Iowa Grown Meals

Grace Golly

How to cut your pig.

Forelegs: Take the unskinned picnic shoulder from the foreleg, separating it by the lay of the muscle from the meat attached to the shoulderblade. You should have a nice, round small ham. This can be left unskinned and frozen or roasted immediately, skinned and cured in brine, or skinned and boned and cured in dry cure.

Neck: You may bone out the neck and use the meat for headcheese, terrine or sausage. Some people hot-smoke the neckbones, or barbecue them.

Head, hocks and tail: Put them in the pot of boiling water or the brine for headcheese, along with any other random trim that looks gristly. Even if you plan to pickle the feet in vinegar and brine later, they benefit from parboiling.

Spare ribs: Cut into manageable sections for storage, or better yet, barbecue them immediately as they take up a lot of room you will be needing for the meatier parts. This also avoids the annoying problem of cutting them if you don't have a good butcher's bandsaw.

Hind legs: You have a classic "ham" here, and you may wish to brine cure and smoke these pieces, or dissect into much smaller pieces for pressed dry cure, immediate use or freezing. An excellent cold cure can be achieved on a deboned ham using the same recipe given for bacon, though the cure takes a few days longer for the thicker pieces, and is done when the meat is uniformly firmed up to the touch. Ham definitely benefits from some time in the brine bucket if it's convenient. If you do not debone the leg, insert a knitting needle down into the meat next to the bone on several sides to help facilitate the brine penetration.

Pork chops: You should have three sections of "chops", one less desirable section from the neck which is often boned out for sausage meat or headcheese, one middle section and one back loin with a tenderloin "eye". Cut these sections into manageable parts if you can't easily store them in these lengths. Slice through the meat neatly with a sharp knife, then use the cleaver and hammer to go through the backbone. If you plan to use them within one month, definitely give them one day in the brine crock to improve their consistency and flavor. Trim the fat covering to your liking before they go into the brine, but don't leave them naked or they will cook up dry and tough. If storage space is a serious issue, debone the chops and keep only the tenderloin, processing the bones immediately for stock.