Know Your Cuts: Pork Chops 101

Sirloin chops, rib chops, porterhouse chops. You’ve seen them all in your Kettle Club share. That’s because we like to ensure you’re getting a variety of our premium heritage pork cuts. But we understand all the different names can be daunting. So, let’s talk chop.

What is a pork chop anyway?

All pork chops are cut from the loin, the section of the pig that runs from the shoulder to the hip. Here’s where things can get a bit confusing. Each pork chop goes by a different name depending on the area of the loin it’s cut from. Let’s start with a few popular chops from the front end of the loin and work our way towards the tail.

Rib Chop

Sometimes referred to as the center-cut chop or rib end cut, this chop is cut from the center of the loin near the rib area. It will contain a large eye of lean meat with no tenderloin. The rib chop is primarily cut bone-in, with the bone running along the side.

Boneless Chops

Our featured Kettle Club chop for July is the boneless chop. Sometimes referred to as the New York Chop, these cuts are located near the top of the loin. These chops are lean and taste amazing after a good brine bath. Check out this month’s recipe for brined boneless chops.

Porterhouse Chop

Porterhouse chops are cut from the lower back behind the rib chops. They are identifiable by the centered bone that divides the meat from the tenderloin muscle. These chops can present a challenge when cooking as the tenderloin tends to cook faster than the loin section. But the intense flavor and beautiful presentation is worth mastering. Be careful not to overcook. A brine also works well for these delicious chops.

Sirloin Chops

These chops are cut from the hip area towards the back of the loin. Despite the fact that this chop packs a ton of flavor, it’s often overlooked because of its appearance. The cut contains various muscle groups, giving a bit of a mismatched look. The sirloin chop takes quite well to braising and will take on a ton of flavor from your favorite marinade.

Recipe: Pork Chop Brine

Nothing loosens up those stiff muscles quite like a soak in the tub. Pork chops would agree! Before you toss those chops on the grill this summer, let them unwind in a relaxing brine bath. Simply put, a brine is a liquid solution that includes salts. The salt helps break up protein or muscle fibers resulting in a juicer, more flavorful chop. Check out this great brine recipe!

Ingredients:

1/4 cup kosher salt

1/4 cup molasses

2 whole cloves

1/2cup boiling water

3 ½ cups cold water

2 boneless pork chops

1/4 teaspoon vegetable oil

 

Directions:

  1. Combine salt, molasses, cloves, and boiling water in a large container. Stir until molasses and salt are dissolved; let cool to room temperature.
  2. Pour cold water into molasses mixture; stir to combine.
  3. Completely submerge pork chops in molasses mixture. Cover container and refrigerate for 6 hours.
  4. Remove pork chops from brine and pat dry with paper towels. Lightly oil each chop.
  5. Preheat an outdoor grill for medium-high heat and lightly oil the grate.
  6. Place pork chops on the hottest part of the grill; cook each side until browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a medium-high area of the grill and cook pork until it is slightly pink in the center, 6 to 8 minutes per side. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the chop should read 145 degrees F.

Enjoy!

 

Sausage of the Month: Door County Cherry Bratwurst

As Wisconsin as cheese curds and beer, Door County cherry picking is a time-honored tradition. And Kettle Range is excited to incorporate these delectable gems of the peninsula in this month’s Kettle Club shares. Our butchers have prepared a seasonal bratwurst with tart cherries straight from Wisconsin’s cherry mecca.

Door County Cherries

The history of cherries in Door County runs deep. The first European settlers to the peninsula could rely on vegetable crops for sustenance farming but due to the rocky terrain of the landscape, found it challenging to yield anything more than what they needed to get by. The search began for a cash crop that would flourish in the rocky soils of Door County.

In the late 1860’s, a Swiss immigrant named Joseph Zettel arrived on the scene discovering that fruits like apple trees prospered in the area because the shallow soils left only a few feet from the roots to the bedrock. This provided adequate drainage for such fruits that are prone to root rot, a devastating plant disease.

The success of the apple trees attracted two University of Wisconsin horticulturists who began experimenting with other fruits such as plums, strawberries, raspberries and the most famous, cherries, which proved especially efficient at growing in Door County.

Door County cherry production continued to prosper and hit its peak in the 1950s with 700 cherry producers growing nearly 50 million pounds of cherries annually. Today, the Montmorency cherries that grow in Wisconsin account for 90% of all the tart cherries grown statewide.

Like Door County cherry picking season, these brats have a small window of availability. Don’t miss out on these seasonal Wisconsin delicacies!

