Right now might just be the best time ever to buy pork. Here are some reasons why.

The National Pork Board’s Pork Summit 2017 at The Culinary Institute of America’s St. Helena campus was an opportunity for some of the industry’s pork-loving luminaries to gather and discuss the future of the pig. Lessons were learned. Anecdotes shared. Crazy dishes devised. Somebody even seasoned a head and plated it, teeth and all, for everyone in attendance to try.

Here are 10 notes to takeaway from the event:

‘The same as free’

One of the chefs in the stands tossed out this question: “How much does pork cost these days?” Stephen Gerike, director of foodservice marketing and innovation for The National Pork Board, responded: “As much as free.” According to the Board, live pork pricing hit a 10-year low in 2016 and supply was up for the year by 2.6 percent, and is expected to grow another 1.7 percent in 2017.

“There is an incredible abundance of pork right now,” he says.

Housemade is house money

And here’s a related topic. How much can a restaurant charge for a charcuterie platter? We’re talking probably $12—$20 depending on location, of course, but there’s no question those boards of meat sell. As some of the chefs were discussing, just make it in-house and it will fly off the menu. No matter what it is. Did we mention pork isn’t expensive? That is even more accurate with some of the cuts you can rest on a plate next to some cheese and mustard, say salami or peperoni. Just take the time to learn the technique and the payoff will be extreme.

The Buffalo Chopper is beautiful

Have you seen one of these? Most people in the room hadn’t until Chef Justin Brunson, owner of Colorado restaurants Old Major, Masterpiece Delicatessen, Masterpiece Kitchen, and The Royal Rooster, dragged it out. It’s a giant metal machine that looks like it would take your arm off, but Brunson swears by it. You can grind an amazing sausage with it. He’s even looking into buying a truly gigantic one for a future spot. A quick search shows that you can toss vegetables, fruits, dips, pretty much anything in here and watch it go. It also makes a pretty bad-ass noise when turned on. Check out this story online that says it can emulsify a moose. If that doesn’t make you want one then what will? 

A pork chop is not a pork chop is not a pork chop

Why is it that when you go to buy a steak it’s like being handed a catalog? Meanwhile, pork chop, center cut pork chop, and bone-in pork chop, is about all you can hope for. The Pork Board is asking the same question, and trying to change that every day. They handed out cards to everybody in attendance with some more specific names plus cooking instructions. It’s the pork we need and the pork we deserve.

Here they are:

Sirloin Chops: From the portion of the pork lion that meets the fresh leg on the hog. Serve as a cutlet, either sautéed or breaded and fried like schnitzel.

Porterhouse Chops: Bone-in, lion muscle and tenderloin. Cook them like a porterhouse streak—direct heat on a grill or under a broiler until medium rare. (And don’t get started on this notion that pork needs to be overcooked).

T-Bone Chops: Loin muscle and a smaller portion of the tenderloin tail, also bone-in. Just like a T-bone steak, toss it on a grill or under a broiler until medium rare.

New York Chops: Boneless. This is the loin, or longissimus muscle, that’s opposite the tenderloin in both porterhouse and T-bone chops. Cook it just like a NY strip steak.

Center Cut Chops: Bone-in they are similar to a New York strip or shell steak. They differ from the ribeye because there isn’t any spinalis muscle or cap showing on the top of the chop.

Ribeye Chops: Both bone-in and boneless, these are from the rib portion of the loin and carry one or more of the loin back ribs on each chop, depending on thickness. Cook it (naturally) like a ribeye steak.

Country Chops and Country Style Ribs: These are available both bone-in and boneless. These are chops and rib portions from the loin nearest the shoulder end. They consist of many different muscles and must be cooked to medium rare or medium on direct heat. Overcook these and you’ll be braising until your hand goes numb.

Tenderloins: Both whole and portioned into Tenderloin Medallions, these can be cut in many different sizes and thicknesses. The tenderloin is pulled from the loin when a boneless loin is being fabricated. Once the tenderloin has been removed, the only cuts that can come from that area of the loin are New York chops.

Grades are in

Grading is another thing beef seems to have cornered. Again, why? Not only did the Pork Board disperse cards showing different degrees of color and marbling standards, but they put them all out on plates in an assembly line and had people taste test it out. The point being, not all pork is created equal. Not even close. This has to do with pH, something controlled by how the pigs are raised as well as slaughtering.

Pork with normal color and water holding content (major factor in quality) reaches an ultimate pH of 5.6—5.7 within around three to five hours after slaughter. Pale, soft, and exudative pork is caused by a very rapid drop in pH immediately after slaughter while muscle temperatures are still high. Basically, avoid super pale pork and very dark pork. Pork color scale goes from 1 to 6 with 1 being pale pinkish gray to white to 6, dark purplish read.

People who eat pork love mayo

This is a legitimate thing. Chef Brunson says he eats 3 gallons a year. The rest of the chefs in the room started comparing war stories. Whether it’s Duke’s or Hellman’s is a matter of intense scrutiny as well. There’s no real way of explaining this.

Leave the labels at home

This topic could be worthy of its own article, so let’s not go overboard. Here are the basics. There is a serious marketing campaign of deception occuring at grocery stores around the nation. “You can never underestimate what the American public will believe,” Gerike says.

Mainly, this idea of putting no-hormones added on a package of pork is a farce. It’s against the law to do so. Grass-fed pork? Pasture-raised? The best kind of pig farmer, said America’s Pig Farmer of the Year, Brad Greenway, is the one who takes the animal’s health and welfare into consideration, and does the best job making the process clean and safe for all parties involved. That’s what matters. Read about how he operates here. As you will see, it’s not fluff, it’s substance.

Brine and dine them

One of the biggest issues with brining is consistency. It’s almost like a chemistry experiment every time you start pouring the salt in there. One solution: equilibrium brining. This isn’t exactly simple, either, but once you get it right you get it right forever. Here’s an article on how to do it. There’s a lot of weighing and math and fun things like that. The result, however, is definitely worth the effort.

Anchovy’s aren’t just for pizza

This was a popular pairing, believe it or not. You don’t even have to tell diners they’re in the dish. It’s a taste and believe kind of moment.

Dry Age or Ice Age?

First of all, don’t ever freeze your pork. That aforementioned water holding content is the reason why. You will destroy it unless you defrost it perfectly. Remember when grandma used to run the pork chop under the faucet? That’s blasphemy. As for dry aging, chefs are discovering all sorts of new uses for pork in that realm. If you’re going to consider this, make sure the pork is super fresh when starting. A whole carcass is preferred and leave on the skin and exterior fat. Dry aging pork wasn’t always really a thing. But as we’re discovering, in the past, pork wasn’t allowed the stage it deserves. Studies prove that dry aging a pork loin increase tenderness and juiciness. Be ambitious and open-minded. It pays off.

Expert Takes, Feature, Menu Innovations