Pork is generally produced from young animals and is, therefore, less variable in tenderness than beef. However, there is another reason why pork is less variable. Producers have responded to consumer demand by actually changing their feeding and management programs. They've even changed the genetic makeup of their breeding stock to produce leaner carcasses. Also, most visible fat is trimmed off at the processing plant. Because of these changes, today's fresh pork products have considerably less fat than they did just a decade ago.
Because of this consistency, USDA grades for pork reflect only two levels of quality: Acceptable and Unacceptable. Acceptable quality pork is also graded for yield, i.e., the yield ratio of lean to waste. Unacceptable quality pork-which includes meat that is soft and watery-is graded U.S. Utility.
In buying pork, look for cuts with a relatively small amount of fat over the outside and with meat that is firm and grayish pink 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. However, like beef and lamb, the cut affects the cooking method. Following are some of the more popular pork cuts and suggested methods of cooking:
chops come in a variety of cuts -- center loin, rib chops, sirloin chops, boneless or bone-in. They can be prepared by pan-broiling, grilling, baking, braising, or sautéing. Thin chops (1/4 - 3/8 inch) are best sautéed. Boneless chops cook more quickly than bone-in chops.
are available as spareribs, back ribs, and country-style ribs. Spareribs come from the belly portion, while back ribs and country-style ribs come from the loin. All three styles can be braised or roasted in the oven or on the barbecue grill. Slow cooking yields the most tender and flavorful results.
are considered to be the most tender and tasty cut of pork. Extremely lean, tenderloins can be roasted whole, cut into cubes for kabobs or into strips for stir-fry, and sliced for scaloppini or medallions.
Source: USDA Agricultural Marketing Service