Ham Hocks

Hocks are not a typical part of a cut list people think about in the northern United States, but are an important addition to ask for on your list.  The hock is the middle portion of the leg, above the feet but not up into the ham or picnic roast.

When buying a whole of half pig, it is important to recognize that you are investing in a farm raised, healthy animal, but also to know that there are ways to get the most value for your dollar. Part of that is to learn how to use every part of the pig and the hock is no exception.

As the hocks are not generally a robust meat cut, but they are full of flavor, they are often used in bean and rice dishes or soups and stews for flavor building. I am including a few links here to get you started on using the hock, and I encourage you to try it out and include it on your cut list.

From over at AmazingRibs.com there is Hoppin’ John Beans & Rice. This is one that is relatively simple but rich and flavorful. I recommend it as a winter evening meal.

If you want to avoid the beans route,  I recommend looking for stew or soup recipes that you like, and substituting for example a ham hock for a chicken carcass.

You can also try cooking the hocks with greens or even sauerkraut for a different flavor and delicious combination. For these approaches, all you need to add is salt and pepper to taste, but I feel it is best to start with a smoked hock for best flavor.

Pork Ribs

Ribs are almost a religion in many parts of the United States, and the world for that matter. There are those who swear by the dry rub, those who say the secret is all in the sauce, those who will say there is no other way than smoking on wood and any other permutation you might think if.

I love most ways they can be prepared, but I lean to smoked with a dry rub and finished with a sauce that does not over power the pork flavor. If you do not have a smoker, you can make do with a grill and a smoker box for wood chips. If you do not have that, you can use a grill and put your wood chips in an aluminum foil packet after soaking them, poke some holes in it and toss it in the coals or on your hot side of the grill. The ribs will mostly cook on the indirect heat, or non fueled side of the grill.

Please check out AmazingRibs.com for this part. I have linked to their site for other cuts, but they do such a good job on rib options I think it it THE place to start. Once you get a foundation there, feel free to experiment and search the internet for other options.

There are options for every taste. My main advice here is to not fall into any single camp or accept any one of the rib religions. Play around, enjoy them and take the time to search out hole in the wall rib shacks in your area or on your travels. Learn from them, ask questions and apply your lessons at home.

If you are still reading at this point, and not already at the Amazing Ribs site, go now to the recipe for “Last Meal Ribs: The Best Barbecue Ribs You’ve Ever Tasted!

Cooking a Ham

The Ham comes from the upper hind leg of the pig and comes in many sizes depending on how you request your cut list, or what your local butcher may have. Bone in or carved from the bone will change cooking times and technique to some degree so pay attention to your particular recipe and account for this variation when preparing your own ham.

For smaller families or couples, it is possible to ask your butcher / note on your cut list to cut your large ham into smaller portions to speed cooking and spread over multiple meals. I recommend this approach where possible as it gives you the most flexible use of the meat and allows you to maximize the variety of ways you might prepare this delicious cut. Additionally, if you are ordering a pig from us, this will be a part of the cut list selection and you will need to determine if you will want your ham smoked or not, based on preference and taste. I am a fan of the smoked flavor and I go for that option for my family.

The authoritative primer on all things Ham

As you will find, I frequently link to or point to the site AmazingRibs.com for their recipes and ideas. I am not repeating that content here – they do such a good job I think it is best to simply go there and learn as I have. Please start with that to understand options and then build on it from there.

Smoked, Honey-Glazed Ham

At honest-food.net, there is a good recipe for smoked, honey glazed ham.  I am including this one as it is a nice foundation recipe that you can use to build from and tweak to your liking. The author bases his off a wild hog, but points out that you might use a variety of hind leg cuts with the same success. The article covers the curing as well as cooking and is a good reference to understand the process, even if you pick a different finishing technique. If you visit this link, please take the time to read the comment thread at the bottom of the article as I think that is as valuable a resource as the article itself.

