Which cooks faster, beef or pork? The longer short is, “you decide.” Keep on reading to find out why.
Those who grew up stateside learned from their parents and grandparents that pork, not like beef, should always be cooked to well-done. But pork cooked to well-done, as every home cook can attest to, comes out dry, tough, and all too often gets left over.
This golden rule, as most golden rules related to food safety, came straight from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For a long time, the USDA advised that, for safe consumption, pork be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F (71.1°C), the equivalent to well-done.
In contrast, said the federal agency’s guidelines, beef could be removed from the heat once it reached an internal temperature of 145°F (62.7°C), which corresponds to medium to medium-well (depending on whom you ask).
As a result, the belief that beef, as a general rule of thumb, cooks faster than pork long prevailed among American home cooks. This all changed in 2011, when the USDA revised its guidelines for the safe preparation of pork.
Despite lore to the contrary, cooking time doesn’t determine meat doneness. Every recipe’s cooking times are merely approximations and, as we are about to find out, can vary greatly with the cut of meat, the cookware at hand, and the make and model of your range.
The only accurate and reliable way to determine meat’s doneness is by measuring its internal temperature with a meat thermometer.
The USDA’s Most Recent Guidelines
For decades, the federal agency recommended that pork be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 160°F (71.1°C). With the 2011 revision, it lowered its recommendation to an internal temperature to the same as beef.
The details, below.
Beef and pork must be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F (62.7 °C), with a rest time of 3 minutes—with the exception of ground beef and ground pork, which must be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 160°F (71.1°C).
The USDA specifies that all cuts of beef and pork—steaks, chops, cutlets, roasts, ribs, etc.—should rest for 3 minutes after being removed from the grill, burner, or oven.
During the resting period, the internal temperature of the meat continues to rise thanks to a phenomenon called “carryover cooking,” making the final product safe to eat by killing the harmful bacteria on the surface.
The resting period also allows the fats and juices of the meat to settle into place. A cut of pork that has rested well before carving will remain tender and juicy; conversely, a cut of pork served hastily after being taken off the heat will lose its juices when cut.
Why Cooking Time Is Unpredictable
Take one recipe for a pork roast and two cooks:
One gets her cut of pork from the local butcher; the other from the meat counter at the grocery store. The cuts vary in size, shape, and the amount of lean meat to fat, all of which affect cooking times.
Matters are complicated further by the fact that one of our cooks has a convection oven powered by electricity, and the other roasts in a gas-fired oven:
Every so often, the temperature in the electric oven varies as the thermostat cycles the top and bottom heating panels on an off to maintain temperature. The distribution of heat in the gas-fired oven different as a burner heats the air only from underneath.
One of our cooks decided to slather the roast with olive oil before rubbing it. The oil assists in the transfer heat from the hot air to the surface of the meat, helping it cook faster and more evenly. The other didn’t take the roast out of the fridge for 10 to 15 minutes to bring it to room temperature before cooking, resulting in slower and less even cooking.
Both roast their cuts of pork for the same cooking time of 1 hour. The results, however, are drastically different. One roast comes out crispy and cooked to deliciousness; the other pink in the middle and undercooked.
The same applies to beef vs. pork. The type of meat isn’t the only factor that determines which cut cooks faster. It comes down to the recipe, the technique, the cookware, and the appliance, most of which vary greatly from one home cook—and home kitchen—to another.
Why Temperature Determines Doneness
Meat that’s raw or undercooked has harmful bacteria on the surface. These bacteria, known as “pathogens,” attack our body when ingested and can cause food poisoning.
They’re also killed by prolonged exposure to sufficient heat. Cooking meat thoroughly, to the minimum internal temperature for safe consumption and with the recommended resting time, exposes it to a sufficient amount of heat for enough time to eliminate the pathogens on its surface.
This makes the meat safe to eat, protecting you and the family members on the table from food poisoning. Pieces of meat can be cooked at a lower temperature than ground or minced meat, as the grinding and mincing can contaminate the inside of the meat with pathogens that were previously only on the outside.
This is why cooking times are only approximate, and the only accurate and reliable way to test meat for doneness is using a meat thermometer. You do so by inserting the tip of the probe in the thickest section of the cut and keeping it there for 2-3 seconds to get an accurate reading.
Once the interior of the meat has reached the minimum internal temperature for safe consumption, rest it for a minimum of 3 minutes before carving it and/or serving it on the table. This is how you cook pork and beef to safety and to tenderness.
So, which cooks faster: beef or pork? The answer lies not in the type of meat, but to how it’s cooked. Besides, when you take into account that temperature—not time—determines the doneness of meat, you get to wonder whether this question matters in the first place.