Just like in beef, a grading system exists for pork, too. However, this grading system applies only to the level of processing. Grading of the whole hogs is done as the numbers one, two, and three. Each of these numbers represent a different level of quality.
Fresh pork tends to vary a great deal in terms of its quality. Visual examination is one of the ways to evaluate the quality of fresh pork. A more accurate determination of quality is possible by scientific analysis. In general, a lighter color indicates better quality. Many packers also have a premium program where marbling and color standard cards are available.
Inspection is a mandatory requirement for pork. However, grading in terms of quality is a voluntary practice. USDA has only two levels of grading pork viz. Acceptable and Utility. The Acceptable grade of pork is the only variety of fresh pork available in the US market. This grade is characterized by a higher proportion of lean meat compared to that of bone and fat. The Utility grade refers to pork that is used mostly in different processed products. This grade is not available to the consumers for purchase.
Any pork that has been processed for resale is inspected by USDA for wholesomeness. This inspection can also be carried out by state systems with standards similar to that of USDA. Each of the animals and their internal organs is examined thoroughly for disease symptoms. The safety and wholesomeness of the pork is indicated by the seal “Passed and Inspected by USDA.”
Mentioned below are some of the most popular pork cuts available on the market.
• Pork Tenderloin: This is a lean and extremely tender cut derived from the loin’s end. This cut is characterized by a pale pink color, fine grains, and a tapered end. Pork Tenderloin is a great choice for the weekend dinners because it cooks quickly.
• Pork Chops: This cut is extremely popular amongst the pork lovers and is used extensively for broiling, pan-frying, and grilling. Chops cut from the center of the loin are the richest and meatiest. Loin chops and rib chops are the two types of this cut. Loin chops are similar in appearance to small T-bone steaks with a part of the tenderloin attached to it. The same cut without the attached tenderloin is referred to as rib chops.
• Pork Loin: This large cut is derived from a pig’s back portion. This cut is very easy to slice because it contains no bones. Characterized by robust flavor and dense texture, pork loin contains a fat cap from the animal’s back portion. This cut is recommended for roasting, pan-frying, and grilling.
• Pork Sausage: Pork sausages are derived from ground pork, and are available in many different sizes. The flavor of pork sausage ranges from spicy and sweet to savory. Sausages are frequently used as a ground beef alternative in pizza toppings, stews, and sauces.
• Baby-Back Ribs: These are curved slabs derived from the rib cage of a pig adjacent to the backbone. This cut is known for juicy and sweet meat, and it takes very little time to cook. A full rack comprises of eight ribs or more. The tenderest meat is available from racks with a maximum weight of two pounds. This cut is suitable for both grilling and roasting.
• Spare Ribs: This cut is less meaty compared to the baby back ribs. However, spare ribs are still very tasty because they contain an adequate quantity of fat. This cut is large, has an irregular shape, and comes from the lower rib cage or underbelly of the pig. A full rack of spare ribs contains eleven ribs or more and has a weight of three to four pounds. This cut is perfectly suited for braising, grilling, and roasting.
• Pork Shoulder: Pork shoulder refers to the meat available from the area starting from the pig’s spine down to the elbow of the front leg including the shoulder blade. Towards the front and back portion, pork shoulder includes the neck and the first two or three small rib bones respectively. A full shoulder comprises of two halves known as the picnic and the butt, and its weight may vary between eight and twenty pounds. The meat derived from this part is known to have a complex weave of muscles, sinew, connective tissues, and fat. Pork shoulder is used extensively for pulled pork, pork steaks, shoulder roast, and country ribs. Cooking low and slow is recommended for pork shoulder as it tends to get tough at higher temperatures. Braising and southern style smoke roasting are also good for pork shoulder.
• Bacon: Bacon is commonly prepared from fat containing slabs from the underbelly section of the pig. Canadian bacon is leaner and is available as cylindrical slices cut from the pig’s belly. With a longer shelf-life compared to uncured pork, bacon can be refrigerated safely for seven days.
• Ham: Ham is cut from the leg of the pigs. In most of the cases, ham is cured with spices, salt, and brine. However, fresh ham is also available in the market for baking. Hams are available with bone, semi-boneless, and boneless. Bone-in ham is known to have the best flavor. Whereas, the boneless variety can be cut very easily.