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How To Cook Better Pork

Updated on May 27, 2012

Pork Recipes

A lot of pork recipes talk about cooking pork until it's falling off the bone. Most of the time, that's just wrong. Ribs, pork chops, ham, should not just fall off the bone. A rib where the rib bone pulls out of the meat is over-cooked. A pork chop where the meat falls away when you pick it up is probably dried out and a ham where the bone drops off has lost most of its flavor.

A shoulder on the other hand, is properly done when you can pull the bone right out of the meat, assuming you cooked it with the skin on. If you cooked it skin off, it too will be dried out by the time the meat falls away.

So how can you tell when pork is done?

Well, a pork chop will start to separate as the meat shrinks off the bone. As soon as it starts to do this, it's probably done. Just look for the gap to start to open between meat and bone and you know you're about there. Keep cooking it until the bone falls completely away and you may as well be cooking leather. Because what you've done is cooked all the moisture out of it. That's why it's shrinking off the bone after all, moisture is leaving the meat.

A ham, when smoked or baked, should have meat clinging to the bone and the bone should be fairly well attached. There should be some give when you tug on the bone, but it shouldn't come out. Cook it to the point where the bone falls out, as you would a shoulder, and you'll end up with hard little rectangles of meat that make great slingshot ammo, but lousy eats.

Ribs. Now ribs are probably the least understood piece of the pig to cook. You can check out my Hub, Cooking Great Pork Ribs Made Easy, for the basics. Yeah I know, the Applebee's commercial says their ribs fall right off the bones and your Uncle Bob has this secret way of boiling then cooling in the icebox then smoking then throwing them in the oven and they just fall right off the bone and oh they're soo sooooo good...... Well, you can go to Mickey D's and get a McRib, (When in season) and do just as good.

No, ribs should not fall off the bone. The meat should pull away from the bone right where you bite it, and then the bone does some stuff if you cooked it right. See the other Hub mentioned above for details. If it's coming away in strips, or worse yet, falls off the bone when you lift it, it's wayyyy overdone.

The problem is, that until you've had them done right, you have no idea what you're missing.

A rib is done when the meat has pulled away from the ends of the bones, usually about 1/2-3/4 inch. When you take the tongs and lift the slab and the outside just starts to break, they're done. You can use a thermometer on ribs, you're looking for 165 degrees and the above two conditions.

Now a shoulder with the skin off, cook it to 165 degrees and to where the meat is easily pulled with a couple of forks. A skinless shoulder takes a lot of basting and steaming, and a good injection never hurts, to get to this point without drying out. So it's always easier to cook with the skin on.

With the skin on, you want 165 degrees at the center and the bone should almost pull right out. You want just a little resistance, but the bone should come out clean. Watch it when it does, it should start changing colors from white to gray and moisture should bead up on it.

This is how you get started cooking great pork BBQ. Now get out there and get the smoke rolling and have fun!


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