­vor to the salt­wa­ter and it will be car­ried into the meat. For instance, instead of water use fruit juice or soda. For the lat­ter, root beer, with its robust fla­vor pro­file works won­ders. For the for­mer, don’t use cit­rus juice as the acid will actu­al­ly cook the meat before it ever sees a grill. My go-to brine is apple juice (I prefer cider when I can get it in the cold­er months), a ¼ cup of minced gar­lic (I used the jarred, pre minced stuff for this), salt (1 cup salt:1 gal­lon flu­id is the ratio), and black pep­per. If I only have a cou­ple hours to brine, I add 50% more salt.

The USDA says you don’t have to cook pork to 145, but if one of your guests insists, brine to com­pen­sate.

The USDA says that ground pork still needs to be cooked to at least 160. Why the dif­fer­ence? Because when the meat is ground, bac­te­ria is mixed into the inside of the meat where­as a cut of mus­cle like a pork chop or loin will have no harm­ful bac­te­ria on the inside. My idea of a great steak involves knock­ing the hooves and horns off and walk­ing the cow near a grill, but not too close.  When I grill a burg­er, I grill it to medi­um. Ground beef and ground pork both need to be cooked through to 160 to ensure the bac­te­ria is killed.

Scott Thomas

Scott Thomas

Scott Thomas, the Orig­i­nal Grillin’ Fool, was sent off to col­lege with a suit­case and a grill where he over­cooked, under­cooked and burned every piece of meat he could find. After thou­sands of fail­ures, and quite a few suc­cess­es, near­ly two decades lat­er he start­ed a web­site to show step by step, pic­ture by pic­ture, fool­proof instruc­tions on how to make great things out of doors so that oth­ers don’t have to repeat the mis­takes he’s made on the grill.
Scott Thomas

@GrillinFool­Porn abounds here. All meat, all the time!
Pulled pork skills on point! . Video cour­tesy of @bbq_bboy : Pulling Pork Like A Boss 🐷 . You ready to take your I…… — 7 hours ago
Scott Thomas

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