Pork is the culinary name for meat from the pig. Although the word pork can also refer to cured, smoked, or processed meat, this article will focus on fresh meat. Pork can be eaten and prepared in various forms: cooked, cured, smoked, roasted, broiling, grilling, steaming/grilling, sauté, stir fry, pan broil, braise and as a stew. In this guide you can find different methods on how to handle, cook, and store pork.
Know your cuts. Many countries cut the meat differently and/or have their own names for particular cuts. Generally, though, there are four basic parts of the pig that most of the cuts you'll see at the store come from: the shoulder/hand, the loin, the belly/side and the leg/ham. The muscles surrounding the backbone are tender and lean (and usually more expensive!) because they aren't used as much by the pig as the muscles closer to the ground, which are tougher but more flavorful.
Shoulder - Further divided into the lower picnic shoulder and the upper Boston shoulder (also known as the Boston butt). These cuts need to be cooked with low heat and in gently simmering liquid (e.g. a slow cooker) in order to melt away the fat and connective tissue, but the result is tender and moist. Available as: boneless Boston shoulder roast, Boston shoulder roast, cubed pork for kebabs and stews, ground pork (the picnic).
Loin - This is where rib roasts, baby back ribs, tenderloin and the chops come from. Since these cuts are naturally tender, dry heat cooking methods (roasting, grilling, broiling, pan-frying and stir-frying) are best. Available as: blade roast, rib chop, loin chop, sirloin chop, sirloin roast, tenderloin.
Belly/side/spareribs - The spareribs can be grilled and then roasted, but the rest of this section is usually reserved for bacon.
Leg/ham - This cut is usually sold cured, cooked or smoked, but if you buy it fresh, you can glaze and score the rind and roast it (a popular option for holidays and special occasions).
Other - You can boil the head for brawn (head cheese), stocks and soups, and then fry or bake the ears for crunchy munching. Throw the hocks/trotters into long-cooked soups, stews and sauces to add body. The tail can also be eaten, as can the organs: paté, small intestine sausages (chitterlings) and black pudding (blood filled digestive tract).
Make time to brine. Since modern pigs are bred to be lean, the meat has less fat to keep it moist during cooking. Brining is a good solution for this, but it requires planning ahead. The meat sits in a mixture of salt and water and absorbs the water slowly through osmosis. The bigger the cut, the more time it'll need to brine (generally between 4 hours and 2 days). You can also add other flavors, like sugar.
Know when to stop cooking. As with any meat, you want to cook it long enough to kill any harmful micro-organisms, but not so long that you dry it out. The USDA recommends cooking pork to an internal temperature of 160 F (70 C) (use an instant-read meat thermometer in the center of the thickest part of the meat) but some cooks prefer to stop between 140 and 150 F to preserve juiciness, since the trichinosis parasite dies at 137 F. Whatever you decide, remember to account for the fact that the internal temperature of bigger pieces keeps rising even after you take the meat off the heat. Otherwise, it could "overcook" even after you're done cooking.
Pork cooked to 160 F (70 C) can sometimes remain pink in the center, depending on the cooking method or added ingredients. So don't assume that because it's pink, it's not safe to eat!
Store pork safely. When you buy raw pork, refrigerate it as quickly as possible to 40°F. If you don't cook it within 5 days, you must freeze it (0°F) or throw it away. Once you do cook it, eat it within two hours (or if the surrounding temperature is 90°F, within one hour), or store it in the fridge in shallow, covered containers for up to 4 days, or freeze it. For best quality, eat frozen pork within 3 months, and never refreeze partially defrosted pork. In general, though, thawing can dry out pork, so keep that in mind!