Featured Cut: Baby Back Ribs

Summer has finally arrived, and our butchers have prepared a special cut for our Kettle Club shares that include pork—baby back ribs.

What are baby back ribs?

Pork ribs can go by many names depending on the region from which they are cut. Baby backs, named for their short length and tenderness when compared to spare ribs, are cut from the back of the pig. They are connected to the backbone and nestled beneath the loin muscle (think pork chops). Because of their size in comparison to spare ribs (cut from the belly section of the pig) they cook a bit faster, making them a fantastic rib for grilling.

Tips for grilling baby backs

We know that grill can be intimidating at times. Not to worry, we’ve got a fail-proof recipe and a few tips that will make you a rib grilling master.

The key to juicy and tender baby backs is to maintain a consistent temperature while grilling over indirect heat. This is usually around 300-325°F  for gas and charcoal grills.

Use a rub to add flavor and texture to the ribs. Here’s an easy dry rub recipe that we love:

Baby Back Ribs Dry Rub

1/4 cup paprika
1.5 tablespoon (packed down) brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon cayenne (more if you want a kick!)
1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1.5 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Mix your dry rub ingredients in a bowl. Sprinkle rub on ribs generously and rub into every nook and cranny you can find. Cover ribs tightly in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for at least one hour.

Fire up the Grill

As mentioned, it’s best to grill baby backs using indirect heat with a grill temperature of around 300-325 °F Once your grill is ready to go, unwrap your ribs and place them face up on the coolest part of your grill. Close the lid and kick back for a while! Your job for the next 2 hours is to ensure your grill isn’t exceeding a temperature of 325°F  adjusting as needed.

After an hour, begin monitoring the internal temperature of the ribs using a meat thermometer. 180-190°F  is the sweet spot for baby backs. This is a little higher than what we recommend for cooking other cuts of pork. Why you ask? Ribs are “done” when they are 145°F internal temp, but they may still be tough. If you take them up to 190 to 203°F, the collagens and fats melt and make the meat more tender and juicy. When your ribs come up to temperature, brush with your favorite BBQ sauce on both sides.  Kettle Range has some fantastic BBQ sauces for sale in the shop, and we’ve taste tested them all. Just ask your friendly store clerk for some flavor profiles.

Be sure to rest your ribs for at least five minutes before serving. This will allow the meat to absorb the juices for tenderness and more intense flavor. Enjoy!

Featured Farmer: Hayden Holbert, Avrom Farms, Green Lake, WI

We don’t often think of farms as ecosystems. The word itself conjures up diagrams from eighth grade biology in which the fox devours the rabbit, that munches on the clover, that feeds off the sun. But Hayden Holbert, owner and operator of Avrom Farms, explains how his farm is just that, an ecosystem. Each living thing is an instrument playing its piece in the harmonious song of the land as Holbert orchestrates.

“Every organism here has a job,” Hayden explains. “Today we’re moving a group of younger pigs to a two-acre paddock where we’ll soon be planting corn. We’ll let them root up the cover crop (a crop planted strictly for enriching the soil) and distribute their manure for fertilization. This will reduce the amount of tilling we’ll have to do with the tractor. We’re essentially using the behavior of the pigs to benefit the health of the crops and reduce our manual workload.”

To say that Avrom Farms is diversified is an understatement. The farm produces heritage pork, heirloom chickens, grain, vegetables and even a variety of mushrooms. The land has been in Holbert’s family since his grandfather purchased the property in the 1950s. Hayden took over the operation a little over a year ago.

“I’ve known since the age of six that I wanted to be a farmer,” Hayden says. “I grew up in Chicago, but spent many summers enjoying the country life. Driving tractors, taking care of livestock – so agriculture has always been a big part of my world.”

Holbert studied sustainable agriculture in college and even spent time in France apprenticing under a charcuterie craftsman and pig farmer.

“Klaus really stressed the importance of finishing pigs on barley,” he explains. “The practice lends to a firm but buttery quality in the fat. I think this really comes through with the Mulefoot breed.”

Mulefoots are one of the many heritage pork breeds that Avrom Farms specializes in. Besides being the rarest of American swine breeds, Mulefoots have an interesting physical characteristic for which they are named. Instead of a cloven hoof like other swine breeds, these pigs have a solid hoof like that of a mule.

Hayden is just one of the many independent farms we work with to source quality, responsibly raised heritage pork.

“I love waking up each day and facing a new set of challenges,” Holbert says. “Not only working through the planning process of balancing all these enterprises and making this ecosystem function, but just the day to day work is really enjoyable for me. Producing really exceptional food on land that I know will be improved by the practices we’re doing is important.”

