This article is a part of my free Exploring Sous Vide email course. If you want to discover how to consistently create amazing food using sous vide then my course is exactly what you're looking for. For a printed version of this course, you can purchase my Exploring Sous Vide cookbook.
Today we will dive into the best way to sous vide pork. In general, sous vide pork turns out much more moist and tender than it does with any other cooking technique. It's also safer to eat because you can fully pasteurize it without over cooking it.
In a previous lesson we discussed How to Sous Vide Beef and Red Meat, and pork follows very similar guidelines but with generally higher tempertatures on the low end. This lesson will help you make the most out of all types of pork, including supermarket pork, pastured pork, wild/semi-wild boar, and other porcines.
Most types of pork or boar behave very similarly but there are differences that can arise based on the type of animal and how it was raised. A feedlot-raised pig will taste different than a pasture-raised pig since their diet and amount of exercise will alter the flavor and texture of their meat.
Warning: One concern is pathogens that might be present in wild animals. If you are eating wild animals, cooked traditionally or with sous vide, you should make yourself aware of the pathogens and what temperatures are needed to kill them.
My best-selling Modernist Cooking Made Easy: Sous Vide also explores these items in much more detail.
There are lots of things you can do to pork before you sous vide it. Any silver skin is removed as is extra fat. The meat is often cut into portions or shaped any any spice rubs or salt is added. Spices, herb, sauces, and other flavoring agents can also be added to the bag. Sous vide pork is usually not brined since it doesn't add that much.
Note: I highly recommend looking back through the lesson on What to do Before You Sous Vide Your Food since it goes into more details.
When you are sous viding pork you are usually aiming for either a chop-like texture or a braised / shreddable texture. The temperaure you choose to cook at is greatly affected by the texture you are shooting for.
Chop-like texture is what you usually associate with pork chops, pork loin, or other juicy, firm preparations. Traditionally they are made from cuts that can be quickly cooked either by pan frying, roasting, or grilling.
With sous vide, you can also cook tough cuts at a low temperature for an extended period of time, usually 1 to 2 days, and the result will be chop-like. This is often done with shoulder, shank, butt, ribs and other tough cuts.
There's a range of temperatures you can use to sous vide pork, and it is safe as long as it's cooked about 130°F (54.4°C) but most people prefer their pork cooked higher than 135°F (57.2°C). From a safety perspective, as long as you cook it long enough to pasteurize it, 135°F (57.2°C) is just as safe as 165°F (73.8°C).
My favorite temperature for sous vide pork is 140°F (60°C), though I sometimes cook it lower when I want to put a solid sear on it. Most people were raised on pork cooked above 155°F or 165°F (68.3°C or 73.8°C) and can't stand having any pink on the inside so 145°F (62.8°C) might work best for them. That's also the temperature I often do when I have guests that might be squeamish.
The most famous braise-like preparation is probably pulled pork, at least in America, but there are several other dishes that are made including several braised cuts, bbq, ribs, and other "low and slow" preparations. The cuts used for this are tough and generally high in fat and connective tissue, such as shoulder, butt, belly, shank, ribs, and many roasts.
As the food cooks at a higher temperature, the connective tissue breaks down, making the meat flaky and shreddable. The higher the temperature you use, and the longer you cook it, will cause the meat to break down more and more.
Most braise-like temperatures range from around 150°F up to 185°F (65.6°C to 85°C). The temperatures I recommend starting with are:
Note: For more information you can read about the effects of sous vide temperature on meat.
When you are getting started, I recommend taking a favorite dish of yours such as pulled pork and trying it at all 3 temperatures. It'll give you a great idea of how the different temperatures affects the meat. Then you can tweak the temperature and the time it is cooked to meet your standards.
There are two main types of pork cuts: tender cuts and tough cuts. The cook times different based on what type of cut you are using.
For tender cuts you just need to cook them long enough to be pasteurized and then you can eat them. Common tender cuts of pork are tenderloin, loin roast, most chops, and other cuts you would usually enjoy grilling or pan frying.
The length of time needed to pasteurize it depends on the temperature, but at 140°F (60°C) or above it will be pasteurized through at the following rate:
You can follow the charts on the Sous Vide Cooking Times page for the specific amount of time based on the temperature you use.
Longer cooking times are required to break down tough cuts of pork and make the meat tender. The amount of time will depend greatly on the cut but usually is around 18 hours to 2 days. I have extensive time recommendations in my Sous Vide Time and Temperatures article.
Finishing pork is usually done by drying it really well, salting it and then searing it. This gives it a much more appealing look and adds a lot of great flavor to it. You can sear it however you are most comfortable but I generally pan fry it or grill it.
I also often will use a torch, especially if it is an odd-shaped piece of meat. If I'm deep frying something else I'll often use the oil to deep fry the meat as well.
Whatever method you use, you will want to sear it very quickly to prevent it from overcooking any more than is necessary. You can read more about How to Sear After Sous Vide.
Some people also smoke their pork after it has been sous vided, especially for pulled pork and other barbecued meats.
I love pork and sous vide makes it exceptionally tender and mouth-watering so here are a few of my favorite sous vide recipes. My best-selling Modernist Cooking Made Easy: Sous Vide also has many more recipes for you to explore.
In this lesson we discussed how to sous vide pork. We looked at how to break down pork into tough vs tender cuts and decide if you want a chop-like or braise-like texture.
Do you know anyone that is struggling with sous vide and would find this information helpful? Why not do them a favor and send them a link to this Exploring Sous Vide email course or get them a printed version of this course!
Thanks again and happy cooking!
Jason Logsdon, Amazing Food Made Easy