You love a good boneless pork chop and nice boneless pork roast. Your local market has boneless pork loins at a great price so you are off to save some money. Upon arriving at the meat case you see many boneless pork loins to chose from. There are so many it is confusing, you are not sure what to do, so you ask the butcher and his response is "they're all the same".
Well guess what, they are not all the same. Just as all of us humans are different, so are the pigs that produced these boneless pork loins. So let's take a few minutes to look into some things that will help you pick out the best pork loin available.
First we need to realize that unlike beef, pork is not assigned a quality grade. The government assigns a yield grade which takes into account the back fat and the muscle size. The reason for this is the fact that the pig is a lot younger than beef when harvested. Let's not get side tracked into this too much. The only reason it needed mentioned is so that you aren't looking for a prime or choice or select graded pork loin.
For today we are going to assume that all markets will be offering a vacuum packaged product. Different stores will sell different boneless pork loins. Now what I mean by this is that some markets will offer a whole boneless pork loin while others may offer a half boneless pork loin. The picture below is a whole boneless pork loin offered by some markets. And as you can see by referencing the diagram at the top of this page, this pork loin is located at the top of the animal and has a blade end, center rib section, center loin section and sirloin end.
And in the picture above you will see the center rib and blade section that would be the rib half of the boneless pork loin. The center loin section and sirloin end will make up the loin half . These are what some markets may offer as half boneless loins.
You need to know what your market is offering and what are you planning to do with this once you get it home.
But, before we get to that, let's discuss a few things you should be looking for when are standing at the meat case looking at the display of boneless pork loins.
This is the amount of fat that is on the top of the loin. I recommend that there be no more that 1/4 inch thick . I know, I've heard, fat is flavor. But, you are paying your hard earned money and you don't need to spend it on too much fat that you probably not going to eat anyway. The best way to determine this is to look at the whole loin cut in half and measure the fat. Now by measuring, I mean give it the old eyeball measurement. I don't expect you to carry a ruler to measure the fat cover. You can tell. If there is more fat, then the store is paying less and so should you.
However, if your market offers only the whole boneless loin, you shouldn't expect your butcher to cut these vacuum packed loins in half just so you can measure the fat. This is where past purchases and eyeballing it come into play.
Some boneless pork loins will have what many refer to as the tail or strap left on. As you can see by the picture below this is just additional fat that is left on. This fat on the side or end of the loin is not going to add much flavor. This extra fat will make the cost to the store of this type of boneless loin less than one that had the strap (tail) removed. So you should be paying less if this strap of fat (tail) is left on vs. the market that is selling a loin with the tail removed as you see with the loin on the right side.
Simply said, marbling is the small specs of fat that are within the meat. Now this is where the saying "fat is flavor" really becomes true. Because, for at least the last 50 or more years, we the customer, have demanded leaner pork, and the industry has given us what we have asked for. So finding a pork loin with a lot of marbling may be difficult. But, this is one attribute that you need to be diligent and hunt for that pork loin that has some marbling. Marbling is flavor and will attribute some towards tenderness. Looking at the picture below you will see that I was able to find one with a significant amount of marbling.
The picture below is one of a boneless pork chop with really no marbling.
COLOR AND FIRMNESS
We aren't going to spend much time on these two attributes as for the most part you will not find a lot of major differences with them as you are looking at that big pile of pork loins.
You will want to look for a loin that is a light pink in color, not pale looking. Remember you are looking at vacuum packaged product that needs to bloom after you open it. To learn more about meat bloom and vacuum packaging reference;
You want the pork loin to be firm when you squeeze it and not mushy.
And in summary, we realize that both economics and what your plans are for the pork loin will greatly affect your purchase. However as you are standing at the meat counter trying to decide which boneless pork loin to purchase, keep the following attributes in mind and you will spend that hard earned cash on a delicious product and you will get more meat for your dollar.
FAT COVER; should be no more than 1/4 inch
TAIL ON; you prefer not to purchase that extra fat
MARBLING; remember "fat is flavor" and you want those specs of fat withing the muscle
COLOR AND FIRMNESS; a firm bright grayish pink meat color is ideal
Remember, knowledge is power and now you have power when it comes to spending your hard earned cash for a boneless pork loin.
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