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Whether it's grilled chops or braised ribs, pork has been popular since ancient Greek and Roman times. Famous historian Pliny once said, "Pork has almost 50 different flavors, whereas other animals only have one.
Pork customarily refers to the meat of a pig that is under a year old. However, most pork sold today comes from pigs that are six to nine months old, producing a meat that's not only tender, but about 35% to 50% leaner than it was just years ago.
Pork is split into five primary sections that are divided into several market-ready cuts such as roasts, chops and ham.
ARM PICNIC SHOULDER
These flavorful, inexpensive cuts include the shank (the front leg) and the hock (the lower, meaty portion of the front leg). The hock contains two round shank bones that are exposed on both ends and is often sold with the skin still attached. Both cuts are often available fresh or cured/smoked. They are best prepared with long, slow cooking methods for tender results, and are ideal for flavoring soups and stews.
This top portion of the front leg, or pork shoulder, gives us the blade steak. This tender, well-marbled cut comes from the area near the loin and contains the shoulder blade bone. Inexpensive and quite versatile, the blade steak can be pot-roasted, braised, barbecued or smoked for classic pulled pork.
Pork shoulder is also often used to make ground pork and sausages.
The hind leg of the hog gives us ham in fresh, cured or specialty varieties. Fresh pork leg is uncured, and is available bone-in, boneless, whole or halved. Fresh ham may also be cut into rump, shank or center portions.
Cured ham has been dry-cured by rubbing salt and spices into the meat's surface, or wet-cured with a brine solution that contains water, salt, sugar and spices. Wet-cured hams are most common, and they're often the centerpiece of special meals. Both varieties are available in different sizes, as well as bone-in or boneless.
Supermarkets also carry a wide selection of specialty-cured hams such as Italian-style prosciutto and capicolla, or Spanish-style Serrano and Iberico.
Many cuts come from the loin, the strip of meat that runs from the pig's hip to the shoulder. One of the most tender is the tenderloin. Typically weighing between ¾ and 1½ pounds, it is mildly flavored and best prepared with a spice rub, marinade or sauce.
The most popular cut from the loin is the pork chop.