Last time, we talked about a few of the popular cuts of pork for the grill and bbq. Here are a few more…
Pork Belly Porchetta
Hugely popular in the culinary world right now, pork belly, starts out from the underside or the belly of the pig. Belly doesn’t mean “stomach”, but the layer of meat and fat on the underside of the pig. Pork belly is the cut that we get bacon from, once it’s cured, smoked and sliced. With a crispy skin and unctuous umami layers of meat and fat, less is more with pork belly, which makes it great as an appetizer, or a garnish for soups or salads. If you’d rather go “over the top”, the spiced and rolled Pork Belly Porchetta (above) is my favorite way to use this divine cut of pork.
A pork hock (ham hock) is a cut from the pig's leg just below the knee. Pork hock is a very inexpensive and tough piece of meat that is loaded with connective tissue, ligaments and muscle fibers. Once throw away food, it was (as many of our best dishes) adopted by slaves and servants who discover that, when cooked low and slow, it produces a tender meat and a delicious stock that’s a perfect base for stews and soups.
Pork hocks are typically available either smoked or unsmoked. I prefer them smoked, as my favorite use for them is to slowly simmer them in a pot of beans and onions, until the meat falls off the bone. Serve this with hot cornbread, and you’ll have a meal that far surpasses its humble origins.
Boston Butt (Shoulder)
Boston butt (pork butt) is what we Americans call the cut of pork that comes from the upper part of the shoulder, on the front leg of the pig. Typically it’s sold bone-in.
This is most common cut for pulled pork BBQ. Slowly smoked at low heat (225F) for 12-14 hours, the tough collagen in the shoulder becomes gelatin, producing a juicy, and extremely tender pulled pork.
Another prime choice for pulled pork, the less fatty picnic shoulder cut is a tougher piece of meat than the Boston butt, requiring the same “low and slow” cooking approach.
Often sold boneless, the picnic provides more meat than the Boston, but can also be less flavorful (when you have the option, always cook meat bone-in for additional flavor!)
Guanciale, sliced and ready to roast
Last, but certainly not least…my very favorite cut of pork. Pork cheeks just what they sound like: a fist-sized piece of meat resting in the hollow of the cheekbone. Guanciale, which I cook with often, is a bacon made from the cheeks and the jowls.)
Lean, yet moist, and loaded with collagen, a slow roast or simmer will produce a baseball size piece of heavenly meat that is fork-tender and bursting with savory pork goodness.
Besides one-upping bacon in your favorite recipes, pork cheek, slowly braised in red-wine and tomato sauce makes and amazing start to the best marinara sauce you’ve ever tasted!
Perry P. Perkins comes from a long line of professional cooks. As a third generation chef, he focuses his love of cooking on barbecue, traditional southern fare, and fresh Northwest cuisine.
Perry runs a non-profit organization. MY KITCHEN Outreach Program, which teaches nutrition, shopping, and hands on cooking classes for at risk youth. His cookbooks include La Caja China Cooking, La Caja China World, MEAT FIRE GOOD, and La Caja China Party.