Pork's most popular cuts don't have snazzy names. At least, not until now.
Coming soon to a grocery store near you are the New York chop, the porterhouse chop and the sirloin chop. Yes, pork is borrowing some of the nomenclature of beef cuts. Why?
"Names have the power to transform the 'everyday' into the 'extraordinary,' " according to a pork industry website aimed at retailers. "Beatles band member Ringo Starr didn't always have that hip 'rock star' moniker; his real name [Richard Starkey] was rather run-of-the-mill," the site says.
So there's nothing run-of-the-mill about the pork chop's new name: porterhouse chop. It's evocative of a fancy steakhouse. And pork producers and retailers hope the changes will help drive up sales.
"Our producers have had a challenging year. The price of corn [feed] has been up because of the drought," explains Ceci Snyder, vice president of marketing for the National Pork Board. But Snyder says these changes were in the works long before last year's drought struck.
In 2011, the pork industry conducted some focus group research and found out that consumers were confused by meat labels and didn't necessarily know how to prepare different cuts of meat. "Our research was a big wake-up call," says Snyder.
"For pork," she says, "there's a misunderstanding that all pork chops are the same." So, the plan is to highlight four or five chops that are all a little different.
Consumers tend to know cuts of beef from restaurant menus. So Snyder says the idea is to transfer that knowledge to pork: "If you like a rib-eye in beef, here's the equivalent in pork."
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association is cooperating on the new initiative. The changes are being made as part of an updated, voluntary, industry-wide effort known as the Uniform Retail Meat Identity Standards program. It was originally established in 1973 to set standards for fresh meat cuts.
In addition, the industry is introducing new labels aimed at linking specific cuts of meat to proper or recommended cooking methods. And this part of the initiative will be really helpful to consumers, says chef Bruce Mattel, who oversees the meat curriculum at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.
"What they're doing is really educational for the consumer," Mattel tells The Salt. "Consumers are often intimidated at the meat counter because they don't know what cooking technique is best."
Once retailers start using the suggested new labeling, Mattel says, it will be easier to figure out which cuts are best for the grill and which may be better off being stewed.
As a rule of thumb, if the label says it's good for stewing, "it generally means that the meat is not naturally tender and requires a longer cooking technique," says Mattel — such as in a slow cooker or in a soup, where the meat is fully submerged in liquid.
In contrast, if a cut is recommended for grilling — such as the porterhouse chop — "people can be confident it's usually a shorter-term cooking method, and that the meat is naturally tender," he says. So you can also pan-saute or broil it.
The changes should be introduced at grocery stores around the country this summer, just in time for grilling season.