No need to cook pork to death

by Bryan Salvage
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Last week I received a press release from the National Pork Board that brought back a lot of memories. The release urges consumers not to cook pork “like your grandma did — juicy pork chops are just 145°F away.” This new cooking temperature for fresh pork produces an end result of moist, medium-rare pork. It plays a key part of NPB’s new Chop Fest promotion, which encourages consumers to barbecue a lot of fresh pork on the grill this spring.

An enticing, four-color pork chop image is featured on point-of-sale elements, such as posters, meat-case signs, recipe brochures and coupons for fresh pork purchases. Consumers can scan a Quick Response (QR) code on the posters to link to the “Pork. Be Inspired” website, http://www.porkbeinspired.com/, where they can download recipes and cooking tips.

“We developed the Chop Fest promotion to position pork chops cooked to 145°F as a juicy, delicious option for spring grilling,” explains Patrick Fleming, NPB director of retailer marketing.

The NPB relays that pork chops have traditionally sold well in the spring. During the second quarter of 2011, top loin chops, a boneless grilling favorite, was the fresh pork cut with the highest sales volume in the US, totaling just less than 49 million lbs. sold, according to Fresh Look Marketing, 2nd Quarter, 2011.

My mom loved to cook when I lived at home, but cooking meat and poultry wasn’t her forte. As long as she was able to cook, she served meat and poultry only one way: very well done. I didn’t know what medium or rare meat was until I joined the Navy at age 19.

She cooked pork, in particular, to death because of her unrealistic fear of contacting trichinosis. Of course, mom had very little to fear. The odds of getting trichinosis from eating pork sold at retail stores is only 1 in 154 million [calculation performed by the National Pork Board based on US Bureau of the Census statistics, 2009], an NPB spokesperson relays.

When it came to pork chops, she would usually put them in a lidded pan with a little water over the gas stove and cook them literally for hours. Being busy in the kitchen, she would always forget to add water to the pan when it boiled out. As a result, the bottom of the chops melded to the pan. I am not exaggerating because I had to wash dishes, pots and pans back then and I almost needed a hammer and chisel to free the bottom of the pan from the charred residue.

You needed a very sharp steak knife to cut through the chops, which had the consistency of shoe leather. The chops were totally devoid of moisture. It was far worse when chops were thrown on the grill as they would end up as black as the charcoal that fueled the fire. Beef and chicken suffered the same fate.

It’s important for consumers to start using meat thermometers, if they aren’t already. All that’s needed now to enjoy moist, juicy pork chops is to have that thermometer at ready, cook the fresh pork to the new temperature (145°F) and allow a three-minute rest time.

Thanks, National Pork Board! Too bad this new temperature and promotion weren’t launched 50 years ago.

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