Better-tasting Pork: Fat is where it’s at

Your job as a direct-marketer is two-fold.  Marketing:  make the sale.  Production:  produce a product that turns a casual customer into a repeat customer.

Most people have never eaten a juicy, flavorful pork chop.  There are two reasons for this:  overcooking and too-lean pork.

Fat is where the flavor is.  I read that blindfolded volunteers could not tell the difference between pork, beef, or chicken meat, if  all the fat was removed from the protein.

People will continue to overcook pork.  However, pork with more fat will stay juicy longer.

What can we do as direct-marketers? How can we increase the odds that our customer will have an excellent eating experience with our pork?

We can educate our consumers and change our swine genetics.  This takes time and is an ongoing process.  Hand out cooking information, talk to consumers about how they cook, select boars with more intramuscular fat, (marbling).  Some of the breeds such as the Duroc and Berkshire have boars that are clearly superior for intramuscular fat.  We have used some of the Durocs from SGI to increase the marbling in our pork.

But there are two things you can do right now.  Take your hogs to heavier market weights and only use barrows for your direct market. 

In the 1980′s most market hogs had over an inch of backfat at a market weight of 220-250 lbs.  The meatpackers began to demand a leaner hog and were willing to pay for it.  They also asked for heavier hogs to increase their throughput.  Swine geneticists took the cue and bred hogs that stayed leaner to heavier market weights. 

Consumers didn’t want fat either.  The Pork Checkoff  jumped on the lean bandwagon and began to advertise, “Pork, the other white meat”.  Consumers thought they were buying a chicken-like product and in many respects they were.  However, pork doesn’t make good chicken.  So we ended up with drier, less flavorful, more expensive than chicken, chicken-like pork.

Now everyone has realized the pork industry swung the leanness pendulum too far.  Changes have been made in the industry.  The meatpackers changed their buying grids to no longer reward the super-lean hogs.  However, it takes a long time to change the nation’s swineherd and pork is still quite lean.  This is where your opportunity as a direct-marketer lies.

Many of our pork customers tell us one of two things.  “We have never had pork like this before.”  Or, “this is the pork I remember from my youth.”  Either way we’re golden because we are creating a noteworthy eating experience for them. 

Back to what you can do right now to improve your pork.  Hogs have more marbling the heavier and fatter they become.  We shoot for a 220+ lb. carcass which means the live weight is 300+ lbs.

We only use barrows for our direct market.  Barrows have about .2 inch more backfat than gilts and correspondingly more marbling.  Also, there can be quality issues if a gilt is butchered when she is in estrus.  Barrows are a sure thing. 

There are two disadvantages to taking your hogs to heavier market weights.  Feed efficiency is reduced as hogs grow larger.  And an athletic 300+ lb. hog can be quite a challenge to load.  Happy marketing!

6 Responses to Better-tasting Pork: Fat is where it’s at

  1. James says:

    Great Post.

    I remember loading LARGE hogs onto the truck when I was younger. If they were determined not to get on the truck (which was often the case)it was always a challenge.

    I have always loved a thick fat laden pork chop when compared to a lean one.

  2. curiousfarmer says:

    Thank you James. Glad to know another pro-fat man.

  3. foodbubbles says:

    This is a really great post from the producer’s perspective on how pork could taste better. I suspect that the pendulum won’t be swinging back all that fast. Don’t you think that customers will still want the cheaper (leaner) meats even if it means less flavor? Like your customers, people may not even know what they missing or simply got used to today’s pork flavor.

    My article about bacon is more from the consumer’s economic perspective: http://www.foodbubbles.com/blog/2008/11/19/bacon-it-used-to-taste-even-better/

  4. curiousfarmer says:

    Thank you foodbubbles. I was amazed at your level of insight into the pork industry.
    As far as consumers… Most will go for price.
    I have a confession. In Madison, my state’s capital, I’m becoming a celebrity farmer known for the quality of meat I produce. In Darlington, my small hometown, I’m just another farmer. I don’t sell much meat in my local community. Most people wouldn’t pay me a nickel more when they perceive they can get the same product at Walmart. Funny.

  5. jellybean says:

    I love cooking with pork now! We were out to dinner with some friends the other evening, and the conversation inevitably turned to cooking and eating. I mentioned how I have a slight complex about eating pork because I’ve heard that they eat everything, sort of like a garbage disposal so have always assumed that pork was unhealthy. But as I’ve been learning to cook, I’ve discovered that pork just soaks in whatever flavors you’re using, and most likely this was related to the fat content. My fiance and I have talked about how even the taste/texture of pork fat is much better than beef – it doesn’t seem as grisly. And while I don’t go looking for pieces of fat to eat on my dinner plate, I know that if there was a choice between a chunk of cow fat and a chunk of pork fat, I would choose the pork hands down.

    Unfortunately, I belong to the segment of the populace that is having difficulty affording things, so I’ve had to turn to what seems to be the cheapest protein (other than beans and eggs) that you can get at the grocery store – chicken, which at it’s lowest is about 67 cents/lb. I look forward to the day when I am able to support my local farming community and purchase higher-grade meat from local producers. Until this happens, I am gladly and gradually learning how to cook the best beans in the world, and what makes them really good, is the scraps of pork shoulder that have simmered all day alongside those tasty beans.

  6. curiousfarmer says:

    Jellybean, you should be a spokesperson for the pork industry! Thanks!

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