A thorough knowledge of the characteristics of individual pork cuts is the secret to profitability and customer satisfaction. For example, a knowledgeable chef will be able to use less expensive leg cuts for scaloppini, schnitzels and satays where a less confident chef may use the more costly loin cuts. Intelligent, informed ordering keeps costs down and profits high.
Market hogs are grown to a weight of 120 to 250 lbs (55 to 115 kg) before being slaughtered. The tenderness and delicate flavour of today’s pork is due in part to the fact that hogs are sent to market at 5 to 6 months of age. About 50 per cent of total Canadian production is exported. Excluding exports, approximately 70 per cent is sent on for further processing, giving us hams, bacon and sausages, among other delicacies. Pork muscles vary in tenderness, fat content and flavour according to their position on the carcass.
After slaughtering, hogs are split down the backbone into halves. Each side of the hog is then further divided into four primal cuts: • LEG • LOIN • BELLY • SHOULDER The shoulder is normally broken into the blade portion (adjacent to the loin) and picnic (lower portion of the foreleg).
The loin runs from the shoulder to the leg. The rib-end adjoins the shoulder, followed by the centre-cut portion; the sirloin abuts the leg. The tenderloin and back ribs complete the loin primal.
Most loin cuts are consumed fresh. Further processed loin products include: Peameal bacon, which is sweet pickled, that is, cured but not smoked or cooked. Canadian Bacon is a fully cooked, cured and smoked boneless loin. Kaessler loin is a fully cooked, cured and smoked bone-in pork loin.
The loin is the most frequently utilized primal at food service. Pork loins are often referred to as “backs” once they are deboned.
The loin produces the choicest wholesale chops and roasts. Tender and lean throughout, loin cuts have enough intramuscular fat to make it an excellent choice for dry-heat cooking methods.
Chops can be cut from the entire loin, the choicest being the centre-cut chops. Not all processors sell all cuts as described in this section, but all can be cut from the whole loin without difficulty.
Loosely speaking, the terms “Steak” and “Chop” denote boneless and bone-in respectively. Although all cut from the same loin primal, characteristics vary from one end to the other.
For cooking quality and presentation, thicker (one inch and up) chops are recommended for food service unless cooked à la minute. Thicker chops are not as prone to drying out as “quick-fry” chops. A stuffed chop is made by cutting a small aperture in the surface fat and, working with a sharp, thin blade, making an internal cut to make a pocket into which stuffing can be piped or pushed. The small aperture closes on cooking.
A “frenched” double loin chop lends itself to elegant presentation. Butterflied steaks are made by cutting through the fat surface of the chop to within 1⁄2 inch of the rib bone side and opening out.
The leg primal is the hog’s hind leg. A large cut, it accounts for approximately 24% of the carcass weight. The bone-in leg contains the aitch (pelvic) bone, leg and hind shank bones. The leg, or “ham”, contains large muscles with a relatively small amount of fat and connective tissue.
The leg primal can be merchandised whole or broken down into three major sub-primals – inside and outside roasts, and leg tip. The inside round being the most tender. The eye-of-round, which resembles the tenderloin in shape and size, but not tenderness, is part of the outside round.
Leg cuts are lean; an inside roast has only 3.3% fat. There is little waste other than the bones, and leg cuts are an economical choice.
The majority of hams (as the raw leg primal is termed in meat processing terminology) are sent for further processing; curing and smoking, to become smoked hams or Prosciutto, for example.
Leg cuts present perhaps the greatest challenge, and opportunity, to food service operators. There is considerable potential to make low-fat and low-cost menu items from the leg: roasts, scallopini and kebabs, for example. These low-fat, low-cost qualities make leg cuts particularly attractive for use in health care institutions.
Most shoulder cuts are used for further processing – primarily for sausages. But shoulder cuts represent a significant opportunity for the
informed chef. Shoulder meat is highly flavoured and succulent, full of the mild sweetness associated with pork.
The shoulder primal is cut into halves: the blade portion, which is the half next to the loin, and the picnic, which is the half nearest the foot.
Higher in fat than other pork primals, shoulder cuts are ideally suited to a long, slow cooking process. Indirect barbecuing, with or without smoke, is another suitable method.
Ribs are perennial favourites that personify summer and recall warmer days in winter. Very popular at food-service, ribs are easy to prepare and guaranteed crowd pleasers.
Strictly speaking, back ribs form part of the loin primal, and side ribs part of the belly primal. For the purposes of this manual, ribs are given a section of their own, and not described as part of the primal to which they belong anatomically.
The pork belly, which comprises the belly meat and side ribs, is a primal cut. Side ribs are described in the “Rib” section.
Better known in its smoked state as bacon, raw belly is highly appreciated in Asian, and other cuisines. Situated directly adjacent to the side ribs, belly can be purchased either as a full side, or a centre-cut portion, ribs-in or boneless, skin on or off.
Barbecue hogs are purchased eviscerated, with heel, feet, and tail attached. Weight: between 10 lb (suckling) and 120 lb. All hogs must be stamped with proof of government inspection.
Whole hogs can be roasted, barbecued, or rotisseried, depending on their size. Allow AT LEAST one pound of pork per person (a 25 lb pig would serve a maximum of 25 customers)
Order whole pigs and any required equipment well in advance. A 24 inch barbecue will hold a 15 lb pig; a 30 inch unit will hold up to 25 lb. A larger animal will require specialized equipment.
TO PREPARE A PIG FOR COOKING:
Wash pig thoroughly inside and out with cold running water. Dry completely. Rub body cavity with salt, pepper, and seasoning of choice. If using, fill cavity with stuffing and sew up.
Tie front legs securely so that feet are forward, near corner of mouth. Tie hind legs securely close to the side of the pig, so that the hind feet nearly touch the fore-legs. Prop pig’s mouth open with a small block of wood or crumpled aluminum foil the size of an apple if necessary for presentation. Cover ears and tail with foil.
Pig can be split down the middle; this will accelerate cooking time, but not give as spectacular a presentation.
Cooking should take between 15 to 20 minutes per pound at 325°F. Loin meat, if the hog is not stuffed, will cook fastest, and the shoulder will take the longest.