Baked Ham with Rum and Coke Glaze

This is a no-brainer, it has rum in the recipe! Seriously though, this one is worth reading through and giving a whirl. It is not complex, but it is a bit labor intensive in terms of staying on the process with the glaze. I suggest sticking with the suggestion for the dark brown sugar and a dark rum for flavor when you make this one and use the real deal coca-cola, this is another place to not compromise.

Ham Slices / Ham Steaks

While not a link or recipe, I suggest adding some ham steaks to your cut list. I am a big fan of these for a hearty morning breakfast coupled with farm fresh eggs and potatoes. They are super easy to cook – pan fry in a cast iron skillet or even grill.  They will taste sort of like a cross between ham and bacon  and have a great texture to fill you up and get your day going.

Picnic Roast / Pork Shoulder

The Picnic Roast is the lower half of the shoulder, the top half being called the Boston Butt. This cut can be combined into both and the cooking options are similar. This is a heavily used muscle and a flavorful meat with good fat and connective tissue that will render when cooked low and slow.

Over at the Dizzy Pig site, they have a recipe for pulled pork that uses both of these shoulder cuts to make pulled pork, an all time favorite. The low and slow method is at the extreme here, but the results are worth it. Check it out for it’s nice explanation and detailed instructions and options.

Ultra-Crispy Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder is a favorite of mine, due in large part to the delicious cracklin from the final step in the process that produces crackles on the outer layer. The recipe at serious eats has some nice suggestions on this that you can build on with links to sauces and related dishes. Additionally, this is a simple meal to make though you will have to plan ahead and budget 8-10 hrs.

The general rule to keep in mind for shoulder cuts is that you need to cook it at low temp for a long time to melt all the fat and connective tissue, but they are rich and flavorful cuts. If you have smaller roast, you will reduce the cooking / smoking time accordingly.

I encourage you to check out AmazingRibs for a very good article on cooking temps and times. This is a great site overall to familiarize yourself with and you will find we link to it frequently.

Pork Head Cuts

When buying a pig, whole or half, one of the often overlooked options is the head and related cuts. The ears are a great cut to get both to cook yourself (very popular in some cultures) or even to have smoked as a special treat for your dog. The jowl is a delicious cut – again, not as common in the US as other areas, but well worth asking for. There are other recipes for the head and stews or soups are often the target here, but at a minimum, it provides trimming for sausage and scrapple.

I do encourage you to do a little research on your own and consider this as an adventure to explore in your next cut list or trip to the butcher!

Pig ears

Smothered Pig ears – This one is a soul food take on the pig ear and I have yet to make it but is sounds good. I would love to hear from anyone who makes this and add your review here.

Pig’s Ear on a griddle and Red Braised Pig’s Ear – This link provides 2 methods of cooking and also an entertaining read about the process of picking them up and a little history. When buying a whole or half pig you will not have a quantity of ears, but if you ask ahead of time, we can coordinate with customers who do not wish to get the ears back and you might get a free add on bonus! (We won’t let them go to waste either way.)

Super Bowl Snack: Crispy Pig Ears – These treats take a different approach and are from Chris Stewart, the co-owner of the Glass Onion in South Carolina. A quick tip on this take is the simmering in the over portion calls for a mirepoix – for those who might not be familiar with that, it is essentially a mix of onions, carrots and celery but can be varied.

Hog Jowl

The jowl is a cut that is essentially, bacon. It is rich in fat and meat and can be treated like a belly cut for bacon, or cooked as an accompaniment for black beans or other dishes.

First up is a recipe from Taste of Southern and covers frying the jowl. I am including this one as it is well done, with great photos and ideas. It is primarily focused on the bacon approach, but is a good site to explore on it’s own as well.

Another approach to the jowl is covered in a very solid article over at mattikaarts.com and is Home Cured Guanciale. As described on the site, “Guanciale is a whole pork jowl, that has been rubbed with salt herbs and spices, and air dried.”

Once you make it, the resulting product can be used like a super rich bacon in salads, pasta or any other dish. I think this is worth a try if you are serious about your pork, though it represents an investment in time and energy.

