Grilling 102: From Snout to Tail
In the interest of equal blog time, I need to follow up yesterday’s commentary on beef cuts with an equally delicious alternative for the Labor Day grill: Pork. For Americans, the history of Pork is tied to the history of Uncle Sam. During the War of 1812, the US Government shipped pork to soldiers in barrels. These barrels were stamped with the letters US and the name of the meat packer, Sam Wilson. The soldiers referred to the barrels as “Uncle Sam’s meat”. Thus we have pork to thank for the national nickname, Uncle Sam.
The hogs, following slaughter are divided into two lengthwise halves. The primal cuts are derived from these. The primals are the Shoulder, Boston Butt, Belly, Loin and Ham. The Ham should not be confused with the picnic ham. The term picnic ham actually refers to the primal Shoulder. This is the lower portion of the foreleg. It is one of the lesser tender areas of the hog. These cuts can be smoked (“picnic hams”), cut into shoulder butt steaks or cut into smaller stewing pieces. Many pit masters in the South use whole pork shoulder as the preferred barbecue cut. The shoulder hock is the foreleg portion of this primal. It is almost always smoked and used for flavorings in soups, stews and braised dishes.
The Boston Butt is not a butt at all. It is the square cut directly above the Shoulder primal. It is a very meaty and tender cut. It can be cut into steaks or chops. When it is smoked it is sometimes referred to as a “cottage ham”.
While the Boston Butt is not a butt at all, the pork Belly is actually the belly. This primal is located directly below the Loin. It is from this region that the pork spareribs come from. The non-spareribs portion of the belly can be used to produce bacon.
The Loin contains the highest quality portion of the hog and the most expensive cuts are derived from this primal. This primal is located directly behind the Boston Butt and includes the entire rib area. The pork loin comes from this primal; it consists of a very tender, single eye muscle. It is actually a very lean cut of meat. The pork tenderloin is located on the inside of the rib bones. As the name implies, the tenderloin is the tenderest cut of pork. The ubiquitous pork chop can be derived from the entire Loin primal. The most highly prized chop is the center cut, just after the blade bone at the front and the sirloin portion at the rear are removed. Smoked boneless pork loin is known as Canadian bacon. The rib bones from this primal are known as pork back ribs. Fatback, although not technically part of the primal, comes from this region.
The primal Ham is the hog’s hind leg. As the name implies, this cut is often smoked or cured to produce various hams. The shank portion of the Ham is called the ham hock. It is used in an analogous fashion to the shoulder hock.