Pork tenderloin is a popular and versatile cut of meat that many home cooks enjoy preparing. When cooking pork, an important factor is ensuring that it reaches the proper internal temperature to kill bacteria and make the meat safe to eat. There is some debate around the exact temperature that pork tenderloin is “done” at. While the USDA recommends cooking pork to 145 degrees Fahrenheit, some cooks insist that 150 degrees Fahrenheit produces more tender, juicy results. This article will examine whether pork tenderloin is done at 150 degrees and provide guidance on the best practices for cooking this healthy, lean cut of pork.
USDA Recommended Internal Temperature for Pork
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), pork is safe to eat at 145 degrees Fahrenheit. This recommendation is based on extensive research into food safety and preventing foodborne illnesses like salmonella and E. coli. At 145 degrees Fahrenheit, any dangerous pathogens or bacteria are killed, making the pork safe for consumption. The USDA guidelines state that all whole cuts of pork, including pork chops, roasts, and tenderloin, should reach this minimum internal temperature when cooking.
Here are some key points on the USDA’s 145 degree recommendation:
- Applies to fresh pork as well as reheated leftovers
- Should be checked with a food thermometer in the thickest part of the meat
- Pork needs to rest for 3 minutes before carving or eating to allow temperature to evenly distribute
- Ground pork or pork products like sausage should reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit
The USDA does not recommend relying on visual cues like meat color to determine doneness or cooking pork to an internal temperature higher than 145 degrees. Going above this temp can cause the meat to become dry and overcooked. Following food safety guidelines is especially important for populations at higher risk for foodborne illness like children, seniors, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems.
Why Some Cooks Recommend 150 Degrees
While the USDA provides clear guidance that pork is safe at 145 degrees Fahrenheit, some home cooks and chefs argue that a slightly higher temperature of 150 degrees produces superior results in terms of texture and moisture. There are a few reasons why cooking pork tenderloin to 150 degrees may be preferred by some:
- More tender texture – Cooking pork to 150 degrees breaks down connective tissues more thoroughly, resulting in a more tender, melt-in-your-mouth texture.
- Increased juiciness – The extra time to reach 150 degrees allows the pork’s natural moisture and fat to fully render and distribute throughout the meat.
- Extra insurance for safety – Reaching 150 provides an extra margin of safety in case of incorrect temperature measurements.
- Personal preference – Some cooks and diners simply prefer pork with a more intact, firm texture at 150 vs. softer, more crumbly meat at 145.
When following this approach, it’s important to use a good quality meat thermometer and not overshoot too far beyond 150 degrees, as pork can quickly go from juicy to dry and overcooked. Taking the pork off heat at 150 and letting it rest allows the internal temperature to continue rising by about 5-10 degrees.
Key Considerations for Cooking Pork Tenderloin
When deciding between the USDA’s 145 degree recommendation and cooking to 150 degrees, keep these tips in mind for the best results:
- Use an accurate instant-read thermometer to monitor temperature.
- Determine personal preference – do you prefer pork more rare or well done?
- For safety, 145 degrees is a foolproof minimum temperature.
- Let pork rest before serving to allow juices to redistribute.
- For boneless roasts/chops, 145-150 degrees is ideal; for bone-in cuts allow up to 155.
- Marinade and brines can help keep pork juicy when cooked beyond 145 degrees.
- Lower temperature pork should not be served to those with immunity concerns.
Properly preparing pork tenderloin comes down to following food safety fundamentals – using clean tools and surfaces, avoiding cross contamination, and monitoring cooking temperatures. When in doubt, the USDA guidelines provide a guaranteed safe temperature, but increasing to 150 degrees can provide marginally better texture and moisture in the meat.
Visually Checking for Doneness
Instead of temperature, some home cooks look for visual signs that pork tenderloin is fully cooked. However, relying on appearance alone is not a foolproof method. Here are some things to look for when eyeballing doneness:
- Color – The pork should be light pink with no traces of glossy raw meat. But beware, color is not always reliable.
- Juices – Cut into the thickest part of the meat; clear juices indicate doneness vs. pink juices means undercooked.
- Opacity – Fully cooked pork will be opaque all the way through with no translucent areas.
While these cues can provide confidence in your cooking, they do not guarantee the pork has reached a safe internal temperature. Only a good digital meat thermometer can do that. Visual checks are best used in tandem with temperature monitoring.
