Barbecuing and heritage pork – not a combination you hear about very often. After all, barbecue techniques were created to make use of less desirable cuts of meat like Boston butt or picnic roast. Slow cooking these cuts over a wood fire for 18 hours turns them into a delicacy that’s almost a religion in some parts of the country. Texas, North Carolina and Kansas, for instance, are known for great barbecue – and you just don’t hear many of these traditional barbecue lovers talking about heritage meat.
You are probably familiar with heirloom tomatoes, which are not cross-bred like most tomatoes raised today. Fans think they taste better than most commercial tomatoes. Like the seeds used to grow heirloom tomatoes, the bloodlines of heritage (or heirloom) pigs can be hundreds of years old. Heritage breeds have enjoyed a surge in popularity over the past 10 years or so as people begin to understand the dramatic difference in the quality of their meat, especially when compared with meat from factory-raised pigs.
French chefs and barbecue circuit champions are discovering the wonderful difference that heritage pork makes in a barbecue. In New York City, Chef Hugh Mangum uses Berkshire hogs in his wildly popular Greenwich Village restaurant, Mighty Quinn’s Barbecue.
“In my fine dining days, we took it for granted that better ingredients yield better results," Chef Mangum told food writer Josh Ozersky. "Plus, I don't want to feed my customers what I wouldn't feed my kids." In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Ozersky suggested that Berkshire pork, with its pure flavor and well-marbled flesh, may be the secret to Mangum’s “obscenely rich pulled pork.”
Few chefs would take meat this good and cook it for hours on end. Mangum’s response: “Just because it's barbecue doesn't mean it has to stay the same. I want to take it further.” Taking it further doesn’t mean getting complicated. Mangum’s “Texalina” style fuses barbecue techniques he learned from his father in Texas with his wife’s eastern Carolina culinary secrets. "My true approach is simple,” Mangum told a Brooklyn blogger. "I'm trying to source the best quality ingredients and not fuss with them too much. Cooking the old school way, with wood and time."
Mike & Debbie Davis of Lotta Bull, world barbecue champions and four-time American Royal Grand Champions, also know the difference that quality meat can make. They insist on heirloom Berkshire pork and Wagyu beef for their much-honored barbecue. The Davises have adjusted some of their recipes and techniques over the years, but never waiver from using top-quality pork and beef. As Mike wrote in his Lotta Bull blog, “The judges’ tastes have changed over the past couple of years so we’ve been slowly adjusting our taste profile.” He added, “We have the best product to start with.”
We couldn't agree more. No matter how you slice it, anything you make will be better if you start with the best. Putting lipstick on this pork just makes the lipstick look good.
Shop our selection of heritage pork cuts here.