In honor of Cochon 555 coming to Memphis next weekend, I wanted to talk about what this traveling event celebrates… Heritage Pork.
Now, when you go to your average supermarket for pork that’s what you get… average meat.
Over the years the market has demanded a leaner, cheaper and faster-to-market hog. Unfortunately this has driven the quality of the meat down. There is nothing really “wrong” with big-market pork, it’s just that they’ve bred all the flavor out of it.
Back in the day, it was common for families to raise their own pigs. Those hogs were grown upwards of 300lbs – it took a long time to get them there – but the meat was marbled with delicious flavor.
Today, there are a few farms out there still raising these heritage breeds the way they should be raised. And this type of pork is really starting to grow in popularity.
These heritage breeds are raised on small farms without the use of antibiotics or steroids, they’re fed better diets, have room to roam, and just aren’t subjected to the same environment as mass-produced pork.
What’s does this have to do with BBQ you ask?
I’ve been lucky enough to cook some of the best heritage pork available; and I have to say, it is noticeably better. We’ve even cooked different shoulders – one Berkshire and one standard Hormel – side by side just to compare. There’s a world of difference.
But the biggest issue you face when sourcing heritage pork is that it’s in high demand with a low supply.
And since it’s hard to find a farm raising it in your backyard… when you factor in shipping, it can be 3 to 4 times the cost of supermarket pork.
Do you cook heritage pork differently?
I have found that heritage cuts of meat do actually cook a little differently.
There are a few big things that I’ve noticed…
It has a different type of fat – it’s almost buttery. It just seems to “melt” into the meat which makes the end product super-rich and succulent. Even when trimming, I’ve noticed that there’s not as much thick, hard fat to remove.
It cooks faster because this type of fat renders quickly, and it doesn’t dry out as easy because it surrounds and sticks to the meat as it melts. This is what gives Heritage pork its’ rich flavor.
I also haven’t seen a noticeable stall in cooking temp with heritage pork. It makes a steady, gradual climb to the target temperature.
And when it’s done, it has a unique flavor profile of its own… so it doesn’t need as much injection to get flavor down into the meat. Sometimes I don’t even inject it at all. I sure can’t say that for regular pork!
Of course, you’re still cooking it to the same temperature and your techniques are the same, but it just doesn’t seem to take as much effort to get it perfect.
But there is a downside in the competition setting. A lot of the judges haven’t tasted heritage pork and aren’t used to the rich flavor it has – so it can be a double-edged sword.
Sourcing it can also be a big problem. You can’t just walk into most butcher shops and find heritage pork. You have to get it almost exclusively straight from a farm. There are a few sources online, but you can expect to pay for the quality your going to get.
And if you want to try out some of the best heritage pork cooked by some chefs that know how to do it, look up Cochon 555. (here is the website: http://www.cochon555.com/) This is a heritage barbecue traveling show – and we are lucky enough to have it in Memphis next weekend. You better believe I’m going to be there.