Cooking Pork: Kitchen 101

cookingporkPork is one of the most consumed meat in the world. So how do you prepare it? It’s a relatively easy meat to cook, not super fussy and able to go with many, many different flavors and in many styles of cooking.

Sometimes, it’s good to know the basics of cooking before you get into more specific things. You can learn some important basic cooking tips in this class, The Everyday Gourmet.

Where do pork chops come from? How about ham? Here’s a handy chart that breaks down the different cuts of pork and where they come from on the pig.

Even though you will find many different cuts and names, they all originate from only four major parts of the animal: the shoulder, the legs, the belly, and back. (If you were curious, bacon comes from the belly!) There are the other, smaller bits like the jowls, the feet, offal and even the brain. They certainly aren’t as popular as the other major cuts, though they have their fans. For now, we’ll assume that, besides bacon, you are interested in the more commonly found cuts of pork.

To cook great pork, you can use different marinades, rubs (dry spices and seasonings or wet paste) and brines to add flavor to the meat. It needs to be said that only the thinnest cuts will really absorb any flavor. Marinades only sit on the outside and can actually change when they get cooked. True, the juices will mix and can flavor the meat, but it doesn’t actually get inside the cut itself. If you aren’t careful, you’ll only burn the marinade and that saucy flavor will be lost in a haze of char, making your great idea a blackened skin on the outside, with some bland meat underneath. Rubs also sit on the outside, but they tend to use salt to moisturize the meat under it. Brines use a salt solution to make the meat absorb more water, also making the pork very tender.

This page from the National Pork Board is a great place to start learning these techniques, with guidelines and recipes for all kinds of marinades, rubs, and brines.

So what are good ways to cook different cuts of pork?

Tenderloin

From the back part of the pig, the tenderloin is leaner than other parts of the animal. For great results, use any style marinade or rub and then throw it on a grill or roast it in the oven at about 425º. Italian dressing makes a great marinade. The tenderloin will cook in about a half hour, but for safety’s sake, make sure that the temperature of the meat at it’s thickest part is 145º inside.

Once it’s done, it should rest for about five to ten more minutes before you start slicing away at it. The reason to let it rest is so the juices don’t escape. As the meat cools, the protein will suck those juices back up and keep it all inside. If you’ve ever had a cutlet that was juicy all over the plate, and not in the meat, it’s because it wasn’t allowed to rest before it got to you. Let that tenderloin rest!

Roast

A slow-cooker is the way to go here and the easiest way to get some tasty results. You can do something super simple like a kind of Hawaiian-style Kalua Pig. Take some kosher salt, rub it all over the roast and place it fat side up in the crock pot. Take about a tablespoon of liquid smoke and pour it over over the meat. No need for extra liquid! Set it on low, let it cook for at least 6 hours and there you go. By dinner time, it’s all set!

Another super simple recipe is to make pulled pork style BBQ. Just put about a cup of your favorite BBQ sauce on top of your roast and then turn it on. The sauce will get down in there and make the roast super tender. After about 6 hours on low, take the roast out, carefully (it will want to fall apart) and put it in a bowl. Pick out the fat bits and shred it with the forks. Put the meat back into the crock pot and mix all those juices into it. Then you’ve got excellent, meaty and easy pulled pork. Put it on some rolls or bread for sandwiches.

Chops

These cuts are from the same part of the pig as the tenderloin are the are least time intensive to cook. A couple pork chops can be done in five to seven minutes. This Pioneer Woman recipe is nice and easy.

Here’s the short version: make sure your chops are thin cut, with a bone still in it. Put a little salt and pepper on both sides, dredge it in flour to lightly coat it. No heavy coating, just a little bit. Then pan fry, about 2 minutes each side. Just like the tenderloin, it should be 145º to be done and since the meat is so thin, you’ll hit that in no time. You can tell it’s done without a thermometer if you give it a little cut and the juices inside are clear.

Try a different spice mix instead of salt and pepper or add an egg to the dredge for a crispy fried crust. These are quick and versatile pieces of meat.

Ribs

These guys are probably the most challenging because the ribs have so little meat on the bones. But done right, they’re like BBQ lollipops.

There are a ton of different ways to get these done, but most involve rubs or a BBQ sauce. You can boil the ribs first, then bake them. You can wrap them in foil with a rub and bake them for a bit, a la Paula Deen, or wrap them in foil with the rub and finish them in a grill. You can put them on a grill with indirect heat, and cook them for a long time, brushing sauce on them every 15 minutes until done. Whichever way, they all guarantee great results.

If you need some other cooking ideas, like some great side dishes, there’s Learn How to Cook Southern-Style Dishes. With recipes for dirty rice and sweet peas, you can match them up with some pork chops and have a grand meal.

Here’s another cooking class that has a huge list of recipes, Vechey’s Effortless Gourmet. She will teach you appetizers, sides, entrees and desserts while giving you a great foundation of cooking skills.

Maybe you had some great ribs and wanted to teach some other folks about how you made it. You can take How to Make Cooking Videos. Covering lighting and shot composition and schedules and needed hardware, it’s an in depth look at what it takes to make eye-catching videos.

So there you have it. From pork cooking basics and ideas, to getting enough knowledge to throw a dinner party and document the whole thing on video. There are tons of great ideas for cooking pork out there, and probably more you can come up with on your own. Best of luck!