It’s a question many of us have asked, though we wish we didn’t have to: Does raw pork smell like anything in particular, or does that odor mean that the meat has gone bad? We’re here to provide you with an answer–and other tips on determining freshness.
Does Raw Pork Smell?
Raw pork should not have a strong discernible odor. When you give fresh pork a good sniff, it should have a vague metallic odor at best. You might also be able to detect the smell of pork fat. If you catch a whiff of ammonia or rotten eggs, the pork is likely spoiled and should be discarded.
How To Select Fresh Pork
What should a fresh cut of pork look like? Here are the guidelines to keep in mind when selecting raw pork.
Raw pork comes in various shades of pink. Light pink meat indicates a cut that’s lean and will dry out quickly if it’s overcooked. Boneless pork chops, for example, are often very pale in color.
Darker pink hues indicate that the pork is retaining a lot of moisture. Once it’s cooked, it should be moist and especially flavorful. If you’re shopping for a pork loin roast, try to select the darkest one on the shelf.
Those white ribbons of intramuscular fat are referred to as “marbling,” and they contribute a great deal of flavor to the cooked meat. Although health-conscious shoppers usually try to avoid fatty cuts, a high amount of marbling is a desirable asset.
Look for a stamp from the USDA on the packaging. This stamp should indicate that the pigs were inspected prior to processing. You won’t find a grading scale like you would with beef, but if you’re interested in organic pork, the label should indicate this as well.
Depending on which cut of pork you buy, you can expect the meat to shrink by up to 40 percent as it cooks. Remember this when you’re deciding how much meat to purchase. For larger cuts, make sure you’ll have enough time to cook it before your planned serving time.
It’s best to cook and consume pork within 3 to 4 days of purchase. If the meat was sitting on the shelf for a long time before you came along, however, you might have an even shorter window. Check the “best by” or “sell by” date before every purchase.
Does Raw Pork Smell?
Fresh meat doesn’t really have a smell. If you stick your nose in the package and inhale, all you should be able to detect is a slight hint of metal, which indicates fresh blood.
If it’s a fatty cut, like pork butt, you might also pick up on a scent that’s reminiscent of lard or bacon grease. Again, the odor should be very mild, but the smell of fat doesn’t necessarily indicate spoilage.
On the other hand, if you detect the smell of ammonia, a hint of sourness, or if the meat gives off an aroma that reminds you of rotten eggs, these are warning signs. Any pork that smells like that has turned the corner and needs to be thrown away.
If you decide to ignore the warning signs and cook the meat anyway, know that the foul odors will intensify when the pork is exposed to heat. That should be an even stronger indication that you should abort the process and discard the meat.
A Word About Vacuum Packaging
There is one mitigating factor that might come into play when it comes to odor. If the pork was sealed in vacuum packaging, it’s been stored in a liquid that can have a funny odor when it’s first opened.
To help you decide whether the “off” scent is the fault of the packaging, rinse the pork under cold running water. Pat it dry with paper towels and wait a few minutes before sniffing it again. If the odor remains, then the pork should be discarded.
We would recommend throwing the packaging away before rinsing the pork, or at least putting it well out of range. If the wrapper is nearby when you perform the second sniff test, it could be difficult to gauge where the smell is coming from.
Also, rinsing raw meat under running water can cause bacteria to spread around your kitchen. Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling the raw pork, and use disinfectant to clean the sink and countertops.
Other Ways To Detect Spoilage
In addition to the scent, there are other ways to determine whether the pork is fresh or needs to be thrown out.
We mentioned that pork should be pale to dark pink in color, depending on its ability to retain moisture. If you see any hints of brown or gray, throw the meat out.
Also, the fat should be white to pale ivory. Darker yellow fat means that the pork has gone past its prime. It will also smell especially rancid as it cooks. Pay even closer attention to this if you’ve purchased meat for pulled pork, as you shouldn’t trim much of the fat away before cooking.
If the meat smells fine and has no discoloration, press your finger against the surface. When it feels sticky or slimy, or the meat is overly dry, then it’s probably starting to spoil.
As we pointed out earlier, the best-by date plays a role in determining freshness. You should never rely on the packaging alone to tell you whether the meat is fresh, but it can give you a decent guideline with which to work.
Storing Fresh Pork
Always refrigerate pork at a temperature below 40 degrees. If you can’t make time to cook it within a few days, store it in the freezer instead. It should maintain its integrity well if you thaw and cook it within 6 months. Keeping it in the freezer longer won’t affect its freshness, but it could be detrimental to the texture.
The Bottom Line
Does raw pork smell when it’s fresh? Not really. Any scent you detect should be mild, with no hint of sulfur or ammonia.
If you’re having second thoughts about the freshness of your pork, it’s best to throw it out and start over. When it comes to food safety, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!