Wrapping it up

Generally, with the head there are so many things you can do I encourage you to make google your friend. (or whatever search engine you like)

There are more options out there to try than you can imagine and so many great flavors and treats to eat. Do not be afraid to experiment and provide comments to us and we will post it here if you wish.

Bacon, everyone’s favorite food.

20160106_175755One of the best parts of a pig is the Bacon – and this is a critical selection time on your cut list. Much like your hams, deciding on smoked or not, as well as size is a big decision and something to think about.

I go for thick cut and smoked because we enjoy the texture of the bacon and it is almost like ham slices with that smoky flavor and rich texture.

For comparison, much of the bacon you buy in the store is mostly fat and thin enough to see through in most cases. I am including photos here from tonight’s dinner to show the difference in farm bacon, cut by a butcher to request. Note the thickness of the final cooked product and also the meat to fat ratio. Not to get too technical and over the top with this, but bacon is serious business! When you order your cuts, I do suggest trying at least a portion of it thick cut – it will take longer to cook but due to the meat / fat ratio you may end up with less fat / drippings than your thinner store bacon.

20160106_180412The decision to smoke it is really a preference thing but again, I suggest you try at least a portion of your bacon that way to see what you think.

Now, what I am going to say next may be bordering on sacrilege to purists, but there are ways to cook bacon beyond the classic cast iron fry pan. We have had success in the microwave though for that, I will tell you that you do NOT need to invest in all the gadgets for microwave bacon – simply put it between layers of paper towel and zap it for around a minute or 2 for 1-3 slices. Another easy and low mess approach is in an oven at 450 – optionally to improve this one, you can drape the bacon on cookie racks over cookie sheets but that is not a requirement and I generally don’t bother if I am doing this approach.

If you are really adventurous, try grilling bacon. It is out of this world but you have to watch it carefully, keep it high and avoid the fire / flame ups. Last but not least by any means – deep frying. I worked at a deli many years ago and learned this trick – toss a few slices in the deep fryer while you fry your eggs and toast your role – heavenly if you have a fryer at your finger tips. (or you have a friend who is willing to share. I love my neighborhood)

 

 

 

 

Pork Loin

The pork loin is a versatile cut of meat that can go from a casual meal for 1 or two to an elegant centerpiece for an important guest (if you’re into that sort of thing, you know – with the candles and wine and …. that stuff.)

I am am providing links here to a few different sites with some radically different uses of this cut to showcase the versatility of the meat. None of these require special instructions to the butcher, but some of them might be enhanced with a little pre-planning. Generally, when our butcher cuts the loin, he does the loin as a cut and the ribs as a cut. If you want, you can get that as one large cut you trim to make extra meaty ribs or whatever suits your needs, just be specific on the cut sheet!

Pork Fajitas

The first contender here might be unexpected – it is Pork Fajitas and is a good use for that smaller loin cut. This recipe calls for browning the pork in small / thin slices but I would suggest a slight modification – try grilling it after coating it with salt and oil on a hot grill to sear the outside, then shift to indirect heat to finish. After that – follow the rest of the direction. Either way, it is a nice summer choice to go with a lime beer.

Crispy Fried Pork Cutlets

Another quick and easy one here is the crispy fried pork cutlet. Now to be completely honest here, this is not on my go to list. I think a good loin should be a roast or even the fajita before going here, but if you are into fried pork, this is an easy option and tasty. I suggest some garlic and pepper in the breading, but that’s totally optional, feel free to miss out on how much better your food would be with it and tell me later you wish you had done it.

Stuffed Pork Loin Roast

Next on the list is a bit more of a formal approach, but the author says it is “Tender, juicy, smoky, delicious, spectacular looking, and fast. Could you ask for anything more?”

Over at AmazingRibs.com, they walk you through a very good primer on how to make a stuffed pork loin roast. They use a smoker, but you can adapt the recipe to your oven if you need to. I really like this site and recommend you take some time to poke around the good resources. It is very well done and makes me hungry every time I visit!

