So what are the Middle-of-the-Hog cuts?
These cuts are next down in the economic tier and they literally come from the middle of the pig. Many of these are made into delicious, and very high priced, products through additional curing, brining, smoking, drying and other processing. Think bacon, hams, prosciutto, sausages, hot dogs, salami, etc.
Each of these requires some additional work to produce the final product. These steps result in loss of water and trim (shrinkage), cost time and money all of which drives the price up and concentrates the flavor.
This uses portions of the pig that aren’t in high demand as cuts and turns them into delectable dining. Everyone loves bacon — vegans speak of it in fearful whispers, calling it “the gateway meat that tempts people back to the traditional, sustainable, omnivore diet.” Understandable.
What are the Middle-of-the-Hog cuts?
- Ham – Hams are typically brined and smoked to get their distinctive flavor. I’ve always been a big fan of big hams, the rear leg of the pig. I grew up with ham being a special meal and love the left overs. It’s a long slow cook. I like to glaze ours with honey. Brown sugar or maple sugar are two other common glazes. If you’re intimidated by such a huge hunk of meat consider slicing it to steaks or just cutting it in half. The ham can be done boneless, semi-boneless where the hip is removed, or bone-in. The first is the easiest to carve, but the bone adds flavor and can be saved for making soup. Lastly, when in doubt, grind the ham to make ground for sausage, meat balls, kielbasa or hot dogs. No discussion of ham is done without mentioning the highest priced hams, the prosciutto which is salted and dry aged.
- Picnic Shoulder – Roast bone-in or bone-out or made into pulled pork. It can also be treated much like the ham, ground for a variety of uses.
- Belly – Pork bellies are most often made into bacon through a brining or dry curing process and then smoking. Smoked protein, fat, sugar and salt — What’s not to like! Pork bellies can also be made into sausage, panchetta, pork sides, salt pork, and many other things. It is a versatile mix of meat and fat. One of the most delicious things is to leave the bacon on the spare ribs, soak them in a tomato based sauce and then smoke them for BBQ meaty ribs.
- Ribs – There are three main different types of ribs: Spare Ribs which come two racks to a side of pork and baby back ribs which are in the pork chops when bone-in. For the ultimate ribs, try the smoked BBQ meaty ribs mentioned above in the bacon.
- Sausage – The sausage tends to come from the middle of the hog. Sometimes as high as the butt, rarely higher. Mostly the sausage consists of meat from the hams, picnic shoulder, and belly. If the demand for hocks is low then the meat from them is available as well as jowl occasionally. Use high quality ingredients and keep the list short.
- Ground – Ground is essentially sausage before spicing and linking. It is one of the most versatile meats. You can make your own sausage, spaghetti sauce, meat balls, shepherd’s pie, lasagna, tacos, enchiladas and so many other wonderful dishes.