Thanks, Hayden!

Recipe: Red Pepper Italian Sausage Frittata

Our butcher staff has prepared a deliciously sweet sausage that’s perfect for a Mother’s Day breakfast in bed. Let mom sleep in this Mother’s Day, while you whip up an easy frittata with May’s sausage of the month, Red Pepper Italians.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 Kettle Club Red Pepper Italian sausages, casings removed
  • 1 large sweet onion halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 orange pepper thinly sliced
  • 1 red pepper thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt divided
  • 8 extra large eggs
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 2 teaspoons fresh oregano leaves

 

Instructions

  1. Preheat the broiler.
  2. In a large (15-inch) oven-proof skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Cook the sausage over high heat, breaking it apart with your spatula into 1-inch pieces until browned. Remove to a plate.
  3. Add the remaining oil to the skillet. Sauté the onion and peppers over medium heat, scrapping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan, until very soft and caramelized.
  4. Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs with the remaining salt until the yolk and whites are very well combined.
  5. Add the sausage back to the pan, season with ½ teaspoon salt, and arrange the in an even layer. Reduce the heat to low and pour the eggs over the sausage and vegetables, making sure the pan is evenly coated with eggs. Cook until the sides are set and there’s just a shallow layer of uncooked eggs on the top, 5 minutes.
  6. Sprinkle the mozzarella and oregano over the top and transfer the pan to the broiler. Cook for 2 minutes, until the top is cooked and beginning to lightly brown. Remove from the oven and allow the frittata to sit in the pan for 5 minutes before slicing. Cut into wedges and serve.

Farm Spotlight: Clover Hill Harvest LLC

On a crisp March morning, Jen Brevard fires up the UTV she has nicknamed “the feed cart” and heads towards the pastures of the family’s 120-acre farm outside of Helenville, Wisconsin. Her pigs are anticipating her arrival and run to greet her.

“I love watching them dance through the pastures when they hear me coming,” Jen says. “They look as if they’re about to take flight!”

Remember those impossible tasks you promised to do when pigs sprouted wings? Well don’t worry folks, you’re still off the hook. Jen is referring to the sizable floppy ears her heritage pigs, Large Blacks, are known for. This unique feature helps protect their eyes while rooting and foraging on pasture.

“This breed was really built for utilizing forages,” Jen explains. “We keep a mix of red clover, alfalfa and pasture grasses, which they really like. They also enjoy munching on dandelions and thistle. So, they actually help keep the pastures healthy by doing a little weeding for us.”

Jen keeps her Large Black pigs on pasture year-round. The pastures are equipped with straw porta huts, so the pigs have a cozy spot to go in inclement weather. She says she has noticed a considerable improvement in the pastures since she started raising pigs in 2014.

“Every year the pastures seem to get a little better,” she says. “We move pigs frequently to ensure that manure is dispersed evenly in each area. The pigs have really helped turn this piece of land around.”

Jen became interested in raising heritage pork after reading a book about backyard homesteading. She’s now a full-time farmer and says she really enjoys spending time with her pigs.

“Aside from just being able to do what I love, there’s a real preservation aspect to raising these pigs. The demand for these unique breeds ensures that producers can continue to raise animals in a sustainable manner and keep these breeds from being eradicated. It’s a healthy environment for the pigs and a healthy product for consumers.”

Meat Our Team: Chris Scallon

Ever wonder who’s working behind the scenes at Kettle Range Meats? Well wonder no more! Our entire staff works hard to ensure you’re getting the highest quality, best tasting meats in Wisconsin. And we want you to meet them all. First up, Chris Scallon. Chris has become somewhat of a local celebrity in the chili world. With a Golden Ladle from Potawatomi’s Chili Bowl, and a first place win from WMSE’s Rockabilly Chili contest, he’s made Kettle Range synonymous with great chili in 2018.

What do you do at Kettle Range?

I guess my title would be sous chef. I do a lot of food preparation for our heat-and-eat meals. Cutting, slicing, dicing, chopping, packing. I also assist in menu creation, so we can keep adding new items to our overall menu. Oh, and I man the cauldron. The cauldron is what I call our large industrial kettle. It’s where we make things like chicken and beef broth. It’s essentially where the magic begins.

What inspires your award-winning chili concoctions?