There are so many ways to cook up a good loin that I cannot possibly link them here, but if you want an adventure in cooking, visit Pinterest and search Pork Tenderloin Recipes. (I made it easy, click this link)

I do suggest at least once doing a garlic rosemary approach and experiment away – just keep in mind this is a leaner cut of meat so you need to treat it accordingly and not over cook it or dry it out.

What is Scrapple and how do I cook it?

For those of you who buy a whole or half a pig, it is standard fare to get a bunch of scrapple along with the rest of the cuts, especially in the Pennsylvania and surrounding regions. Scrapple at it’s most basic is a mix of trim meat and cornmeal along with seasoning and cooking, formed in a loaf and packaged for sale.

The quality of scrapple is widely variable, but I have consistently found farm fresh scrapple to beat out commercial scrapple.

20160106_172442What to expect

When you open your scrapple, you will find something that should look like meatloaf, with a layer of fat. This is normal, expected and an advantage to the cooking process. It should not be mealy, soft and crumbly, rather there should be some texture and firmness to it. I suggest keeping it refrigerated until right before use as it cuts better cold.

How to cook it

There are different schools of thought on cooking scrapple and you will have to experiment to find your favorite, but my families preferred method is thin slices, fried crispy.20160106_174524

Frying Tip:

To ensure you don’t end up with a mess of scrapple mush in your fry pan, I  recommend keeping it cold until time to cook (refrigerated), oiling the pan (bacon fat anyone?), and cooking on medium heat for a bit longer than you might think and only flipping it once the meat has fully crisped on the bottom side.

There is a large following of the 1/2 inch slice method that has a crispy exterior and mushy interior for a texture and flavor contrast – I am not one of those people! The aforementioned fat layer on the scrapple can be used in the fry pan to enhance the flavor, but really is optional if you want to reduce the oils / fats.

For a real scrapple bacony delicious treat, try frying a few slices of smoked thick cut bacon, and then frying your scrapple with a little of that bacon fat. – Ok… Now I am craving scrapple so much I think it may be dinner tonight.

What are people saying – is this guy for real?

Scrapple was largely a Pennsylvania dutch dish for quite some time, and frankly looked down on by many who did not know the origin or background behind it. With the growing movement for more responsible eating and full use of animals harvested, it is growing in popularity. Check out this article from Huff post for a perspective on this tasty meal.

Cooking a Pork Butt (pulled pork anyone?)

I have to say, pulled pork and barbecue of most types is one of my favorite foods. Because of that, you will note this post focuses on that, but I try to highlight different approaches. To some, an oven is sacrilege for this process and only outdoor, wood smokers will do. Others are just as happy with an oven and a little liquid smoke, though I suspect that is due to not trying the alternatives.

It is also worth noting that the term Pork Butt is a little confusing as it is really not the butt at all, but rather the shoulder area – there are some pretty funny suggestions as to why it’s called the butt, but I will leave that to you to read up on.

  1. First up is the website AmazingRibs.com.
    The reason I am leading off with this one is I think it is a great resource to get an education on this cut and style, plus it doesn’t hurt that they point out Berkshire Pigs are the ones to look for! (In case you didn’t figure it out yet, we raise Berkshire – mmm good) The approach in this article is focused on a smoker or grill, but could be adapted if you are desperate and can’t lay your hands on one of these options. (I am sad for you if that is the case – you should move to the country and make some redneck friends like mine to have true food options!) Also worth looking for on this site is the linked article on cooking times.
  2. The next option to look at is from the CookShack.com.
    While there is significantly less detail on this link, I like this site as they also provide a little balanced chat about the different mops / sauces.

  3. Jump on google or bing or however you search the internet of food and find your own great resources, and please, let me know your approaches.

The bottom line is that this is a great cut of meat, cooked low and slow. Pulled pork is best paired with coleslaw, beans and beer and served on burger roles but you will find your own approach based on region and taste.