What Temperature Is Pork Done At?

Technically the USDA says that pork is safe for human consumption once it reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees. If you’re making a pork tenderloin or grilling up some thinly sliced pork chops that’s pretty much all you need to know. You can dust off your hands, smack your mouth-watering lips and get ready to dig into some tender premium pork.

If you happen to be dealing with a Boston Butt pork shoulder, or a pork hock and you try to bite into the meat once it hits an internal temperature of 146 degrees, you won’t exactly be sinking your teeth in. If you’re lucky, you might be able to get a small bite off without loosening some dental work, and you’ll be treated to a mouthful of dry, pork-flavored rubber bands.

So what gives? Why are some cuts of pork tough and/or not truly done at 145 degrees?

Why Are Some Cuts of Pork Tough Even When Done?

With a lot of pieces of pork and big, tough cuts of other meats connective tissue remains completely intact at 145 degrees. Most of the fats and intramuscular marbling will barely start to render at 145, which further adds to the toughness.

You could put a Boston Butt pork shoulder in a 145-degree sous vide for hours and it would still be tough. Most connective tissues like collagen just barely start to render and break down into gelatin at 140 degrees. Even then they need time for all the protein structures to release and the fluids to redistribute into the meat fibers.

This can take even longer for bone-in cuts like pork shoulder, thick-cut pork chops, and pork hocks. When working with these cuts it’s often a matter of time and temperature.

Can I Cook Tough Cuts of Pork with High Heat?

If you simply try to heat them as fast as possible the connective tissue and marbled fat won’t have time to render. At the same time, the meat fibers start to contract rapidly, expressing moisture. Not to mention the very real risk of burning the outside of the meat into a black, bitter crust before the inside finally reaches a minimum safe temperature.

So, even if you get the internal temperature up to 140 degrees or more with high heat or boiling, you’re still likely going to end up with a tough cut of meat.

 

Best Temperature Range to Cook Tough Cuts of Pork

When we look beyond pork chops, pork tenderloin, and other thin, cuts of pork with little connective tissue and intramuscular fat, time becomes just as important as temperature. This is especially true for some traditional barbecue cuts like Boston butt pork shoulder and pork spare ribs.

You can use the following tips as a helpful guide to get these tougher cuts of pork cooked to the right temperature, while still being succulent and tender.

Boston Butt Pork Shoulder

Boston Butt pork shoulder should be slow-cooked or smoked to an internal temperature of at least 180 to 190 degrees. This typically takes several hours to allow all the connective tissue and intramuscular fat to render into succulent gelatin.

Around 190 degrees is the point where the scapula bone will wiggle out and pull free of a pork shoulder. By 200 degrees it slides right out with ease.

It’s perfectly fine to cook or smoke a pork shoulder to 200 degrees. There are some people who insist that’s the perfect temperature. However, going past 200 degrees the meat starts to get so tender that you might lose some trying to slide it onto the serving platter!

 

Pork Spareribs

With pork ribs, whether they’re spare ribs, St. Louis ribs, or even pork riblets, you want an internal temperature in the meat of at least 185. Though 190 to 200 might be needed to get them perfectly tender.

The more trimmed the ribs are, the sooner they will get tender. So, you can expect pork riblets, to be fall-off-the-bone tender at around 185 to 190 degrees internal temperature. Whereas a full “Cheater Rack” or untrimmed pork ribs might need to go all the way to 195 – 200 degrees to fully render the fat and connective tissues.

The goal is to get them to the point where the bone will wiggle in the meat, but won’t immediately fall off on their own.

 

Pork Hocks

There’s some debate about the proper internal temperature to cook pork hocks to. If you’re willing to roast or braise them all day, you will get a tender piece of meat with an internal temperature of 150 to 160 degrees. Though the amount of gelatinous fat still inside might not be everyone’s cup of tea with this method.

If you want to render the fat down more and build the flavor a higher internal temperature of 175 to 185 might be better. This is true for smoked pork hocks. Though if you want to make traditional Schweinshaxe, then you might want to roast the pork hocks until they reach an internal temperature of 170, then fry them with high heat to crisp the skin.

 

Pork Belly

Pork belly is essentially the whole primal bacon cut from before it’s cured and smoked. While you can cook it to a safe internal temperature of 145 degrees and get a pleasant-tasting bite, I think you’ll be more pleased with the end product if you take it to a higher internal temperature.

You see pork belly is a combination meat that is sometimes just as much fat as it is lean pork meat. There isn’t really much in the way of connective tissues. The longer you let it cook, the more fat will render out of it. This will release flavor that the lean meat fibers and any potential outer crust will pick up.

As you approach 165 to 170 degrees the fat starts to render more vigorously. Though there is certainly an argument to be made for taking it all the way to 190 to 195 degrees to caramelize the skin and outer fat like chefs do with crispy pork belly.

 

The Best Thermometers to Check the Temperature of Pork

There are a few different ways to test the internal temperature of pork. If you’re grilling a tender, thin cut of pork like pork chops or pork tenderloin, then all you need is an instant-read probe thermometer.

If you’re going to cook a thicker piece of pork, then a leave-in meat thermometer is probably the better option. You insert it halfway through the cooking/smoking/roasting process and leave it there. It then lets you know what the internal temperature of the pork is without having to leave a massive hole in the meat that lets the succulent precious juices out.

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