“Cooking raw pork… to 145°F with the addition of a three-minute rest time will result in a product that is both microbiologically safe and at its best quality.” —USDA

So reads last May’s announcement from the USDA which, as a pork lover, I felt was long overdue given the fact that the pork industry in this country has been every bit as diligent in eradicating potential consumer hazards as the beef industry, yet there was/is still this image of pork as a ticking time bomb from which cooks had to protect themselves by cooking to death. The pork industry did make the best of things with the highly-successful “Pork: The Other White Meat” campaign a couple of decades back, but a white pork chop is dry and ruined in my book.

The other interesting thing about this announcement, for me, is that not only has the USDA acknowledged that the 160˚F threshold is no longer necessary, but it also grouped pork into the same “red meat” category as beef, veal, and lamb—you know all those meats that people order “rare” and “medium-rare”—by saying that whole cuts (e.g. chops, steaks, roasts, etc.) of any of those meats (including pork) are subject to the same temperature guidelines. Ground meats are still required to go to 160˚F.

Now nobody here is advocating that you should go out and order a rare pork chop, or cook anything under 145˚F, but I think it is a fact worth celebrating that the USDA came down so dramatically on this particular guideline. And, quite frankly, most chefs have had about as much respect for the 160˚F requirement as the cast of Cannonball Run did for the 55mph speed limit.

“About time!” was the initial reaction of Chris Hastings, James Beard Award nominated chef/owner of the Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, AL. He went on to note that despite the fact that the conditions under which many of the microbiological risks (trichinosis, most notably) associated with pork thrived were eradicated decades ago with the abandonment of “slopping” pigs, it is such an ingrained mindset fostered over generations that it will always be hard for some folks to come around to thinking about pork in the same terms as other “red meats.”  But, he enthuses about an ”exciting pork revolution” happening at this time led by chefs and heritage farmers. Breeds such as Berkshire, Gloucester Old Spot, and Duroc have a “yum-factor that is off the charts,” according to Hastings.

So if you’ve never tried one of these heritage breeds, now might be the time to go get yourself a nice cut of pork, fire up the grill, and treat it with the same respect that you would a Filet Mignon or Rack of Lamb. USDA approved.

A side-by-side comparison of 160° (left) vs. 145° (right) pork: