I’ve long been a fan of ham, and pork in general. Whenever I was able to influence the holiday menu at home or at a relatives’ home, I requested ham or pork roast. Sometimes I got my wish.
So, several years ago I was quite pleased to be asked to judge the ham curing contest that was part of an annual Little International livestock show at NDSU.
We judges examined more than 70 hams for external appearance, including shape and degree of trimming. After the initial judging, we rated the internal texture and appearance. Finally, we tasted small samples of the 15 hams that received the highest external scores. The top-scoring hams were auctioned to raise money for scholarships.
As a reward, I received a large ham. I must admit I had my fill of ham that week. My family stopped asking what was for dinner.
In the past, pork often was viewed as a high-fat meat, but not any longer. Hogs have slimmed down, and no treadmills were involved in the process. Through improved genetics and feeding practices, pork is much leaner today. In fact, pork is over 30 percent lower in fat and 29 percent lower in saturated fat today than 30 years ago.
To make pork and other meats even leaner, you can trim visible fat before cooking and use low-fat food preparation techniques like grilling, roasting on a rack, oven broiling or stir-frying. Marinating lean meat also adds extra flavor, but for food safety reasons it’s best to discard the leftover marinade that has been in contact with raw meat.
To keep pork tender and juicy, don’t overcook it. The safe internal temperature recommendation has changed through the years. In the past, pork was a potential source of the parasite trichinella, but infections in hogs are a rare event today, so internal temperature recommendations have decreased.
According to the latest research, pork chops and roasts should reach a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees, as measured with a food thermometer. After the pork reaches 145 degrees, allow it to “rest” for at least 3 minutes. The temperature of the meat continues to rise as it rests.
Remember, too, that 145 degrees is the minimum temperature, so you can keep cooking beyond the minimum temperature to reach your preferred level of doneness.
Pork is a versatile, nutritious item on the menu. It provides protein, iron, zinc, vitamin B-12 and niacin, which helps the body produce energy from the food we eat.
If you’re on a sodium-restricted diet, remember that any “cured” product such as ham or bacon will be higher in sodium because the curing agent is high in sodium. If sodium is a nutritional issue for you because of high blood pressure or other reasons, limit cured products in your diet or consider choosing reduced-sodium products in grocery stores.
Pork loses about one-fourth of its weight during cooking. As an easy rule of thumb, buy about a quarter-pound of raw boneless meat per person. For safety and quality, try to use fresh meat within a few days of purchase.
As we approach outdoor grilling season, here’s a tasty recipe to try from www.porkandhealth.org/. Try these marinated pork chops with blended wild rice, a tossed salad and fresh fruit with dip.
Favorite Pork Chops
4 pork chops, about 3/4 inch thick
3/4 c. Italian dressing
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Place all ingredients in a self-sealing bag; seal and place in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes to a few hours. Remove chops from bag, discarding marinade. Grill over a medium-hot fire for 10-15 minutes, turning once. The internal temperature should reach 160 F.
Makes four servings. Each serving contains 210 calories, 11 grams of fat, and 140 milligrams of sodium.