Pig Safety 101
~Chef Perry Perkins~
In our first post, we looked at some of the dangers of improperly handled or prepared pork, as well as tips for picking a safe provider, and getting your pig home safely.
Now, let’s look at the rest of the job...
Keeping it Cold
So, how do you keep that piggie safe, once you get it home? Way too big for the fridge! Here again, the marine cooler is your best bet. If that’s still not an option, many a pig have been kept safely in the bathtub, with several large bags of ice. (Just make sure you give the tub a good bleach cleaning afterwards...oh, and on a personal note...remember to let you wife know that she’s going to find a huge, dead animal in her tub. Just…take my word for it.)
Try to keep the temp inside the cooler (or the pig) at around 40 degrees. This will keep the meat safely under the danger zone, but keeps you risking trying to inject marinade into a semi-frozen pig.
An old-fashioned tip that can also help, is to salt down the pig, inside and out, to help prevent bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli from growing on any surfaces. However, this is NOT a replacement for keeping your pig at safe temperatures.
Any surface that raw pork touches needs to be washed with hot, soapy water, and sanitized with a bleach solution. This includes cutting-boards, tables, prep tools, and storage containers. Likewise, anything that’s going to touch the cooked meat, should be recently sterilized (in the dishwasher) and/or stored in a sanitary environment. Things like cutting-boards, knives, serving containers and tools, and storage containers.
Cooking the Meat
Salmonella can’t live at temperatures higher than 160-165F. This is one reason that I typically cook my pigs to Southern-style “pulling” temperature, of 180-190F, it also happens to result in amazing pork-perfection, so...win-win!
The Caja’s recommended cooking-box temperature of around 225-250 degrees F, is an ideally safe environment for cooking pork safely.
You may find some recipes for cooking the meat to 165 or 170 degrees F, but personally, I’ve found that at that temperature you can still get some under-cooked meat at the joints, which risks cross-contamination with the rest of the pig.
This is why it’s important to check the temperature of your pig in the thickest part of the ham (rear butt-cheek), as that will be the last part of the pig to reach the safety zone.
At 195 degrees F, there will be no food-safety problems with the meat, at least during the roasting process.
Myself, I like to use three thermometers. Two probes: one to provide a constant reading in the ham, and a second, seton the rack next to the pig, to monitor the ambient temperature inside the box.
The third thermometer, an instant read, lets me check thinner portions to make sure they’re not overcooking and drying out (and remove them from the box).
Serving the Pig
Again, for food safety, the meat shouldn’t go below 140 degrees F for any length of time once it's done cooking. Any meat that's not served immediately, should be cut up in the largest pieces possible, and either refrigerated, or placed in chafing dishes to keep it warm until served.
Make sure the prep, cooking, and serving temperatures are right, and working in a clean environment are critical. Safe pigs taste better...and helps keep your friends!
As a third-generation chef, Perry P. Perkins focuses his love of cooking on barbeque, traditional southern fare, and fresh Northwest cuisine.
Perry runs the non-profit organization, MY KITCHEN Outreach Program, which teaches nutrition, shopping, and hands on cooking classes for at risk youth.
His cookbooks include La Caja China Cooking, La Caja China World, La Caja China Party, and the NEW “La Caja China Grill.”
You can follow the rest of Chef Perry’s cooking adventures at ChefPerryPerkins.com