Sunday, October 24, 2010

How to Cook Pork Tips and Hints

How to Cook Pork Tips and Hints

Pork is the culinary name for meat from the pig. Although the word pork can also refer to cured, smoked, or processed meat, this article will focus on fresh meat. Pork can be eaten and prepared in various forms: cooked, cured, smoked, roasted, broiling, grilling, steaming/grilling, sauté, stir fry, pan broil, braise and as a stew.

Know your cuts. Many countries cut the meat differently and/or have their own names for particular cuts. Generally, though, there are four basic parts of the pig that most of the cuts you'll see at the store come from: 

There are five main cuts of pork:
Leg (ham, cutlets, boneless roast)

Side (spareribs, bacon)

Loin (rib roast, sirloin roast, rib chop, loin chop, country style ribs, tenderloin, and Canadian-style bacon)
Shoulder Butt (blade roast, ground pork, sausage)
Picnic Shoulder (smoked hocks, picnic roast)

Make time to brine.
Since modern pigs are bred to be lean, the meat has less fat to keep it moist during cooking.Brining is a good solution for this, but it requires planning ahead. The meat sits in a mixture of salt and water and absorbs the water slowly through osmosis. The bigger the cut, the more time it'll need to brine (generally between 4 hours and 2 days[1]). You can also add other flavors, like sugar.

Pork has had quite a varying reputation through the years. In the mid 20th century, most pork had to be cooked well done because of the fear of trichinosis. But today pork is fed and raised differently and the meat is safe to heat when cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. If the juices run very light pink, the pork is done.

Pigs don't move around as much as cattle do, so the muscles don't have to work as hard and don't use as much oxygen. Less oxygen means less myoglobin, the red colored molecule, so the meat is a lighter color. Today's pork has been bred to be 31% leaner than the pork we ate in 1983. And, pound for pound, it has more nutrients than chicken. Of course, with a lower fat content, it's more difficult to cook pork so it's safe to eat, yet stays tender and juicy.

Pork contains protein, water, sugar, connective tissue, and fat in varying quantities.

Notice that the loin, the most tender part of the animal, is where most of the common consumer cuts come from. This means that pork should be cooked like any other low fat meat: either for a short period of time at high temperatures, or for longer times at lower temperatures. Moist heat, such as braising, poaching, simmering, and crockpot cooking, also works well.

Know when to stop cooking.
As with any meat, you want to cook it long enough to kill any harmful micro-organisms, but not so long that you dry it out. The USDA recommends cooking pork to an internal temperature of 160 F (70 C)[2] (use an instant-read meat thermometer in the center of the thickest part of the meat) but some cooks prefer to stop between 140 and 150 F to preserve juiciness, since the trichinosis parasite dies at 137 F.[1] Whatever you decide, remember to account for the fact that the internal temperature of bigger pieces keeps rising even after you take the meat off the heat. Otherwise, it could "overcook" even after you're done cooking.

The amount of cooking time is really based on how thick the cut of pork is. Thinly cut pork chops can be pounded and then sauteed for 5-7 minutes and they'll be done. Thicker pork chops, up to 1-1/2" thick, can cook in the crockpot for 8-9 hours. Pork roasts usually need to cook for hours. And the super-tender pork tenderloin can be thinly sliced and cooked in seconds in a stir-fry.

Store pork safely.
When you buy raw pork, refrigerate it as quickly as possible to 40°F. If you don't cook it within 5 days, you must freeze it (0°F) or throw it away. Once you do cook it, eat it within two hours (or if the surrounding temperature is 90°F, within one hour), or store it in the fridge in shallow, covered containers for up to 4 days, or freeze it. For best quality, eat frozen pork within 3 months, and never refreeze partially defrosted pork.


Pig / Pork Cuts by Chart