I get a lot of inspiration from the incredible products we have access to. Right from the start, we’re sourcing quality meat from local farms. We have a talented butcher staff here that can create amazing products from those meats, like sausages. Those flavors inspire innovative ideas for meals, chilis and side dishes. The Ropa Chili (Rockabilly Chili contest winner) stemmed from one of our heat-and-eat meals, Ropa Vieja. The distinct flavors were incorporated into what turned out to be a delicious and unique chili.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The freedom to create new things. We love getting feedback about our meal program. It’s a great feeling to put out a new meal and get a positive response from our customers.

Thanks for all you do, Chris!

Grazing for Greener Pastures

We’re all familiar with the health benefits of grass-fed beef. Lower in overall fat and calories, higher in Omega-3 fatty acids. But what about the health benefits shared between grazing animals and their ecosystems? How do cattle improve the health of the land, and how does the land reciprocate?

Imagine a lush prairie speckled with wild grazers like bison and deer. The symbiotic relationship between flora and fauna allowed these ecosystems to prosper in their natural state for thousands of years. Animals grazed on native forages for short periods and moved (or were chased by predators) on to greener pastures. The brief time spent grazing each area stimulated root growth and increased species diversity necessary for protecting against elements like drought and flooding.

Grass-fed cattle producers understand that delicate balance and do their best to recreate a similar environment with livestock. This sustainable practice is referred to as rotational grazing and promotes both plant and animal health. Farmers set up small paddocks of pasture and move cattle often, allowing grasses to recover and grow. Moving herds frequently mimics the natural movement of animals on prairie.  Let’s take a more detailed look at the benefits of managing pastures using rotational grazing.

Soil Quality and Plant Diversity

In 2011, a devastating drought swept the southwest United States. Conventional cattle producers struggled to keep animals healthy amidst fluctuating grain prices. But one Texas grass-fed producer, Joh Taggart, managed to keep cattle on pasture, even improving soil quality in the process.

“I’m proud to say that we harvested cattle every week of the year through that entire drought,” Taggart told ABC News in a recent interview.

Taggart attributes his success to a diversified plant population. An increase in the number of species can reduce weed invasion and create strong root systems for plants. These root systems are important for surviving drought conditions. Cattle act as catalysts for increasing plant diversity by digesting and depositing seed in different paddocks. They further increase the health of forages in rotational grazing systems by leaving more plant stubble and forage residue that can be beneficial for insect and soil microbe populations.

Environmental Benefits

Grass-fed systems are also better for the environment. Studies have shown that well managed systems can increase soil carbon sequestration. The grazing process, which causes plant roots to continually die back and deposit their carbon in the soil, allows for plants to draw significant amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere. The CO2 is then deposited in the soil as organic carbon, reducing the levels in the atmosphere.

Bringing It All to the Table

As a Kettle Range customer, we know you want the best and most responsibly raised meats for you and your family. That’s why we partner with producers who champion the highest standards of environmental stewardship and animal well-being. Thanks to your support, our producers can raise healthy protein in a sustainable manner that promotes our shared values. Thank you, Kettle Club!

Recipe: Shepherd’s Pie

While our own Chef Erik is sometimes reluctant to give out all his secrets, in light of this delicious holiday, he’s agreed to share his recipe for one of our most popular heat-and-eat meals, Irish-inspired Shepherd’s Pie. Enjoy, Kettle Club!

Ingredients for Mashed Potatoes:

2-3 large, Russet potatoes

Kosher Salt

3 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup heavy cream

 

Ingredients for Filling:

3/4 cup chicken stock

1 lb. ground beef

1 small, yellow onion diced

1 large carrot, diced

4 garlic cloves, crushed or diced

 

¼ cup dry red wine

2 teaspoons fresh thyme chopped

1 bay leaf

2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

 

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1-pound peas

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

For Mashed Potatoes:

Peel and rough-cut potatoes. Transfer to a large pot and cover with cold water by at least 2 inches. Season water with salt. Boil 10-15 minutes until potatoes are easily pierced by knife. Drain potatoes in colander and transfer into large bowl with butter. Whip on high until light and fluffy. Turn mixer to lowest setting and slowly add cream until smooth (you may not need all the cream).

For Filling:

Heat oil in large Dutch oven over high heat until shimmering. Add ground beef and cook until browned. Add onion, carrots, celery and garlic and cook stirring and scraping bottom of pot until vegetables are softened (about 4 minutes).

Add red wine and bring to a simmer over high heat. Cook until wine has almost evaporated. Add chicken stock, thyme, bay leaf and Worcestershire. Sprinkle corn starch over mixture in pot and stir. Bring to a simmer then reduce heat to low and simmer until sauce has thickened (about 20 minutes). Discard Bay Leaf. Stir in peas and season with salt and pepper.

Cool filling and cover with mashed potatoes. Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Enjoy!