When it comes to quick-searing a relatively thin cut of meat, like a thin steak, it doesn’t make a lot of difference if the center is cold. But for thick cuts (like a big pork chop) or animals you’re roasting whole (like a chicken or turkey), a little tempering—i.e., letting it come up to room temperature—makes a big difference. Here’s the basic logic: If you’re trying to cook the inside of a piece of meat to a particular internal temperature, like 135° for pork or 160° for poultry, the center will come up to temperature faster if it starts at a higher temperature. If a tempered turkey is roasting In a 325°-oven, the thickest part of the breast will hit 160° before the meat closer to the surface has had as great a chance to overcook. It means more even cooking all the way through, and less time for the meat to lose moisture while cooking, making it juicier.
You don’t have to go crazy waiting for hours until the meat is absolutely 72° and taking the internal temperature before you start cooking. That would take a really long time. Just take whatever you’re cooking out of the fridge and let it start tempering in whatever time you have. If you’re searing, as for a pork chop, thoroughly pat the meat dry so you start to develop browning on the surface faster.
Let’s just be clear: We’re not saying you should leave your pork chops on the table overnight, or out in the sun for hours and hours. We always advocate for smart food safety practices when it comes to handling raw meat to prevent food-borne illness. This means washing your hands before and after handling and avoiding cross-contamination by using only cutting boards designated for raw meat. Don’t use tongs that have touched something raw to handle other ingredients without a thorough washing first. Get a good instant-read thermometer so you can make sure the meat is cooked to the right temperature. Then take a few deep breaths and don’t panic. Remember that no part of cooking should involve a hazmat suit.
So relax, take those pork chops out of the fridge, and cook without fear: