Put Some Pork on Your Fork!
Pork is the most versatile meat. It can be marinated, roasted, grilled, dry rubbed, boiled, baked, barbecued, stir-fried smoked, and skewered. And yet, pork gets a bad rap. Yes, it is true that bacon, pork belly, and sausage aren’t the most healthful of foods, but what about the tenderloin, which is as low in cholesterol and higher in protein than the oft-praised boneless-skinless chicken breast?
Not only is it a great source of protein, but pork is also rich in many vitamins and is the leading source of Thiamine (Vitamin B1), which helps to build and repair nerves and muscles. Lean pork can be an excellent component of a healthy diet.
Lean Cuts of Pork
Six cuts of pork meet the USDA definition of “lean,” which means they contain less than 10 grams of fat, less than 4.5 grams of saturated fat, and less than 95mg of cholesterol per three-ounce serving. Pork tenderloin meets the definition of “extra lean,” (contains less than 5 grams of fat and less than 2 grams of saturated fat per serving). Lean cuts of pork include:
- Boneless Top Loin Chop
- Top Loin Roast
- Center Loin Chop
- Sirloin Roast
- Rib Chop
Fattier cuts and cured pork products, such as bacon and sausage, are less healthy and should be eaten in moderation.
Understanding the Pig
When it comes to trying to make heads or tails of the many different cuts of pork, terms like Pork Butt (which is not actually from the hindquarters of the pig as the name would suggest), and Picnic Ham (which is not traditional ham at all, but from the front leg/shoulder of a pig rather than the back leg), are incredibly confusing.
Because most of us don’t have a sense of what part of the pig each cut comes from, there is added confusion about which cuts to select and how to cook them. For example, if we know that our cut is coming from the belly, we’ll know that there’s likely going to be plenty of fat, or that if it is from the loin, it’ll be lean, and we should be careful not to overcook it.
If you don’t know a Trotter from a Hock, or you just want to learn more about how to enjoy pork, join Farmview butcher, Glen Wellman, as he breaks down a side of pork in the Farmview Butcher Shop on April 11, instructing as he works. You will learn cooking techniques for pork chops, pork belly and ribs from the Farmview chef and sample his delicious creations after the demo. You will even leave with some pork to cook at home! Make sure to register in advance here!
For those of you who can’t make it to the class, here are some of the most common cuts of pork:
Pork Shoulder (or Pork Butt)
Pork shoulder is a relatively tough cut of meat which is well layered with fat and is good for braising, slow and low roasting or barbecue. This is the cut typically used for pulled pork.
Pork Loin (Includes Tenderloin, Sirloin, Blade End, Chops, Center Loin)
Pork chops, tenderloin, sirloins, and many of the most popular (and leanest) cuts of pork come from this area of the pig, the region between the shoulder and the leg on both sides of the backbone. It has a dense texture and a robust flavor, with a large cap of fat from the back sitting on top, referred to as “fatback.”
The ham hock comes from the bottom part of the pig’s hind leg and is rarely eaten whole, as it combines bone, meat, fat, gristle, and connective tissue. This cut usually comes already brined and smoked and sold as a “ham hock” in the store. It is used most frequently to flavor dishes such as greens, beans, soups, and stews.
Baby Back Ribs
Small and meaty, these curved slabs are taken from the pig’s rib cage near the backbone. Prized for their sweet, juicy meat, they cook quickly.
Although not as meaty as baby-back ribs, spare ribs are very tasty, due to their high fat content. Large and irregularly shaped, they come from a pig’s underbelly or lower rib cage. Accordingly, they are most often served barbecued so the rendered fat drips away.
If bacon, pork belly, and pancetta all seem similar to you, it’s because they are. These fatty cuts of meat come from the side or belly area of the pig and are particularly high in fat content. Unlike bacon, which is cured, smoked, and generally served in a slab or slice, pancetta (thought of as Italian bacon), is cured with salt and spices but not smoked, and generally sold rolled into a circular shape or pre-chopped into small cubes. Pork belly is bacon that has not been cured, smoked, or sliced. Instead, it’s often braised or seared in small pieces.
While pork leg can often be roasted or braised whole, the leg is most often used to make ham—one of the most popular pork preparations. Most often it is cured and is either boneless or bone-in. We typically consider bone-in hams to be more attractive while boneless are considered easier to serve because of simplified carving. Did you know that the ham sandwich is the #1 most eaten type of sandwich in the United States?
Look for firm, pink flesh when buying pork. Damp meat, pale meat, and soft meat all come from a factory-farmed pig. Seek out pastured pork such as the Heritage Berkshire pork found at Farmview Market from Rock House Farm. Berkshire pork has the best flavor and is prized for its richness, texture, marbling, juiciness, and tenderness. The pork from Rock House Farm is always fresh and never has any antibiotics or hormones. You can purchase it online from Farmview Market here.
Easter is April 21st. You can pre-order your smoked, boneless Easter Ham from Farmview Market, or make your own. This glazed holiday ham recipe is perfect!
Glazed Holiday Ham
One Smoked or fully cooked ham (15-20 lbs.)
1 cup Clover honey
1 lb. Light brown sugar
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Insert meat thermometer into center of the meat, being careful not to allow it to touch bone or fat.
Place ham in a roasting pan and cover. Place ham in the oven and set the timer for half the recommended cooking time (Recommended cooking for most hams is 20 minutes per pound).
Meanwhile, combine honey and brown sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.
Over medium heat, stir the mixture together until all the sugar has dissolved, then remove from heat and stir in the mustard. Set aside.
After approximately 2.5-3 hours, remove the cover from the ham and brush the glaze over the entire ham. Place ham back in the oven, uncovered, to finish roasting. If you have glaze remaining, save it for later. It makes a great dipping sauce for the ham.
Roast until ham reads the internal temperature of 155 degrees, occasionally basting the ham with the drippings from your pan.
Remove from the oven and let the ham rest for 15 minutes before slicing.
Slice it and serve warm or chill it and slice later for delicious sandwiches.