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The Definitive Guide To Pork

In response to last week’s post on the healthfulness of pork, I received a number of emails asking questions like this one:

Loved your article on pork, but I’m really confused about the real meanings of marinated, unmarinated, cured, uncured, etc. when buying pork today, and what to actually look for on labels. Please add more info, if possible.

I’d never before considered that the world of pork labeling could be nearly as confusing as, say, the world of egg labeling. But it is. It totally is. As with egg labels, a lot of terms get thrown around on labels, and hardly anyone seems to know what they actually mean. Now you’ll know.

When I select pork, I consider first how the pig was raised and slaughtered. I know it’s hard to put any kind of factory farming on a sliding scale; it’s all bad (and arguably evil). But in my heart of hearts, factory pig farms are among the worst of the lot. Domesticated pigs are highly intelligent creatures, well adapted to living around people. This was, in fact, the common practice for thousands of years among pig-raising small homesteads. The conditions of the factory farm allow the pigs no expression of the “pigness of the pig” (to quote Joel Salatin).

How The Pig Was Raised

Best Option: Know Your Farmer

The best way to buy pork is directly from a farmer you know and trust. These farmers usually have an open farm policy, allowing you to drop in and see how they’re raising their pigs. First, let me clear up a few misconceptions about well-raised pigs.

Everyone loves to throw around the term “pastured” in reference to pigs. While that’s a helpful term in that it implies that pigs get to spend the majority of their lives outside, it can also mislead people who don’t know very much about how pigs eat. Pigs don’t eat grass exclusively. They are not ruminants; they have but one stomach (much like our own). Pigs are omnivores who love to eat scraps, food waste, grains, and more. On a traditional homestead, pigs are fed “slop” — a mix of kitchen scraps, the whey leftover from cheesemaking, canning leftovers, you name it. My point? Don’t judge a farm by its feed. What may be unappealing or seem “unhealthy” to you is in fact what pigs love and thrive on the most.

Second, a well-raised pig gets to forage. Pigs like to graze. They like to use their snout to root around in the straw or dirt and find old acorns and other half-rotted goodies to eat. They like to eat plants like clover, oats, and rye. They like to maw on old tree roots, fermenting corn, and other jewels which you and I probably don’t find very appealing.

Good Option: Certified Humane or Animal Welfare Approved

If you don’t have a local farmer to buy from, your next best option is to buy pork that has the Certified Humane or Animal Welfare Approved label on it. According to the Certified Humane standards for pigs and the Animal Welfare Approved standards for pigs, pigs raised with these labels will:

  • be fed a nutritious diet
  • not receive non-therapeutic antibiotics or hormones
  • be given appropriate shelter from weather
  • not be confined unless its for short, necessary periods (like when they’re being examined or weighed)
  • have resting areas with comfortable bedding like straw
  • be allowed sufficient space in their resting areas to turn around and lie down fully stretched
  • engage freely in natural behaviors

The more stringent of the two labels is the Animal Welfare Approved label, which actually requires outdoor foraging and rooting. With the Certified Humane label, there is no guarantee that the pig spends the majority of its life raised outdoors (although many with this certification are). But at least you know they were raised in a way that had outdoor access, respected their comfort, and allowed them to express their natural behaviors like rooting and mawing.

Fine Option: USDA Certified Organic Pork

Organic pork standards require that pigs be fed organic feed, prohibit non-therapeutic antibiotics or hormones, and have good standards for providing for the pig’s comfort, bedding, outdoor access, etc. The standards are less stringent than with the third-party labels above, but they’re still far superior to conventionally raised, factory-farmed pork.

Avoid: “Natural” and Factory-Farmed Pork

Unless your pork falls into one of the three categories above, it was raised in the conventional, factory-farmed system. The label “natural” often gets applied to factory-farmed pork products, but don’t be fooled by it. All the word “natural” means is that the pork was processed without the use of artificial ingredients, coloring ingredients, or chemicals. It strictly refers to how the meat was handled after the animal was dead, and has nothing whatsoever to do with how the animal was raised.

How The Pork Is Prepared

After considering how the pig was raised, the next major indicator of the healthfulness of pork is how it was prepared. In last week’s post on the healthfulness of pork, I argued that traditionally-prepared pork can be healthy for you while non-traditionally prepared pork may cause an inflammatory response in the blood.

What is traditionally prepared pork?

The large pork-raising cultures are mostly in Asian and Europe.

In Asian cultures, pork was traditionally cut up and marinated in something acidic prior to cooking. In India, pork is marinated in yogurt (Tandoori Pork). In Vietnam, it is marinated in a fermented fish sauce with lemon. In Thailand and China, pork ribs are marinated in a fermented fish sauce and wine (see these Thai Style Spareribs for an example).

In European cultures, pork was traditionally cured (think “preserved”) with salt, spices, and a sweetener to produce hams, bacon, and savory sausages like salami, pastrami, pepperoni, prosciutto, and more. Salt alone doesn’t make a good cure as it tends to harden the meat and make it dry. Added sweeteners, spices, and peppers do the magic of retarding the hardening, drying action of the salt and produce the well-rounded flavors we associate with these various cuts of pork. These pork cuts could also be smoked while being cured — a sort of double-whammy as far as imparting flavor and preserving the meat. Pork was generally slaughtered in the winter, and that’s because a good chill is necessary to arrest unfavorable pathogenic bacterial growth while waiting for the salt-cure and natural fermentation of good bacteria to set in. In warmer climates where the winter chill was not enough to fully retard the growth of pathogenic bacteria (particularly around bones and joints), it was typical to pickle the pork to jump-start the natural fermentation process so that the good bacteria could easily outnumber and out-compete the bad bacteria. Back then, pickling involved soaking the meat in a salt brine and allowing lactic-acid producing cultures to help ferment the meat. The curing process typically took 1 1/2 to 2 days per pound in the cut of meat — so a 10 lb ham would cure for 20 days, while a 1 lb link of pork sausage would cure for just 2.

Traditionally Prepared Pork Option #1 — Marinated

In line with the traditional Asian recipes above, marinating is something you’d do at home after you purchase a raw cut of pork. The smaller the pork cuts, the less time they’ll need to spend in the marinade. Generally, an overnight marinade in an acidic medium will be enough for diced pork, while larger cuts like a pork chop or scored pork roast will need to be marinated for 24 hours. Look for recipes that have acidic marinades — lemon juice, wine, yogurt, vinegar, fermented fish sauces, etc.

Traditionally Prepared Pork Option #2 — Uncured

Because of our strange labeling laws, traditionally-cured pork products are now labeled as “uncured” pork in retail markets. That’s because a new form of curing has evolved over the past couple hundred years that has become mainstream since the discovery of saltpeter (sodium nitrate) in the late 19th century. Saltpeter was used as a fertilizer first, then as a food preservative in place of salt. In the 1960s we created sodium nitrite in laboratories, and it swiftly became the preferred curing agent in meats as it keeps meat looking pink and fresh instead of allowing it to turn grey (as is natural in traditionally-cured meats). Now, most “cured” meats are cured with either sodium nitrate, sodium nitrite, or both. The danger with these new forms of curing comes because these compounds turn into nitrosamines (a known carcinogen) when digested in conjunction with protein:

Like sodium nitrite, sodium nitrate forms nitrosamines, a human carcinogen, known to cause DNA damage and increased cellular degeneration. Studies have shown a link between increased levels of nitrates and increased deaths from certain diseases including Alzheimer’s, diabetes mellitus and Parkinson’s, possibly through the damaging effect of nitrosamines on DNA.[8] Nitrosamines, formed in cured meats containing sodium nitrate and nitrite, have been linked to gastric cancer and oesophageal cancer.[9] Sodium nitrate and nitrite are associated with a higher risk of colorectal cancer.[10] World Cancer Research Fund UK,[11] states that one of the reasons that processed meat increases the risk of colon cancer is its content of nitrate. A small amount of the nitrate added to meat as a preservative breaks down into nitrite, in addition to any nitrite that may also be added. The nitrite then reacts with protein-rich foods (such as meat) to produce N-nitroso compounds (NOCs). Some types of NOCs are known to cause cancer. NOCs can be formed either when meat is cured or in the body as meat is digested. (source)

Because this new form of curing with nitrates or nitrites is so common in commercially-cured meats, meat cured using the traditional methods of curing without the use of these chemical compounds is now called “uncured”.

What to look for on the label

When trying to determine whether or not a pork product is traditionally-cured, look for the following on the ingredients label:

  • The word “uncured” — This almost always means a traditional curing process was used.
  • No “sodium nitrite,” “sodium nitrate,” “salt peter,” or “mono-sodium glutamate (MSG)” — If any of these words are on the label, it is NOT a traditionally cured meat.
  • A “lactic-acid” starter culture — This is a known, safe way for giving the good bacteria a jump start to help preserve the meat during the smoking process and has its roots in our long history of traditionally-pickled meats. It will almost always mean that the meat was traditionally-cured, as meats cured with nitrites or nitrates don’t need the jump-start.
  • A blend of salt, spices, and a sweetener — Traditionally-cured meats will contain a blend of these ingredients in order to create the complex flavor and texture associated with particular cuts or products.

What to Eat

Per the conversation started in last weeks post, Is Pork Bad For You?, give preference to Know-Your-Farmer Pork that is either home-marinated before being cooked or is traditionally-cured. Avoid altogether the factory-farmed pork, un-marinated cooked pork, as well as pork that is “cured” using non-traditional nitrites and nitrates.

(photo by stuart_spivack)

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.

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48 Responses to The Definitive Guide To Pork
  1. Jen
    November 15, 2011 | 4:48 pm

    Seriously needed article about pig/pork production. It is a complicated issue. I am sharing this on FB and twitter!

  2. Abby C.
    November 15, 2011 | 5:02 pm

    So, the key seems to be time spent in an acidic medium before cooking, yes? I have a recipe for crockpot braised pork tenderloin that I love…it cooks in a mixture of stock, apple cider vinegar (with the mother) and crushed tomatoes. It cooks over about 7 hours in my crockpot while I’m at work….would that be enough time in the acid to reduce the inflammatory effects? Or is the key marinating BEFORE cooking and not during?

    • KristenM
      November 15, 2011 | 5:04 pm

      I would marinate BEFORE cooking. It is fine to cook the pork in a marinade, but the protecting effects of the marinade seem to come from the time the raw meat spent marinating before being cooked.

  3. Joel
    November 15, 2011 | 5:11 pm

    My local farmer cures some of his pork using sodium nitrite. Should I avoid this also, given I know the farmer?

    • KristenM
      November 15, 2011 | 5:15 pm

      The way I see it, in order to call pork healthy, you’ve got to have both avenues covered: 1)how the pig was raised, and 2)how it was prepared. In your case, you’ve got the first base covered, but it’s not traditionally-prepared. So, I’d avoid it.

      Did you look at the pictures of the blood response in last week’s post? All that was pasture-based, humanely-raised pork, yet when it wasn’t traditionally prepared it caused an inflammatory response in the blood.

    • Michelle
      November 15, 2011 | 6:42 pm

      My local farmer uses nitrates too when he smokes the meat, all you have to do is ask for fresh bacon or fresh ham. It tastes different, but it is very good. You will want to season your bacon as you cook it. (salt, pepper, etc) I usually bake it and it takes longer to cook. But it is very good, without the bad stuff.

  4. Walter Jeffries
    November 15, 2011 | 6:40 pm

    “Everyone loves to throw around the term ‘pastured’ in reference to pigs. While that’s a helpful term in that it implies that pigs get to spend the majority of their lives outside, it can also mislead people who don’t know very much about how pigs eat. Pigs don’t eat grass.”

    Why are you spreading myths like this?

    Reality check: Pigs DO eat grass. Pigs can digest grass quite well. Our pigs eat grass. Grass goes in, the pigs thrive and the resulting manure is like cow manure.

    Grass is the majority of our pigs’s diet. They eat pasture in the warm months and hay in the winter months. Grass in both cases. I have been raising pigs on grass for nearly a decade. Thousands of pigs. Pigs eating grass is very real. Go over to my farm blog and see:

    http://SugarMtnFarm.com/pigs

    Our pigs get the vast majority of their diet from pasture which is largely grass along with some clover, alfalfa and other things like that. We have even raised several batches of pigs purely on pasture. However, we tend to also supplement their diet with dairy because it has lysine (a limiting amino-acid) as well as veggies we grow.

    For you to tell people that farmers are lying when they claim their pigs eat grass is to do a disservice to the farmers and you are confusing consumers.

    Reality: pigs on pasture do eat grass.

    Your blood reaction test I do not get after eating our pork. Maybe because our pork is really raised on grass, just like lamb or beef. Your sample set is too small and a lot more science needs to be applied to this question before you start scaring people like this.

    It is also sad to hear you saying avoid “Natural”. You’re playing into the hands of Big Ag. A lot of small farms opt to be Naturally Raised rather than Organic for a lot of good reasons including the fact that USDA Certified Organic doesn’t go far enough. My cousin raises USDA Certified Organic chickens. If you ever met the chickens in life you would want to vomit. We were organic before the government and Big Ag stole the term. We are still organic but we can’t use that term so we use the term Naturally Raised. What you’re saying here does a disservice to small farmers who are doing things right. Shame on you.

    If you want to know how your food is raised, get to know your farmer. It’s that simple. Get closer to your food.

    • KristenM
      November 15, 2011 | 6:57 pm

      I will clarify my post to say that pigs don’t eat ONLY grass. My point was that pigs are omnivores, unlike cows and other prairie-grazing ruminants. In other words, I don’t want people to be alarmed if they see pigs being fed slop, whey, or other supplemental feeds.

      Also, I made no mention of pigs being “naturally-raised.” I am specifically referring to the term “natural” as regulated by the USDA. That term exclusively refers to how the pig was processed and has nothing to do with how it was raised. Also, what you’re calling “naturally-raised” clearly falls into my BEST category for pork: the know-your-farmer variety!

      Hope that helps clarify!

  5. Tina Malone
    November 15, 2011 | 6:52 pm

    Thanks so much for this post! I was confused with the “cured”/”uncured” in the previous post. Now, I feel more comfortable with my “uncured” pork that I love so much. I am the QUEEN of bacon!

    As for marinating, what is your opinion on pork tenderloin? Don’t fix it whole? Only cut it up and marinate? Fix it whole but marinate for 24 hours or more. We love pork tenderloin and I am concerned the marinade won’t get to the middle of a whole tenderloin.

    • KristenM
      November 15, 2011 | 7:20 pm

      I would either cut it up into medallions then marinate it overnight, or leave it whole but do a long 24-hour marinade.

      • Ann
        November 18, 2011 | 9:35 am

        Question how acidic does the marinade have to be?
        can you provide any recipies?
        thanks. I’m blown away by the last two pork articles. Eye opening!

  6. Primal Toad
    November 15, 2011 | 7:31 pm

    I’m going to keep things simple and ONLY buy bacon from a farmer I trust well or buy certified organic bacon. And, to boot, I’ll continue my non obsessive bacon habits. I went 60 days without it. I enjoy it here and there. It’s a “treat” for me.

    Thanks for this awesome guide Kristen!

  7. Peggy
    November 15, 2011 | 8:14 pm

    Once my husband’s pork chop has marinated for 24 hours, can I rinse it off THOROUGHLY? He is not fond of acid type foods, and messing with his weekly pork chop could get me a quick trip to a divorce lawyer.

    • KristenM
      November 15, 2011 | 8:17 pm

      Yes. If I were you, I’d experiment with good, Southern marinades made from down-home goodies like bourbon, honey, and lemon. Surely he’d like those?

  8. Stumptown Savoury
    November 15, 2011 | 8:32 pm

    Unfortunately you have provided false information about sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite.

    1) The study that initially caused a cancer scare around bacon was discredited as soon as it was peer reviewed.

    2) Nitrates break down to become nitrites. Nitrites only become nitrosamines when subjected to temperatures of 600°F or more, which is difficult to achieve at home.

    3) Typically cured bacon, for example, will have less than 156 ppm of nitrites, but spinach directly from your favorite organic farmer will have 1200+ ppm, and the saliva your body produces has an even larger concentration of the supposed carcinogens.

    Even wikipedia has more current information. There you can see that the amount of nitrites in cured meats falls within the range of nitrites found in vegetables.

    Much more accurate and current information is found in a number of places, including here: http://www.coopfoodstore.coop/content/good-or-bad-nitrates-and-nitrites-food

    • KristenM
      November 15, 2011 | 8:44 pm

      I’m familiar with the notion that there are as many, if not more, nitrites in conventionally-grown produce as there are in modern-cured meats. That’s because of synthetic fertilizer inputs which are artificially high in nitrogen to make up for the fact that the soil is practically lifeless.

      For that reason, I’d avoid conventional produce as much as possible, or try to prepare it in a way that leeches out the nitrites (such as boiling it and then dumping the water).

      It’s also why I don’t fret the nitrites sometimes found in otherwise nutrient-rich foods, such as organ meat sausages or pates.

      All that said, the quote I included about nitrosamine formation was actually from Wikipedia, and contains links to studies done as recently as 2010.

      Besides, even if I didn’t believe any of the hoopla about nitrites and nitrates and nitrosamine formation, I’d still care that this is a non-traditional means of curing meat dependent on industrial methods of production, and I’d opt for traditionally-cured meats instead.

  9. AndrewG
    November 15, 2011 | 9:44 pm

    I’ve been using this canadian bacon that says “No nitrates or nitrites added” with a small-print note that says “except for those naturally occuring in celery extract.” Are these “naturally occuring” nitrates safer than their artificial counterparts, or are they just as bad?

    • KristenM
      November 15, 2011 | 9:57 pm

      Good question! People are of a mixed opinion on this, but I tend to think of them as falling into an grey area. For me, they’re not as bad as added nitrites and nitrates, but they’re not as healthful as a traditionally-cured meat.

      It’s my understanding (from talking with our local butcher) that in order to be USDA certified, a processing facility that makes “uncured” bacon, sausages, ham and other such goodies has only two options available — a celery salt cure that’s naturally high in nitrates, or a lactic-acid starter culture. These are both closer to a truly traditional cure than simply adding sodium nitrite or sodium nitrate, but they’re still adapted for larger scale processing and USDA safety standards.

      When home curing, for example, you might use a salt brine to deter the proliferation of bad bacteria while waiting for a healthy colony of wild lacto-bacillus cultures to gain a foothold and start the process of naturally fermenting the meat. Celery salt and a lactic-acid starter cultures are short-cuts to these older methods. So, they may be less than ideal, but they aren’t as harmful as the truly industrial sodium nitrite and sodium nitrates.

      • Ann
        November 18, 2011 | 9:40 am

        regarding lactic acid curing, can you use the “juice” from brine cured pickles as a fermenting starter for ground meat for home made sausages? I understand it is full of the good lactic acid culture. And is this acidic enough or is more needed?
        would love a recipe.
        thanks again for your really informative posts.
        long live real food!

  10. Melissa B.
    November 15, 2011 | 10:35 pm

    This is a very timely post! We are having a pig slaughtered from a local farm and I’m trying to decide what to do with it. I can get the whole thing uncured (I’m still not sure how the actual butcher cures meat, but intend to find out for sure). This will be our first “fresh” pig, so I know I’ve got plenty to learn – and this is probably a silly question – but I’m trying to figure out what I will do with the ham. I’d love to have a ham that we can carve, but is that even feasible?

  11. Chandra
    November 16, 2011 | 9:16 pm

    Kristen, thanks for the follow up pork post and informative comments too. I buy uncured and compassionate certified pork, but the how’s and why’s of the marinating were key information that I was missing. I’m in the process of purchasing my first feral pig and I was asked what type of cuts I wanted the pig processed into. I’m guessing that the “curing” would only come into play if I’m looking to get something other than cuts, like ham, bacon, or sausage and that I probably need to dig a little deeper to see how that process will be carried out. I’m purchasing from someone I trust, but there’s certainly a lot more to consider.

    • KristenM
      November 16, 2011 | 9:36 pm

      I’m a sausage lover myself — both link and ground. Whenever I’ve turned a pig into cuts & sausages, I usually opt for bacon, tenderloin, then lots of sausages. The bacon and sausages are both “uncured” varieties cured with lactic-acid culture, an old-fashioned salt/spice mix, and smoking. I had to talk to the processor and specifically request that he not do nitrates. He hesitated before agreeing to smoke the meats for me, and warned me to make sure the meat was fully-cooked before I ate it. He was worried and nervous about not curing the meat with nitrates, but he did it! My point in sharing is to say that finding your answers is as simple as talking to the processor who will be butchering your meat. They’ll tell you what they typically do, and they may just let you make one-off orders like mine!

      • Chandra
        November 17, 2011 | 9:21 am

        Thanks! I’ll definitely follow-up and request it be processed the old fashioned way. No point in getting excited about a wild pig full of nitrates.

  12. Kozakmuz
    November 17, 2011 | 5:17 pm

    Cured Meat semantics.

    I’m somewhat of a pro when it comes to meat chemistry. I’ve been making these meats half of my life and my family has been making smoked, cured meats and sausages for probably hundreds of years. I am interested the organic chemistry aspect of meats more than the traditional.

    I have seen this argument many times. But I have never seen a logical response to the facts.

    Cured with the usage of nitrites or naturally cured? what is the difference?

    Nothing but the label. Naturally cured meats are often cured using celery powder or equivalent vegetable extract. What is in this celery powder? Nitrites and ascorbic acid. What is typical cured meat cured with? Nitrites and Erythorbate (an antioxidant similar to ascorbic acid [vitamin C]).

    Most nitrites utilized in cured meat manufacture are extracted from………vegetables. Why? Because many vegetables contain huge amounts of nitrites. It makes sense right? Especially for leafy greens, because they require large amount of Nitrogen in the (NPK) fertilizer, natural or not, in order to grow.

    Nitrites in and of themselves are natural and harmless. The risk of nitrites to humans is in the conversion to nitrosamines during digestion. Nitrosamines are known carcinogens to humans. However, when eating vegetables or properly cured meats, conversion of nitrites into nitrosamines is completely inhibited by the much higher quantity of ascorbic acid or erythorbate. The ratio of antioxidant ascorbic acid or erythobate to nitrites is in the thousands to one.

    If nitrites were unhealthy, we should stop eating nearly all leafy green vegetables because they are loaded with them.

  13. Margaret
    November 18, 2011 | 4:16 pm

    I am now marinating pork chops and steaks in vinegar before cooking (since I read the article in Wise Traditions) but it gives them such a strong vinegar taste that they don’t taste good any more. I know my husband doesn’t like it since he doesn’t like sour tastes, but I don’t like it either, even though I enjoy sour tastes. It’s like I can’t even taste the meat any more–all I taste is vinegar. Is there any way to marinate pork and have it be healthy without having an overpowering sour taste?

    • KristenM
      November 18, 2011 | 4:19 pm

      Sure. Use any acidic medium. Find recipes with marinades that include: yogurt, wine, whiskey, lemon juice, fermented fish sauces, and more.

  14. Bruce King
    November 19, 2011 | 11:16 pm

    Kristen: I offered $10,000 to Walter Jefferies if he’d raise a pig as he described: No supplemental food, hay only, on pasture. You can see the entire thing here:

    http://ebeyfarm.blogspot.com/2009/11/10000-sugar-mountain-farm-challenge.html

    Pigs do eat grass. They also eat dirt. Both may provide some benefit to the pig, but in my opinion, what puts the weight on hogs is the supplemental feed. Walter free-feeds his pigs whey, a cheese-making by-product, and has pictures of semi-truck loads of butter, cheese, sour cream and other dairy products that he’s unloading with a forklift on his blog, like this one:

    http://flashweb.com/blog/2009/05/800-lbs-of-butter-30000-lbs-of-cheese.html

    Ask yourself how many tons of hay would be required to replace the calories in 800lbs of butter, or 30,000lbs of cheese.

    Yes, pigs eat grass. But there are no commercial producers of hogs in the USA that are producing their animals solely on forage. The majority of the weight on walters pigs pigs comes from his dairy waste, in my opinion.

    Draw your own conclusions: Walter is in the business of raising pigs. $10,000 to raise four pigs of his choice, per his published comments, per his system. And he won’t do it.

    Bruce / ebeyfarm.blogspot.com

  15. Kathleen K
    January 1, 2012 | 10:08 pm

    I am a city girl who is now gratefully living in the country where I can get grass-fed beef, poultry, and pork, and raw jersey milk and cream – yummmm. I am also familiar with WAPF and Nourishing Traditions. I’m not exactly a newbie, but I’m learning all the time. Please help me understand about raw pork. Are you saying it is ALWAYS necessary to marinate raw pork in an acidic medium?
    Another question: The farmer from whom I purchased bacon suggested I marinate it overnight in maple syrup, liquid smoke and water to mock the smoked and sweetened flavor or store bought. When I cooked it the first time I found the water ended up “steaming” the bacon, so I slathered it instead with only maple syrup and liquid smoke. That was too sweet and the maple syrup burns very easily if you don’t take forever pan frying it. Should I bake it instead? I’m a little disappointed and I’m trying to make this appealing for a husband who is not entirely convinced. HELP! Thanks so much.

  16. Our Small Hours
    May 16, 2012 | 9:21 am

    This post was just what I was looking for to better understand cured and uncured. Thanks for sharing this information!

  17. VK
    April 11, 2013 | 11:16 pm

    But what about uncured pork that uses celery root powder? I have read that it is unregulated (because it is “natural”), and has nitrates as well (oftentimes more than the pork that is conventionally cured with nitrates/nitrites). And a nitrate is a nitrate is a nitrate, right?

  18. Jessica
    April 19, 2013 | 8:42 pm

    Hi Kristen,

    Just wondering if you can tell me where you get your pork, beef, chicken, eggs, milk, etc. I just recently moved to NW Austin and don’t know where to start. Thanks!

  19. Laura
    May 2, 2013 | 10:26 pm

    Hi. I was hoping you could clarify whether I need to marinate uncured pork belly. My local butcher sells pastured pork, but uses sodium nitrates for all the curing except the pork belly which is not cured at all.

  20. Trich
    October 30, 2013 | 11:25 am

    Pork belly in our area refers to that part of the pig- which fresh with nothing done to it is called pork belly. Often called fresh pork belly. It is usually found in chunks or sometimes at butchers in the whole piece (8-10 pounds per half a pig)

    Cured and smoked it is bacon.

    We raise pigs on pasture, they do graze plus a whole lot more. We feed locally sourced grains, whey from a cheesemaker nearby, milk from our family cow, and surplus garden veggies (ours).
    Our USDA processor uses nitrites in the smoking process and we sell all we can produce.
    We’ve tried 2 other USDA processors that do a so called no nitrate smoke and an “old fashioned” cure . Both were honestly disgusting. We lost customers over that “experiment”. The taste was really bad. Outstanding pork was ruined. Some even returned it!

  21. Wendy
    October 30, 2013 | 12:56 pm

    Just a note that I have been looking for some time for some good quality pork in our area. I googled both the ‘label’ names of ‘animal welfare approved’ and ‘certified humane’. I was able to find under both searches a way to search for products that they have approved by either CSA, farmer’s market, online, stores, etc etc. That was very helpful! Sadly tho, in our area the ONLY place to find healthy pork is at Whole Foods where it is quite pricey. Hopefully as awareness increases, there will become more availability from local farmers.

    Thanks!

  22. AnneB
    October 30, 2013 | 4:20 pm

    Totally agree w/ the the “know where it came from” mantra for your food. What I’m still stuck on is the marinading all pork? Never, ever heard of this before. Please explain more as to why this is necessary? Thanks!!

  23. Lissa
    October 30, 2013 | 9:03 pm

    If you are in TN- contact Little Seed Farm!

  24. linda spiker
    November 1, 2013 | 6:26 pm

    Linking to this in my latest blog post darling:)

  25. Leslie
    November 5, 2013 | 12:01 pm

    Love this article and I’m wondering about a marinade ingredient.
    Would pineapple juice qualify as acidic enough, to make it do what needs to be done to make the pork safe?

    Thanks!
    Leslie

  26. Megan
    January 31, 2014 | 11:19 pm

    I have wondered about this for some time now. We buy a pastured pig from a trusted source every couple years. We usually get a lot of ground pork (to which I add herbs and spices for breakfast patties). How would you marinate ground pork? ACV? Thanks in advance!

  27. B Hdz
    March 30, 2014 | 1:37 pm

    Do you have any recipes for traditional-curing bacon and hams at home? We can get good, naturally-raised bacon through our co-op and it is not smoked or cured in any form or fashion. I need help knowing how to make my bacon taste like “bacon” in a healthy way. I’ve spent hours searching google and nearly everything I find says to use either pink salt or saltpeter.

    Thanks in advance!

  28. Holly Daughtry via Facebook
    May 20, 2014 | 7:03 pm

    There’s a pastured pork farm not too far from us, that’s the only pork we eat. I’m actually going to go pick up some pork and 10lbs of fat to render tomorrow!

  29. Maurice Person via Facebook
    May 20, 2014 | 7:11 pm

    This is when im glad i live in a “cowtown”

  30. Paul Ewing via Facebook
    May 20, 2014 | 7:33 pm

    Be sure your “uncured” bacon and hams are really uncured also called fresh. Many of the fake “uncured” products in the market use celery salt or celery or beet juice instead of sodium nitrate. These fake “uncured” products often have four to five times the nitrite content of a traditionally (sodium nitrate or pink salt) cured ham or bacon since there are no federal limits on the amounts of these natural nitrite sources that can be used to cure pork. Personally I have all my personal bacon cured using sodium nitrate and offer my customers the option of that or fresh if they want it. No fake uncures on our pork.

  31. Mari Morgan via Facebook
    May 20, 2014 | 7:42 pm

    from the farmer who raised it, except for the rare packet of Applegate uncured deli ham for when I am jonesing bad for a grilled cheese and ham sandwich. I live alone, so the only remotely-sensible way for me to buy locally-raised ham is in the form of a ham steak (ever hear the old saw “eternity is defined as a ham and two people”? now make that ONE person, who eats maybe a pound and a half of meat a WEEK!), which is pretty crap for making sandwiches unless you make ham salad or something. commercially-farmed meat sits poorly in my belly.

  32. Kate Turner via Facebook
    May 20, 2014 | 8:34 pm

    Local butcher who works with local farmers only

  33. Shipley Marmion via Facebook
    May 20, 2014 | 9:13 pm

    Diamond Mountain Ranch About as local as we are going to get in Southern CA. The farmers themselves come down to several farmers markets a week, and they’re great people. Amazing bacon!

  34. Tony Bramhall via Facebook
    May 20, 2014 | 10:26 pm

    Not a great article, another food / health see – saw butter is good for us / bad for us , eggs are good for us / bad for us, red wine etc… Again , nitrites are the the devil , probably worth remembering that one serving of arugula or four servings of celery or beets have more nitrite than 467 hot dogs. Moderation is the word I think :)

  35. Jessica Walker via Facebook
    May 21, 2014 | 8:41 am

    We raise our own pastured pork and have it butchered at a local, family run shop :)

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.