The Cooking Grades of Swine

Cottura del Suino

Is it Possibile a Cooking Different than Well Done?

This is a topic that has slowly come to the fore, in the general indifference of an audience perhaps more intent on not wanting to hear than to ask itself any question. A tam tam now audible to an attentive ear, which began to tell us with increasing insistence of restaurants and chefs who proposed in their menu dishes based on pork, with a degree of cooking lower than “well done” to which the common opinion tends to constrain this type of food. The heartbeat has become deaf and impossible to ignore when a swine cooking temperature lower than that of complete protein coagulation has recently been introduced into the behavioral code of the American Food and Drug Administration. Now it’s official (at least in the United States): eating still pink pork is considered “safe”, not at risk for human health.

Needless to say, this caused sensation and in extreme cases even repulsion. Let’s try to understand the reasons. The repulsion towards the ingestion of a still pink pork derives from a cultural heritage that we have been carrying with us since immemorial time. The main reason is Trichinellosis, a large-scale infectious disease of a parasitic nature that involves severely disabling consequences to the muscular system, cardiac (myocarditis) or encephalic (encephalitis) and in the most serious cases even death. Nothing to joke about then. The disease is transmitted through the ingestion of the meat of infected animals, involves a series of sensitive breeds including the pig and human and can only be avoided through complete cooking or prolonged freezing for at least one month at -15° C . It is therefore understandable that there has always been genuine terror against the consumption of pork that does not respect these conditions. But then in light of what was published by the FDA what has changed?

Post Temp Suino 3First of all, as often happens in the case of convictions very rooted in time in popular culture, born and developed on a substratum of low culture, it is necessary to skim the common convictions to understand them better or at least smooth them in front of the evidence. To begin with, the swine is the number one accused of Trichinellosis risk only because a meat with a low cost, therefore very widespread in the less affluent and more rural classes, but it is not the only one. Few people know, for example, that among the susceptible animals also appear the horse whose meat is consumed instead blissfully raw or almost, as it would be for the beef. Secondly, as we have said, the transmission of the parasite took place through the ingestion of infected meat and this is true for pigs, as well as for man and for all the breeds at risk. Pigs were once fed through kitchen waste, without much compliment. It was therefore an omnivorous diet, including everything, including offal, scraps, deteriorated meat, etc. Today it is obviously no longer the case and the risk of infection has actually disappeared at the root. We combine all this with the level of health checks both on nutrition and on the health of the specimens, existing along the entire chain of pork meat, in addition to the existing traceability mechanisms able to identify and possibly isolate the suspected cases and you can understand very easily what leads to considering the risk Trichinellosis now reduced to zero, at least from this source. In case this was not enough, the numbers come to support: in all the United States (323 million inhabitants, ed) there are only 84 cases of Trichinellosis in the five-year period 2008-2012, of which only 22 attributable to the ingestion of pork . Only 4 cases per year, 0.00000001%.

In all honesty there would be a further risk traditionally attributed to the ingestion of pork, although compared to that of Trichinellosis, it assumes a far more marginal role in popular perception. Let’s talk about Hepatitis E. Hepatitis is an inflammatory process affecting the liver which tends to deteriorate the cells and which in chronic form can inhibit its functionality. The transmissible hepatitis through the ingestion of pork is however only the type E, whose actual casuistry is manifested almost exclusively in fulminant form on pregnant women, which however would avoid the ingestion of not well cooked meat to avoid the risk of Toxoplasmosis. If this was not enough, Hepatitis E is considered a form “extremely rare in Italy” and mainly widespread in Asian countries. In other words, even here, we are talking about nothing at all.

Post Cottura Suino

Excluding therefore the health risk, we are free to evaluate the ingestion of “pink” swine meat only from a gastronomic point of view. As mentioned, we bring a cultural heritage that leads us to disgust at the thought, but then in fact it really is so? We do not like a pork meat that is not completely cooked? I have to confess here that I’m not impartial about this subject. I belong to that group of people to whom this expression of cooking on the pig has always liked and that he was almost embarrassed in having to admit it, aware of the probable disapproval he would meet. Then take the following as my personal vision of the thing.

Consider a basic assumption that is not a strict rule, but that is a valid basic indication: generally if you notice, the more meat is fat and the more we tend to cook it, the leaner it is and the more we tend to consume it “rare”. Let’s take an example by neglecting the two extremes of the parallelism we are doing, which can only be beef and pork: let’s consider two cuts of lamb meat. Even with all the possible interpretations of the case, generally the lamb ribs tend to be consumed at a temperature of perfect protein coagulation. A leg of lamb instead is considered gourmet when consumed pink, like a roast beef or a little more. Now, it is necessary to look objectively at the pork meat available in butchers or supermarkets nowadays and realize that the “fat” pigs reared by our grandparents in the farmyard are just a distant memory. Today pork is basically lean meat, especially in some anatomic cuts such as loin, fillet or chops. The logic would therefore suggest a consumption below the “well-done” grade in order to be valued and appreciated to the fullest. And actually this logic coincides perfectly with what is my perception: some cuts of the pig are in my opinion OBJECTIVELY more good, tasty, melt in the mouth if tasted pink, while on the contrary they are stringy and binding when they reach the complete coagulation.

Taking the reference grades on the cooking of the beef then (50° c – Rare, 54° C – Medium Rare, 58° C – Medium, 62° C – Medium Well, 66° C – Well Done) what should be the temperatures of reference on the swine and which cuts should be the most suitable for each grade?


Temp Pork
Credits: National Pork Board

For my taste, despite all the premises above, the Rare cooking temperature on the pig is excessive and I start from the scale with a Medium-Rare cooking degree, associated with a temperature of about 63° C, which I like to apply on extremely thin cuts such as pork fillet. The next Medium level can be associated with a temperature of 3 degrees higher, at 66° C and I would apply it on cuts like the chops. Three degrees more for the Medium-Well level, then 69° C, in my opinion perfect on a cut like the loin. The last step of the ladder is of course the Well Done at 72° C for cuts marbled and infiltrated like ribs. I add a possible additional case studies to which I like to bring back the pork meat actually very fat, on very specific preparations such as Porchetta or Pork Belly, where in my opinion the abundant seasoning guaranteed by the melting fat, justifies a contrast perception with a more compact meat and on which I like to exceed 80° C.

If you like to taste what you have in your plate and enjoy the recipe itself without any silly conditioning, I strongly urge you to accept my challenge and try to cook your pork preparations baseing on these parameters. I guarantee you that it will be a considerable upgrade.

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