A meal can easily be ruined by under-cooking or over-cooking your meat. Many people consider meat to be the best part of the meal, and quite often, it’s the most expensive one too.
Having spent hours slaving away in the kitchen, it’s frustrating and disappointing having to serve up dry, chewy pork from accidentally over-cooking it. So, what is the best way to avoid this? Having a meat thermometer at your disposal is fantastic, but knowing how to tell if pork is done without a thermometer is also very useful.
But before we get started, give me a moment to make a case for having a meat thermometer on hand in the junk drawer in your kitchen. The top reasons:
- It gives you precious time of your life back. (You had to search for this article didn’t you?)
- They’re inexpensive (You can get a dependable one for $10-$15)
- It makes you a better cook. ( Are you cooking pork chops tonight? If you had a thermometer you could pull them off the heat between 135 and 140 degrees and be a superstar cook.)
- It’s safer. ( Probably the main reason you’re reading this article, undercooked pork can get you sick.)
- See the first reason. No more babysitting food, especially for dishes that go in the oven. Put your oven-safe probe in the food, set your temperature alert and go watch some horrible television.
Okay, I’m done. You still there? Good. Let’s answer your question, how do you know when pork is done without a thermometer?
I have highlighted some of the techniques in which you can tell if pork is ready, even without the use of a meat thermometer, to help you avoid any further mishaps in the kitchen.
Recommended Meat Temperatures
In 2011, the USDA revised its guidelines for cooking pork and stated that consumers could more easily remember how to cook all meat safely with just three different temperatures. Previously, the recommendation was to cook pork to 160 degrees, but the new guidelines state that 145 degrees Fahrenheit is safe. The USDA has made it clear that eating pork that is slightly pink is okay.
Cooking any meat to the following temperatures should always be followed with at least a three minute rest period, out of the pan or oven, as it will carry on cooking slightly due to residual heat. The three temperatures to remember are as follows:
- Poultry – 165 degrees Fahrenheit
- Ground meat – 160 degrees Fahrenheit
- All other meat – 145 degrees Fahrenheit
Cooking Without a Thermometer
Now, if you don’t have a meat thermometer at your disposal, how can you tell that your pork is cooked properly? Depending on the cut of meat you are working with, there are several different ways of checking.
It is hard to tell when pork sausages such as bratwurst are done without the use of a thermometer. They can still be pink inside even when the internal temperature of the pork sausage is over 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
The best way to ensure that pork sausages are properly cooked through is by simmering or poaching them in liquid first and then finishing them on the grill or a hot pan to get a nice char on them. By first cooking them in water (water has a thermal conductivity 23 times that of air) you can ensure that your sausages are thoroughly cooked through.
Generally, if you start your sausages in a pan with an inch of liquid that’s simmering, the sausages will take around 20 minutes (flipping them over after 10 minutes) to get into safe territory.
Pork tenderloins generally weigh between 1 to 1.5 pounds. Determining the internal temperature of pork tenderloin by just visually looking at it or poking it is difficult. For pork tenderloin, I would suggest judging its doneness by using the amount of time you have cooked it as well as at what temperature. Most tenderloins will be done after a quick sear on the stovetop followed by a 20-minute cook in a 375-degree oven.
Slow cooking your meat is one of the easiest ways of achieving perfection when it comes to meat doneness. If you’re slow cooking your meat for a long period, whether it be in a slow cooker or a Dutch oven, then you can safely assume it is properly cooked.
The meat should shred (pulled pork) or come away from the bone easily, which is a sure sign that the meat is definitely cooked well. This method of cooking also has quite a large margin for error. The meat can still be juicy and tender, even if you accidentally let it cook for 10 minutes longer than you meant to.
If you are roasting a large cut of pork, then you should follow guidelines based on how heavy the meat is. A general rule of thumb is 25 minutes per pound of meat with your oven preheated to a cooking temperature of 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooking times can vary depending on what kind of roasting joint it is, so always follow the instructions given.
If you’re buying your meat from a supermarket, then it should come with cooking instructions on the label. If you’re buying from a butcher or farm shop, then ask them for advice on the best way to cook it. You never know, they may even recommend a good recipe idea!
If you are covering your pork with foil or a lid, then this will also affect how quickly it cooks. Extra time should be allocated if you are covering it up.
Whether you are cooking your chops or steaks in a pan, oven, or on a grill, the cooking time will be much shorter. If you don’t have a thermometer the best way to tell how done they are is by giving them a poke with your finger.
This method works with any kind of chop or steak (lamb/beef), but pork should never be eaten rare. Without using a thermometer, it’s difficult to gauge the internal temperature of pork chops when they’re done. Hence, it’s better to be safe rather than sorry and go for pork chops more on the medium side of medium-rare.
You can judge how well your meat is cooked by touching different parts of your face and then your meat, and see how it matches up:
- The fleshy part of your cheek will feel like rare meat
- Just above the pointy part of your chin indicates medium-rare meat
- The top of your nose will feel the same as medium
- Your forehead will have the same firmness as well done meat
Like any meat, cooking pork to perfection is no easy task. Hopefully, you have seen why you should use a meat thermometer to reach this goal.
The easiest way to turn out juicy, succulent pork every time is, obviously, with a thermometer. A thermometer will guarantee that your meat is thoroughly cooked and safe to eat.
If you don’t have access to one then knowing how to tell if pork is done without a thermometer is pretty much left to sketchy guidelines and guesswork. To be sure, most people would err on the side of caution and cook for slightly longer than they think is necessary. After all, it’s better to have slightly overcooked meat than make yourself ill from eating undercooked pork.