Pork fajitas are considered safely cooked and ready to eat when the internal temperature reaches 145°F. This temperature kills any harmful bacteria that may be present. Using a food thermometer is the only reliable way to ensure pork reaches the proper internal temperature.
What are pork fajitas?
Pork fajitas are a popular Tex-Mex dish made of strips of skirt steak or pork shoulder marinated in a blend of seasonings and quickly grilled or pan-fried. The meat is typically served sizzling hot with sautéed peppers and onions, warm tortillas, guacamole, pico de gallo, cheese, sour cream, and other desired toppings.
Why is reaching the proper internal temperature important?
Raw and undercooked pork may contain harmful bacteria like Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, and E. coli that can cause foodborne illness. These bacteria are killed and made safe to eat at an internal temperature of 145°F. Cooking pork fajitas to at least 145°F throughout ensures any bacteria present are destroyed.
What happens at 145°F?
At 145°F, the proteins in pork denature, causing the meat to become opaque and firm. This destroys any dangerous bacteria that may have been present in the raw meat. 145°F is the temperature recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as safe for cooking whole cuts of pork like pork chops, roasts, and tenderloin. While sometimes pork fajitas may be made with skirt steak, 145°F is still the recommended safe temperature.
How to tell when pork fajitas are done
There are a few ways to check if your pork fajitas have reached 145°F:
Use an instant-read food thermometer
This is by far the most reliable way to check doneness. Insert the probe into the thickest part of the meat, making sure it’s not touching any bones. Wait 10-15 seconds for the thermometer reading to stabilize before reading. The meat should read 145°F or higher.
Slice into the meat
Well-done pork loses its pink color and becomes light brown throughout when cooked to 145°F. If you slice into a piece of pork and there is no pink showing, it should be fully cooked. However, color is not always the best indicator of doneness.
Check for juices
When fully cooked to the proper temperature, pork releases clear juices rather than pink. However, you’ll need to slice into the meat to check this.
Tips for cooking pork fajitas to the right temperature
Don’t cook by time
Cooking times can vary widely depending on the thickness and cut of the meat, how hot the grill or pan is, and other factors. Relying solely on a recipe cooking time may lead to undercooked pork.
Use a food thermometer
As mentioned above, a food thermometer takes the guesswork out of determining doneness. It provides a clear reading of the internal temperature, so you’ll know for certain when the pork fajitas have reached a safe 145°F.
Rest the meat before serving
Allow the cooked pork to rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing and serving. The temperature will rise another 5-10 degrees during this time as the heat continues to penetrate inward.
Cook to a higher temp
Cooking pork fajitas to 150-155°F gives you a margin of safety in case your thermometer reading is slightly off or the temperature declines as the meat rests.
Stir and flip frequently
If pan-frying the pork, stir the pieces frequently to ensure even exposure to the heat. Flipping the meat often as it grills will also help the interior cook through.
How long does it take to cook pork fajitas?
Cooking times for pork fajitas can range quite a bit, from as little as 5 minutes for very thin slices cooked over high heat to up to 15-20 minutes for thicker cuts. The marinade, cooking method, and doneness temperature also affect the time. General guidelines are:
- Pan-fried: 5-8 minutes
- Grilled: 8-15 minutes
- Baked: 15-20 minutes at 375°F
The best way to ensure doneness is to use a food thermometer rather than rely solely on cook times.
It’s easy to make mistakes when cooking pork fajitas, potentially leading to undercooked meat.
Not taking temperature
Neglecting to use a food thermometer and relying on appearance, cook times, or the “poke test” can easily lead to undercooked pork. Be sure to temp!
If your food thermometer is old, damaged, or not properly calibrated, it may give an inaccurate reading leading you to believe the pork is fully cooked when it’s not. Invest in a good digital instant-read thermometer.
Pulling off heat too soon
The temperature of pork will rise about 5-10°F after removing from the heat. So pulling it off at 140°F means it’s likely still undercooked. Let it reach a full 145°F on the grill or in the pan for safest results.
As mentioned, pork should rest about 5-10 minutes before serving. Skipping this step means the interior temp will not have finished rising to a safe point.
When the pork pieces vary widely in size or thickness, it makes it tricky to ensure every piece gets adequately cooked. Try to cut the pork into uniformly sized strips for most even cooking.
Serving safely cooked pork fajitas
Once you’ve confirmed your pork fajitas have reached a safe internal temperature of at least 145°F, follow these serving tips:
Keep warm if not serving immediately
Ideally, pork fajitas are served sizzling hot straight off the grill or pan. But if that’s not possible, keep them warm in a low oven or chafing dish until ready to serve.
Don’t let sit in broth
Don’t add cooked pork back to a marinade or broth and let sit. This can cause the temperature to fall back into the danger zone.
Serve within 2 hours
Bacteria can start growing again if pork sits out too long after cooking. Serve pork fajitas within 2 hours of cooking for best quality and food safety.
Refrigerate leftovers promptly
Any uneaten pork fajitas should be refrigerated within 2 hours. Store in a shallow container so they can cool quickly, and use within 3-4 days.
Pork fajitas are safely cooked and ready to eat at an internal temperature of 145°F. Be sure to use a reliable food thermometer to verify doneness, as pork can maintain a pink color even when undercooked. Cook the pork fully to 145°F, let it rest 5-10 minutes, and serve immediately for the best results. Following proper cooking and holding temperatures will keep pork fajitas safe to enjoy.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should pork fajitas be cooked to 160°F?
No, cooking pork fajitas to 160°F is no longer necessary. Current USDA guidelines state pork is safely cooked at 145°F with a 3 minute rest time. Cooking to 160°F will result in very overcooked, dry pork.
Can I eat pork fajitas while they are still pink inside?
No, any pink color in pork means it is undercooked and may harbor harmful bacteria. Pork fajitas should always be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 145°F as determined with a food thermometer before consuming.
Should I rinse raw pork fajitas before marinating?
Washing raw pork is not recommended as it can splash bacteria around the kitchen. Any bacteria mixed into the marinade will be killed during cooking. Dry the pork pieces well before marinating for best flavor penetration.
How long can cooked pork fajitas be left at room temp?
Cooked pork fajitas should not sit out at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. After this point, bacteria can start multiplying again and cause food poisoning. Refrigerate any leftovers within 2 hours.
Can I reheat leftover pork fajitas?
Yes, leftover pork fajitas can be safely reheated. Reheat on the stove, in the oven, or in the microwave until steaming hot, at least 165°F. Use within 3-4 days for best quality and food safety.
Achieving the recommended safe internal temperature of 145°F is critical when cooking pork fajitas. Use a reliable meat thermometer to verify doneness, allow the pork to rest before serving, and follow proper holding times and temperatures. This ensures the pork reaches temperatures hot enough to kill any potential harmful bacteria present, so you can enjoy perfectly cooked pork fajitas safely.