I've ordered hundreds of pigs' worth of custom pork cuts, for nearly 10 years now. And I've learned a lot of lessons along the way. Here's the low-down on what I order, my friends. Hopefully this helps you!
Our pigs have lived amazing lives that so few pigs on this planet get to experience. They have trotted through our forests and pastures, literally gleefully jumping around with their buddies, relaxing under the sun and shade by day about digging though tree roots, and cuddling up in a pig pile under the stars by night.
On to the guide...
When you're ordering from small family butchers, keep in mind that if you do not specify the size of roasts, hams, etc., you will get HUGE pieces of meat. They will just be doing what's easiest for them at every level, so have a plan as to what you want!
Make sure to keep a list of all these items. Because they will not usually ask you if you want things like hocks or the fat back, they just won't include it in your order if you don't request it.
I'm going to be listing offerings for the small butcher we've been working with.
Choose from these cuts:
Pork Shoulder (Boston Butt)
Pork Chops - Boneless/Bone-In
Salt, Pepper, Sage Sausage
Offal (heart, kidney, liver)
Smoked Hams / Fresh Hams
Smoked Bacon / Fresh Belly
Pork Chops - I like a thick pork chop because when you cook it, it will stay juicy in the center, and you will have trouble determining if you're eating a juicy steak or a pork chop! That's my kind of pork chop. I go 1.25" thick. But if you just want a normal cut, go with .75".
I also always go bone-in. I find that the boneless chops dry out when cooking more. A pork chop should never be dry (when you're eating good pork and have it cut right).
If you want to cut down on packaging prices, choose to pack 4 chops per pack. If you don't eat chops, get them ground into ground pork or sausage items.
Tenderloin - This is the filet mignon cut of pork. Be sure to ask for it! It's the most tender cut, perfect for a special date night meal. It comes in about 1lb. pieces. Salt the cut before you cook it for juicy good flavor and richness. You can also flatten it, stuff it with something interesting, and tie it up to make a very special dinner roulade.
Shoulders - This is a bigger cut of meat. Use it for roasts in the crock pot or smoker/ grill. They're great for making shredded BBQ pork dishes, enchiladas, any dish that requires shredded pork. But if this is not something you use in your cooking, go ahead and grind them into ground pork/sausage. We always get them split into 3lb. roasts. If you don't tell them to break the shoulder down, expect a huge cut of meat!
Ribs - Pretty simple here. You can't ground the ribs, so might as well get the ribs and put them to use! There are only 2-3 options: St. Louis, Baby Back, and Spare Ribs. We get the St. Louis because we like the nice size and uniform shape for cooking on the smoker. We do not get Spare Ribs because part of the belly is included on the ribs and we want all of the bacon we can get. Be sure to get your ribs cut in half, or keep them whole if you want a long 24"-ish rib slab for the smoker.
Offal - You can always ask for the "nasty bits" to make nourishing broths, etc. Pork offal is not usually used in pate, etc (that is done with chicken liver usually). But you can make some lovely broths for pork ramen, yum!
Fat - It's too bad this butcher does not make lard, but no worries! Just be sure to ask for the fat back. Ask twice. Ask maybe three times. You can then make your own lard via a crockpot very easily, or for an uncharge on our whole/half hog offerings we can get the fat rendered into lard for you!
Burger Patties - We always get 4/pack, each patty being .25lb. Be sure to get clear on what these burger patties would have in them. Do you want them to be plain? Or seasoned? We always go with plain, since it's very simple to use your own good salt and organic pepper to season, bypassing any weird ingredients.
Ground Pork / Salt Pepper Sage Sausage - There are several options as to what you would like to do with the ground pork - 1lb. packs of bulk meat, bratwursts, breakfast links, or patties.
Our biggest concern is the ingredients the butcher adds. We get about half ground and half salt pepper sage sausage. From our understanding, these are the cleanest ways to get your ground pork back. The ground is just simply ground pork, no seasonings at all.
We always get 1lb chubs. But if you eat more than 1lb. at at time, feel free to cut down on those packaging costs and get 1.5lb. packs! Ground pork is great because you can season it just the way you want, again with clean herbs and spices. They do offer various seasoning mixes, but ingredients can be questionable. The salt, pepper, sage sausage is clean too. This is a delicious sausage mix that its great for breakfast, and any other dish that doesn't need a specific spice blend. For instance, you can use it on pizzas, in stuffing, pasta dishes, etc.
Hocks - These are a nice little addition to your custom order to ask for. They can serve as your soup bones. They're great for popping into your pot of stew for lots of extra nutrients, collagen, the good stuff you need when it's cold outside. You can ask for them fresh (raw) or smoked.
At this butcher and most small butchers, they unfortunately are not hip to clean ingredients. Expect nitrates and other stuff including MSG.
Hams - smoked will be like a holiday ham (although it makes good eats any day of the year). Fresh is like a fresh, unseasoned piece of meat. You can then do your own cure with the exact ingredients that you want (really as simple as doing a dry cure with salt and seasonings that you rub your ham with and leaving it in the fridge for a few days).
I would split the ham into 2-3 pieces, unless you want a huge 8-12lb. ham. If you get a half hog, expect 3 @ ~3lb. hams and 6 for a whole hog.
You can additionally choose to get ham slices made. I would still split the ham into 2-3, or else you will get huge ham slices that won't fit in a pan. Or tell them that you want half slices.
If you don't want a ham - get this made into ground pork.
Smoked Bacon / Fresh Belly - Ask them to leave your belly WHOLE if you would like nitrate-free & sugar free bacon made by another butcher. This will be an additional cost and we're super lucky we've found a butcher to do it! I will go over the details when you checkout.
Other options on bacon are thick or thin cut. I always go thick because I don't like how easily thin bacon burns on the stovetop. However, if you bake your bacon, you will enjoy thin slices.
Hope this helps! Cheers to these creatures who we love and who feed us so well. We honor you by eating all of your bits and being the best people we can be, filled up on such nutrient-dense, local, REAL, REGENERATIVE, healing foods.