Pork. It's What's for Breakfast and Dinner
If you consider yourself a pork fanatic or bacon fiend, this information should really pique your interest. There are several different cuts of pork, but which are the best for our money? Do you know? If not, that's why I'm here.
Bacon, arguably the most popular of all pork products, is actually very diverse. There are countless brand-name bacon manufacturers, but not all are the same.
There is, in fact, a very thin line between bacon and fatback. Fatback is essential bacon without the lean part. Since bacon is often 50% or less lean pork, this isn't hard to understand. So what are the best brands of bacon, you ask?
Well, that is a touchy subject, as there are different preferences. Some people like their bacon fatty, while others prefer leaner bacon. To make everyone's preference, I will do my best to address both.
For those who prefer leaner bacon, the best brands to consider are definitely Wright's, Oscar Mayer, Hormel Black Label, Smithfield, Kirkland, and the cheaper alternative, Farmland.
Why are these bacon brands leaner?
The aforementioned brands are all top quality and offer different bacon combinations such as Thick-Cut, Applewood flavored, Ends & Pieces and many other different options. For this reason, these brands are able to cull out fattier strips or sections of bacon to provide a leaner package or bacon. You may get a fattier package every once in a while, but it is not very common.
For those who prefer fattier bacon, the best route for you is either market-produced bacon, which is typically the cheapest bacon that is available for a meat market to purchase, or just about any other low-end bacon. Some bacon brands even have a sister brand that packages fewer quality pieces that do not meet their higher-end label standards. Sunnyland and Gwaltney are good examples of this, being sister companies to Smithfield.
Spoiler alert: If you are a die-hard brand name fan, I encourage you to research that brand and see who the sister companies are (if there are any). You may be surprised to find out that your brand name may actually be the same manufacturer as a product that you do not like.
Cuts of Pork Chops
Before we jump into the different cuts of pork, I want to lay a ground layer of reference. There are The five major cuts of pork are:
- Center Cut—This cut comes from the center of a bone in pork loin. Typically, the center cut starts shortly after the rib end disappears, and you start to see a little piece of tenderloin connected.
- Breakfast Cut—While this cut can come from any portion of the loin, it is generally from the rib end of the loin. There is usually a curved rib-like bone protruding from the lean meat, resembling a T-Bone in some ways.
- Loin End Cut—The loin end cut is exactly what it sounds like. This cut comes from the end of a loin. It is the cut opposite from the rib end and usually has a bone running through the center of it.
- Rib End or Assorted Cut—This, too, is exactly what it sounds like. It is from the rib end and is usually the most tender, as there are usually several connecting layers of fat. Most of the time, these ends are used for ribs and assorted chops. Assorted chops are usually just a few cuts of rib end and loin end mixed together.
- Boneless Cuts—It is hard to determine the origin of a boneless chop unless you are cutting the loin yourself. A boneless loin has been boned out and usually shows no indication of a piece of tenderloin connected. Stating that, you never really get, what I consider to be, a true center-cut boneless chop.
Now that we have discussed the different types of pork cuts, let's get into it. I will go ahead and warn you: this is going to be a lengthy segment, as there are a variety of pork chop cuts. For this reason, I will try to make it easier to navigate by using bold letters for each separate cut of pork.
The ideal breakfast chop is 1/4 inch thick or more if desired. The reason for this thinness is that this is a very condensed cut. There is little to no fat striation in this cut, save for the fat surrounding the edges, which is about all the tenderizing you can expect from this cut. By cutting the pork this thin, it allows for the meat to seem more tender than a thicker version would be because it does not overcook. If you want to test this theory, get your local butcher, or meat cutter, as we like to be called, to cut you a couple of inches thick chops from the rib end. You will discover, upon cooking them, that the meat is not nearly as tender as it would be if it were only 1/4 inch thick.
Why is this cut usually the most expensive if it is not the tenderest cut?
Since this cut requires meat cutters to make more runs through a meat saw, there is some loss of product and more time involved due to having to tray more pieces into each package. This is why you will generally pay 20¢ or more per pound than you would for a center-cut chop.
Center Cut Chops
As stated previously, this cut is supposed to come from the center of a pork loin. Unfortunately, it does not always come from there. If you have a loin that is 40-50 inches long, which most are, you usually only get about 10 inches of true center-cut pieces from that loin, meaning less than 20% of the loin can be center-cut chops. Since center-cut chops are usually as good a seller as thin-cut chops, you will, most often, get some pieces that are actually closer to the rib end. If you have ever seen a curved rib bone protruding from a center cut chop, this is why.
What is the best thickness for a center-cut chop?
Most markets cut their center cut chops between 1/2 to 5/8 inch. If you have never had a center-cut chop that is 3/4 to 1-inch thick, you should immediately treat yourself. Since this cut of pork is one of the most tender, the meat cooks very tenderly and is very juicy if cooked at the right temperature and duration.
Loin End Chops
These pork chops are often the most underrated cuts. While Loin End chops do have more bone and fat throughout, they are often the most tender cut from a loin. While not trying to contradict my earlier statement of center-cut chops being tender, I will say that this is the tenderest cut of pork you can get for your money.
What are the pros and cons of buying Loin End Chops?
If you are not fond of eating around a bone, then this is not the chop for you. While center-cut chops allow you to essentially eat the pork chop as you would a steak, loin-end chops are usually connected by bones throughout. Conversely, these bones allow the meat to be tenderer. You know that "fall off the bone" reference? That is what you get when you cook loin-end chops.
Loin-end chops are usually half the price of center-cut or breakfast-cut chops. Often you can find them on sale for as little as 69¢ lb, which is very much worth the money when compared to an average of $2.99 lb or more for center-cut chops.
Rib End Chops
I will start off by saying do not buy rib end chops. These are extremely difficult to eat and often go wasted due to the different layers of fat that are intertwined throughout the chop. For this cause, many markets tend to use the rib ends for Country Style Ribs. For those interested, I will go further in-depth on types of ribs and best cuts for your money in a later article.
Are assorted chops any good?
Assorted chops can be tempting if the cost is cheap enough, but you are actually getting less for more. The only good pieces in a package of assorted chops are the loin end cuts, which are almost always cheaper to buy in a single package of just loin ends.
Spoiler Alert: Assorted chops are most often sold to get rid of unwanted rib end chops.
Boneless Pork Chops
While this is, quite possibly, the most popular cut of pork chop, you can often get it cheaper by cutting it yourself. Most boneless pork chops are cut and placed into packages of two or more pounds. That being said, you can usually buy a half loin for much cheaper than an already-cut package of boneless pork chops. Half loins usually range from 2.5 to 4 lbs. If you are planning on getting two packages of boneless pork chops, go ahead and save a few bucks and get a half loin instead and cut it yourself. Boneless pork loins are easy to cut. If you can slice bread, you can slice a boneless pork loin.
How do I tell which is the best boneless half loin to get?
Look for a continuous pattern. If you see a darker-colored portion separated by a small line of fat, stray away from that piece. The ones you want should look the same throughout. Don't assume that it is fatty because it has a solid layer of fat on top. This fat, especially in prepackaged half loins, is usually mere centimeters thick (less than 1/4 inch).