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Nerdy Science in the Kitchen

Best way to Check if Pork Loin is Cooked Without Using a Thermometer



Avoid overcooking your pork loin with these simple tricks!
Avoid overcooking your pork loin with these simple tricks!

How do you know if your pork loin is cooked without a meat thermometer? The loin of any meat is widely considered to be the Rolls Royce of cuts, and the one that you find just above the rib cage a pig is no exception. Pork loin can be cooked in any number of ways, and can also be used to make British-style bacon.

How to find the best loin

It’s always best to do a little groundwork when trying to source the best meat in your area. Have a quick chat with one of the team behind the meat counter and get a few leads. You don’t have to go all Sherlock Holmes, but you might be surprised at what’s available if you ask the right people the right questions.

Preparing the pork loin

Once you have a nice pork loin, let it warm up to room temperature. This ensures it doesn’t get overcooked on the outside before the middle is done. Please be brave and allow for a slight pinkness is the center. If mom wants hers well done, by all means, give her the option, but it’s also nice to let others to chose a juicy slice of meat so everyone can be happy.

Score the meat beforehand with a good, sharp knife. If you don’t have a good, sharp knife, either sharpen up one that you do have, or put one on your shopping list. If it’s a larger loin, you may wish to butterfly it. Open up the pork by slicing a deep cut along its length (but not from the skin side).

Get some salt into the skin of the pork loin. A beautiful crisp crackling and deep brown color will be your reward for a little extra time spent during preparation.

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Whichever way you choose to cook the meat—be it on the grill, in the oven, or a slow pan fry—it’s very important to know when it is cooked.

Meat thermometers for checking doneness

Thermometers are a good way to be sure the internal temperature of loin has entered the stage where it’s safe to eat and cooked to the level of doneness preferred by you and your dining companions.

The two main drawbacks of using a meat thermometer are that you may not have one (see this probe thermometer article for some help in that regard) and that by piercing the meat some of the juices will inevitably escape. These escaping juices will take as much flavor with them as they can carry.

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You might want to consider purchasing an infrared thermometer, which can measure surface temperature without piercing the meat.

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How to check whether meat is done without a thermometer

You don't have to be afraid of a little pinkiness!
You don’t have to be afraid of a little pinkiness!

Pork should be cooked to at least 160° Fahrenheit (72° Celsius)—about as hot as a cup of coffee. If you use a knife or fork to get to the center of the loin, you will be able to test how hot it is when you take it out. This can be done by placing a sample of the meat on the back of your hand (do be careful).

You can also check by feeling the meat and comparing it to the firmness of the fleshy tissue underneath your thumb. Poke the cooked loin with your finger and make a mental note of the firmness.

  • Raw meat will feel like the fleshy area between your thumb and the base of your palm when your hand is relaxed.
  • Touch the tip of your index finger to the tip of your thumb. Rare meat has the same firmness as the area below the thumb when your hand is in this position.
  • Touch your middle finger to your thumb. Now feel that fleshy spot again. This is medium rare.
  • Medium feels like the flesh below your thumb when you press the tip of your ring finger to the tip of your thumb.
  • Well done is as firm as the area below your thumb when you press the tip of your pinky to the tip of your thumb.

Ask for help!

A rough guide to cooking pork loin is about 20 to 25 minutes per pound. However, I recommend having a quick chat with the gentleman behind the counter (or the farmer himself) as you’re buying the meat. He’ll be happy to tell you how long a particular piece of meat will take to cook, and at what temperature you should cook it.

If you’re really lucky, he may even give you a couple of tips on how to prepare and serve the pork loin you just bought. These are the folks in the know when it comes to meat, and I have yet to talk to one that did not want to share their knowledge and expertise with me. Take advantage of this opportunity to learn from the best!

If you want to take the guesswork out of cooking pork loin to perfection using an instant-read thermometer.

Image credit via Flickr Creative Commons: Brian G. and Edsel L.

Kitchen Professor author
About the Author: Brock Yates

Because Brock is the tallest member of the team at 6 foot 5 inches, when he’s not thinking about food, he’s eating his favorites: pizza, burgers, tacos and burritos. He's always experimenting with the latest kitchen gadgets and exploring new techniques in the kitchen.

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