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Field Notes: Hog, from Ranch to Table

Whether you hunt or buy your meat, butcher Ross Flynn explains how — and why — to look beyond the tenderest cuts.

Pork Carnitas

Editorial Note: Experience Life staff writer Maggie Fazeli Fard was recently in Southwest Texas reporting on the proliferation of wild hogs in the state, their destructive environmental impact, and efforts to manage their numbers — primarily through organized, unlimited hog hunts. The hunts attract experienced hunters as well as novices with an interest in local food sourcing and the “ranch-to-table” experience. Maggie is sharing some of her reporting through the “Field Notes” series this week. Check out Part One and Part II, and find Part III below. 

A recurring theme during the hog hunt was maintaining respect for the animal — in life and in death. To that end, the trip included a butchery demonstration by Ross Flynn, a hog farmer and butcher from North Carolina.

“My goal is to make good meat more accessible without sacrificing animal welfare or the quality of the meat,” Flynn said, holding up a cross-section of a wild hog he’d shot on a Southwest Texas ranch the previous day. “One way to do that is to understand the different cuts and how to use them. Pork is more than Boston butt and sausage,” he promised.

Here are some of Flynn’s top tips for working with pork:

  • Wild hog vs. pasture-raised hog: The main difference is the belly. Pastured animals tend to be well fed and more sedentary that feral varieties and as a result they accumulate fat in the belly. This is perfect for applications such as pancetta and bacon. Wild hogs tend to be leaner, effectively eliminating hope of harvesting thick, center-cut bacon.
  • Embrace the cheap, tough cuts. The leg muscles are generally tougher because they are responsible for locomotion and constantly work, every day. The “center barrel,” or midsection, is considerably more tender — but, Flynn says, the tenderest cuts are often the most expensive and the least flavorful. “If you have teeth and you’re willing to use them, you don’t have to spend top dollar.” Try braising, slow-cooking, and super low-and-slow barbecue to break down tougher cuts, such as the shoulder.
  • Don’t overcook it. 145 degrees F is the ideal cooking temperature for pork. Flynn speculated that most people who dislike pork have only eaten it “overcooked” to 160 degrees or above.
  • The exception to that rule is barbecue. In this case, you want to raise the meat temperature to between 190 and 200 degrees “very, very, very slowly,” he says. “It could take 10, 12, even 24 hours to get there. That way the collagen is actually breaking down,” tenderizing the meat.
  • When in doubt, use white wine to cook the meat. “White wine and pork is magic,” Flynn says.

 Maggie Fazeli Fard is an Experience Life staff writer. 

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