A meal that looks so appetizing and tastes so good can’t be bad for you… Or can it? We explore the intricacies of preparing pork souvlaki.
If you’re Greek or you’re into in Greek cuisine, you know that souvlaki is one of the best ways to prepare and enjoy pork.
Souvlaki is a dish that’s easy to prepare. Buy pork loin, cut it into evenly sized pieces, brush them with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper, put them on skewers and cook them on the grill. And yet, it surprises the people at the table with its rich aroma and refined taste.
Home cooks often wonder if souvlaki should be pink in the middle because they worry if the pink color means the meat is undercooked. However, the color of pork isn’t a reliable indicator of its doneness; the internal temperature is. Souvlaki should be cooked to a minimum of 145°F (63°C).
Is Pink Pork Souvlaki Undercooked?
Growing up, we never ate pink pork.
Our parents were told that pink pork was undercooked pork—and undercooked pork can cause food poisoning or parasite infection.
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture made some important changes to its guidelines for cooking pork to doneness: It lowered the safe internal temperature for pork from 160°F (71°C) to 145°F (63°C), adding a minimum resting time of 3 minutes.
Cooked to this internal temperature, the pork is not only safe to eat, but stays juicy, tender, and can still be slightly pink in the middle.
Souvlaki can be pink in the middle while being perfectly safe to eat, as long as it’s cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145°F (63°C) as measured by a meat thermometer.
How to Measure Souvlaki’s Internal Temperature
For starters, get a meat thermometer.
You’re going to need an instant-meat read thermometer, the kind with a battery, digital dial, and long probe that you insert into the center of the meat.
You can buy a good one for as little as fifteen to twenty bucks (although there are more expensive makes and models equipped with all the bells and whistles), and it will come in handy when preparing steaks, chops, fillets, roasts, birds, burgers, and just about any meat product in the kitchen or on the grill.
To measure the internal temperature of souvlaki with an instant-read meat thermometer, insert the tip of the probe into the center of the meat—without coming into contact with the skewer—and wait 2-3 seconds to get an accurate reading before pulling it out.
When the thickest piece of meat on the skewer reaches an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C) at the thickest part, you can assume that all the souvlaki skewers are cooked.
Should You Rest Pork Souvlaki Before Serving?
According to the USDA, cooked pork products should rest for at least 3 minutes before serving. Souvlaki is no exception.
The resting time does several important things to the meat:
First, it allows the meat to continue cooking to doneness in its residual heat. This is called “carryover cooking,” and it takes place because the internal temperature of the meat doesn’t drop immediately after removing it from the heat.
Second, the rendered fat and hot juices in the meat can settle in place before the souvlaki is cut and eaten. The result is juicier and more tender souvlaki that don’t lose their juiciness on the plate.
Resting the souvlaki, in other words, rewards the cook—and the eater—generously.
Don’t skip it.
Is Undercooked Pork Souvlaki Safe to Eat?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unanimously agree that pork should be cooked to the safe internal temperature and rested for 3 minutes before it is sent to the table.
According to the CDC, 48 million Americans get food poisoning every year. Of them, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die. Clearly, you don’t want yourself or your loved ones to be anywhere near this statistic, so cook your souvlaki thoroughly.
Our Tips for Preparing Pork Souvlaki
Bring the souvlaki to room temperature before cooking it:
Take the meat out of the fridge for 15-20 minutes before putting it on the grill or in the pan. It will cook faster and more evenly, drying out less and coming out juicier and more tender than it otherwise out.
Just don’t leave the meat on the counter too long. Raw meat should never be left for more than 1 to 2 hours (the hotter the weather, the shorter the meat’s shelf life), or harmful bacteria can grow on its surface and make it unsafe to eat.
Cook the souvlaki on a preheated grill pan or a hot grill:
If you’re cooking the souvlaki in a grill pan on the stove, brush the grill pan with olive oil and preheat it over medium heat until you feel it give off heat when you hold your hand close to the cooking surface.
As a general rule of thumb, gas grills should be preheated for 15-20 minutes before cooking. It takes charcoal the same amount of time to turn white and ashy—and thus ready to cook over—in a kettle grill.
Let the souvlaki cook uninterrupted on each side:
Contrary to what some people think, it isn’t necessary to keep turning the souvlaki skewers during cooking. Let them cook continuously, without interruption, for a few minutes on each side.
Patience is a virtue! Practice patience in your cooking, and you will be rewarded generously. The souvlaki will have the most wonderful grill marks and come out thoroughly and evenly cooked on the inside.
Yes, pork souvlaki can be pink in the middle, provided it’s been cooked to the safe internal temperature of 145°C (63°C) and rested for a minimum of 3 minutes before serving.
For best results, bring the meat to room temperature before cooking, preheat your pan or grill properly, and let the heat work its wonders before turning. You can thank me later. 🙂