Time Guidelines for Cooking Pork Tenderloin
Cooking times provide another way to gauge pork doneness, but should not be used alone either. Pork tenderloin’s cooking time can vary greatly based on size, temperature, and cooking method. Below are rough estimates:
|Cooking Method||Time Range|
|Grilling or broiling (1-inch thick)||10 to 15 minutes|
|Pan frying or pan roasting (1-pound tenderloin)||20 to 25 minutes|
|Baking at 425°F (1-pound tenderloin)||25 to 35 minutes|
|Smoking at 225-250°F (1-pound)||1 to 2 hours|
|Sous vide at 145°F (1-inch thick)||1 to 3 hours|
|Slow cooker on low (1-pound)||3 to 4 hours|
|Instant pot high pressure (1-pound)||15 to 25 minutes|
The cooking times above will produce pork tenderloin between 140-150 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to always verify final temperature with a thermometer. Cook times can vary based on the size and shape of the tenderloin as well.
Is It Safe to Eat Pork Below 150 Degrees?
It’s understandable to have concerns about eating pork that has not reached 150 degrees Fahrenheit. However, as long as the internal temperature has hit the 145 degree minimum recommended by the USDA, the pork is considered safe to eat. At 145 degrees, the pork has been heated long enough to kill potentially harmful bacteria like E. coli, salmonella, and listeria.
There are a few factors that make pork safe at temperatures below 150 degrees:
- The tenderloin cut comes from the lean, tender muscle that runs along the pork loin. It contains less connective tissue than other cuts like shoulder or leg.
- Modern pork production methods have greatly reduced the incidence of parasites like trichinella in commercial pork.
- Quick-cooking methods like grilling or pan searing minimizes the time bacteria have to multiply.
- Brining, marinating, and rubs help kill surface bacteria on the exterior of the pork.
While sensitive groups should take extra care with lower temperature pork, for most people, the USDA’s 145 degree recommendation provides a wide safety margin. And many chefs safely serve medium-rare pork entrées cooked to 135-140 degrees.
Potential Risks of Undercooked Pork
Eating pork below the USDA recommended temperature does come with some increased risks to be aware of:
- Bacterial illness – Pathogens survive and may cause food poisoning leading to nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
- Parasites – There is a small chance of being infected with worms like trichinella or tapeworm.
- Toxoplasmosis – A parasite that can be risky for pregnant women and those with compromised immunity.
While these risks are low with properly handled and cooked pork, they provide good reason not to eat raw or severely undercooked pork. Following safe handling procedures like avoiding cross contamination and cooking to 145 degrees minimizes the dangers.
Tips for Juicy, Tender Results at Any Temperature
Cooking pork tenderloin to between 145-150 degrees Fahrenheit will produce juicy, tender meat when using proper techniques. Here are some tips:
- Choose high-quality pork – Look for pork labeled “certified humane” or from trusted local farmers. Meat quality affects flavor and moisture.
- Cook at lower temperature – Slow cook, sous vide, or roast pork at 250-325°F for best moisture retention.
- Brine the pork – Soaking in a saltwater brine infusion adds flavor and moisture.
- Use a thermometer – Monitor temperature precisely; remove pork at 145-150°F.
- Let meat rest – Allowing the pork to rest seals in juices.
- Prevent overcooking – Wrap in foil and insulate with towels if internal temp rises too high.
- Enhance with liquids – Rub with oil, baste with broth, or stuff with fruit to add extra moisture.
With the proper prep and cooking methods, pork tenderloin can turn out juicy and delicious whether cooked to 145 or 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a thermometer to guarantee safety and employ additional techniques to maximize texture and flavor.
Determining when pork tenderloin is “done” ultimately comes down to personal preference balanced with proper food safety. Cooks who prefer a more firm, intact texture may opt to cook their pork tenderloin to 150 degrees Fahrenheit vs. the USDA’s recommended minimum of 145 degrees. While 140-150 degrees provides the best flavor, juiciness and tenderness, 145 degrees is considered the foolproof temperature for safety.
To achieve the best results when cooking pork tenderloin, use a good digital meat thermometer, maximize moisture through brining or rubs, and employ more gentle cooking methods when possible. Let the pork rest before serving and learn the visual cues like color and opacity. Mastering these simple techniques allows you to safely enjoy juicy, tender pork tenderloin cooked to your preferred internal temperature.