Originally published May 9, 2020
As I approach my first Mother’s Day as a mom, I’ve been thinking about my own mom with renewed admiration. She did this five times! And managed a farm business, homeschooled us, volunteered, and worked on the side. I don’t know how she did it all. Something I know many of us feel about our moms.
Of my mom’s many talents, one we benefit from most is her cooking. We often make jokes about how she shows love by feeding us (and feeding us and feeding us). But, really, feeding someone is a pretty profound way to demonstrate love.
To feed and nourish another human is to meet one of their most constant and pressing needs. Food is necessary. It is also joy and comfort, health and healing, nostalgia and culture and tradition. And feeding a family can be very fraught, particularly in a time like this one, with job losses, reduced incomes, and supply chain breakdowns. I know now that when we were young, feeding all of us on a beginning farm income required plenty of resourcefulness. My mom always made it look easy.
In celebration of my mom and her cooking, I’m sharing some of her tips and favorite ideas for making delicious pork at home. When I asked her to talk about this, she insisted her cooking is just plain and simple and wouldn’t interest anyone. Right; simple and delicious cooking, totally not interesting…
I learned a lot from talking to her. I hope her advice helps you out, too!
Happy Mother’s Day to all the mamas out there! 💛
Interview with Nancy Wilson
Q: What are your go-to easy pork recipes?
A: Grilling, pulled pork, and ground meat are what I do most. We grill a lot, especially pork steaks, chops, burgers, and brats. Pulled pork is awesome because you can cook enough for a few meals and make so many different things with it. I use ground meat in tons of recipes: tacos, casseroles, lasagna, breakfast.
Then there are a lot of other recipes I make pretty often that are easy. Brined or breaded pork chops. Sweet and sour pork. BBQ ribs and ham balls. Smoked hocks and beans. And bacon, of course. A person should always have bacon on hand.
Q: What are your top tips for cooking pork?
A: The worst thing you can do to pork is overcooking it. That ruins it. They used to say cook pork to 165 or 170 degrees, but that’s way too much. Now they say cook it to 135 and let it rest to 140 or 145. That’s the biggest change I’ve made in how I cook pork.
You should keep an eye on pork to make sure you don’t overcook it. If I put something in a crockpot and can’t check it often, I always set it on low and make sure there is moisture in there. If I’m using a roaster, I check the meat a lot and take it out as soon as it’s done.
Q: What are some techniques you use with pork?
A: Brining is an awfully good thing. Brining helps bring out the juiciness and tenderness. I like to brine my own meat because I get to control what goes in it and I’m not paying extra for the water weight. I brine loin and chops. Leaner cuts benefit the most from brine, in my opinion.
Q: What is brining?
A: Brining is soaking meat in salt and water and seasonings. I use some different recipes, but they usually all have water, salt, some kind of sugar, and other seasonings. I mix up the brine, put the meat in it, and put it in the fridge, usually for at least 24 hours. Then when you take it out, you want to pat it dry before you season it more and cook it.
Q: Any other pork techniques or tips?
A: I think the easiest way to cook bacon is in the oven. I put parchment paper on a rimmed baking sheet and bake it at 375 degrees. I start checking it around 20 minutes and take it out when it’s the crispiness I want. It crisps up nicely and is easy to clean up. I cook a whole package or two of bacon at once and then keep it in the fridge to pull out during the week for breakfast sandwiches, salads, snacks, whatever.
If you’re using a recipe for pork chops, you should look to see if it says a thickness on the chops. If your recipe is for Iowa chops but you’re using regular chops, you’re going to way overcook them and they won’t be good.
If I need to trim fat off meat or cut it up into smaller pieces, like cutting up loin for tenderloin sandwiches, I like to cut it when the meat is partially frozen. If it’s totally frozen, you can’t get a knife through it. But when it’s completely thawed, it’s harder to cut through clean. I thaw meat about halfway before cutting or trimming it.
Q: What are your all-time favorite pork recipes?
A: You can’t go wrong with pulled pork. It can be used in so many ways and is super easy. I usually make a bunch at one time and then split most of it up into smaller portions, like what I would want to cook for one meal, and freeze it. It keeps well in Ziploc bags or other Tupperware and then you can just thaw it and use it like normal.
My favorite brining recipe is maple-brined pork. I use it for loin and chops. I rarely make loin or chops anymore without brining them. It just adds so much flavor and tenderness.
A good fried pork tenderloin sandwich is one of my favorites. I like to make those at home even better than going out, usually. If you cut up and bread a whole loin at once, you can save most of the tenderloins in the freezer for later and then it’s super quick to make them when you want them. Frying them in lard is key, if you can get it.
Oh, and I really like pork on a stick. I make it by trimming pork chops so you can use the bone as a handle and then marinating and grilling them.
Q: Wait, pork on a stick? I don’t remember you ever making that.
A: Huh. Well, it’s really good.
Q: I see. Well, Mother’s Day is coming up. What’s your pork request for lunch?
A: Molten chocolate lava cake. Wait, do we have to have lunch first?