Pork is divided into 5 Primal Cuts: Shoulder Butt, Picnic Shoulder, Loin, Ham, and Belly.

Pork is the meat of hogs usually butchered before they are one year old. With the exception of beef, Americans consume more pork than any other meat. The pork we eat is leaner and healthier than it once was because of advances in animal husbandry. Since hogs are butchered at a young age, their meat is generally very tender with a delicate flavor. It is well suited to a variety of cooking methods. More than two thirds of the pork marketed in the United States is cured to produce products such as smoked hams and smoked bacon.

A Hog Is Not All Ham or Chops

After a hog is slaughtered, it is generally split down the backbone, dividing the carcass into bilateral halves. Like the beef carcass, each side of the hog carcass is then further broken down into the primal cuts: shoulder, Boston butt, belly, loin and fresh ham. Hogs are bred specifically to produce long loins: The loin contains the highest-quality meat and is the most expensive cut of pork.

Pork is unique in that the ribs and loin are considered a single primal. They are not separated into two different primal, as are the ribs and loin of beef, veal and lamb. As with all meats, it is important to know the location of bones when cutting or working with pork. This makes meat fabrication and carving easier and aids in identifying cuts. A hanging weight of a hog carcass generally weighs in a range of 150 to 210 pounds.

Pork is not graded with USDA quality grades as it is generally produced from young animals that have been bred and fed to produce more uniformly tender meat. Appearance is an important guide in buying fresh pork. Look for cuts with a relatively small amount of fat over the outside and with meat that is firm and grayish pink in color. For best flavor and tenderness, meat should have a small amount of marbling.

Pork’s consistency makes it suitable for a variety of cooking styles. Chops can be prepared by pan broiling, grilling, baking, braising, or sautéing. Ribs can be braised, roasted, or grilled. Slow cooking yields the most tender and flavorful results. Tenderloins are considered to be the most tender and tasty cut of pork.

According to the National Pork Producers Council, with a market or live weight of 250 pounds the typical hog will produce a 180 pound carcass or hanging weight which will yield about 140 pounds of retail cuts of pork, which is approximately 56% of the live weight. Everything but the squeal is used.

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