Pork (meat from a domestic pig) is the most eaten animal protein in the world. Humans have been raising pigs for food since 5000 BC, eating it both fresh and preserved in various ways, most often by curing. Pork is especially prized in Asian cooking for its fattiness and luxurious texture.
Over the last half-century, pigs have been bred to be much leaner, with more protein and lower in calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol than the pork produced previously.
Here are the basic cuts of pork, and some favorite ways to prepare them:
The ham is the upper portion of a pig’s hind leg. Hams can be found fresh, but most are cured with brine, and smoked, which imparts a meatier, more intense flavor. Bone-in hams, like most meats typically has more flavor than boneless. Ham can be slow smoked, brushed with a sweet/spicy sauce, and finished in the oven to set the glaze.
A large cut (from the back), pork loin has no bones, making it easy to slice. With a dense texture and tons of flavor from a large fat cap, pork loin is ideal stuffed, as in this porchetta, and roasted.
It's also a very economical cut to portion into chops for grilling.
The best chops are cut from the center of the loin. The first are loin chops; looking like miniature T-bone steaks, they still have a bit of tenderloin on them, and have tons of flavor.
Second are the rib chops, cut without the tenderloin. These are a moody cut and can overcook and dry out if not closely watched. Chops cut thinner than an inch thick are extremely difficult to grill properly.
Quite lean and tender, this cut is long, narrow, and tapers at one end.
Tenderloin is quite a bit smaller that the pork loin, and a great choice for a quick dinner, after a day-long marinade.
These curved, meaty slabs come from high on the ribcage near the backbone. Sweet and juicy meat, this is a favorite cut. Back-backs grill quickly. For best results, go with no more than a 2-pound rack.
From the underbelly of the pig, and with a bit less meat than baby-backs, spare ribs are still quite tasty, with a lot of fat to keep them moist and juicy. A full rack of spare ribs weights 3-4 pounds.
I typically rub ribs with spices, and smoke in the china box for an hour or so. Then, I wrap them in foil and roast them for another couple of hours, before finishing them (un-foiled) over the coals.
In our next post we’ll take a look at popular pork cuts like Boston butt, Picnic shoulder, and two of my favorite bits of pig…the cheek and belly!