Some of the more popular fresh pork cuts are pork chops, pork loin, and pork ribs. There are three types of pork ribs. Spareribs are from the breast and rib sections and provide little meat. Back ribs, or baby-back ribs, are cut from the loin, so they have more meat. Country-style ribs, from the shoulder end of the loin, have the most meat, but not necessarily the most flavor. When purchasing fresh pork, look for meat that is pale-pink with a small amount of marbling and white (not yellow) fat. The darker the pink flesh, the older the animal.
Fresh pork was once cooked to an internal temperature of 170° to 185° Fahrenheit to avoid trichinosis. But with the new leaner pork, such a temperature is no longer necessary, nor is it advised. Cooking meat to this temperature will dry out the pork, making it chewy and hard to cut. Some older cookbooks on your shelf still may advise this higher temperature as a guide, but a better internal temperature is 160° to 170° Fahrenheit, which will produce juicy, tender meat. At this temperature, the inside of a fresh pork cut may still be pinkish. This tinge of color is nothing to worry about as long as the internal temperature has reached at least 160°. That temperature destroys any organisms that could cause trichinosis. Fresh cuts of pork can be prepared with dry-heat cooking methods of grilling, broiling, and roasting, but marinating or basting may be necessary to keep the meat tender.
Marinades made from citrus fruits add a nice accompanying flavor to pork. The acid from the fruit also helps tenderize the meat. Pork holds up under some strong sauces, such as barbecue sauce. Pork can be sliced into medallions and added to stirfry dishes or served with steamed vegetables or an elegant entrée. Sweeter foods, such as applesauce or sweet-and-sour sauces, also complement the flavor of fresh pork.
Ham comes from the rump and hind leg sections of the hog and is available in either fresh or cured forms. Fresh ham commonly is roasted, but cured ham, which is often ready-to-eat, can be quickly baked, panfried, or microwaved. The meat is usually cured in one of three ways: dry salt curing, brine curing, or brine injection curing. For dry curing, the surface of the ham is heavily salted, and then the ham is stored to allow the salt to saturate the meat. In brine curing, the ham is immersed in a sweet, seasoned brine. If sugar is added to the curing mix, the ham may be labeled sugar-cured. Most mass producers of ham use the injection-curing method, in which the brine is injected directly into the ham, shortening the curing process. After curing, a ham may be smoked to add flavor and aging capability. Gourmet hams are heavily smoked for a month or more. A wide selection of specially cured hams are also imported from many European countries, including German Westphalian ham, which is smoked with juniper berry and beechwood. Other specialty hams include English York ham and French Bayonne. The smoked flavor will vary depending on the type of wood used (usually hickory or maple) and the addition of unusual ingredients such as juniper berries and sage.