Pork producers have taken an unexpected hit from the coronavirus pandemic. As a former farm editor for The State Journal-Register in Springfield, Ill., I’ve seen the ups and downs of the pork business. But I didn’t see this one coming.
As restaurants had to shut down, they required less bacon, pork chops and tenderloins. That resulted in a backlog of market hogs.
“We’re still behind with over 1 million animals,” says Jennifer Tirey, executive director of the Illinois Pork Producers Association. “Food service hasn’t ramped up like expected.
“We’re missing out on the big trays of bacon at conferences and hotels — those 20-pound packages that add to good demand.”
This hit home when my husband went through the drive-thru at our local Culver’s to get his favorite pork tenderloin sandwich — and it wasn’t available. A notice on Culver’s website states: “The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the U.S. food system. This is impacting Culver’s pork supply, and we’re temporarily unable to serve the Pork Tenderloin Sandwich.”
This is not because farmers aren’t doing their best to raise hogs. This is a problem in the processing plants, where employees who would typically work on food-service pork have been moved to other areas, creating even more of a shortage for restaurants that want to sell pork but can’t get the supplies they need.
Meanwhile, pork producers are struggling to get the prices they need when they sell their hogs to the packing plants.
While pork producers have been here before — I remember writing about a similar situation in the late ’90s, when pork dropped to 10 cents a pound — it’s never easy. You have to feel for farmers in times like these.
How can we help? I have a simple answer: We all need to eat more pork and help increase demand.
I visited my daughter and son-in-law recently in Dover, Del., to meet my new grandson. (And yes, I’m smitten — he’s the cutest baby ever.) While I was there, David smoked a pork Boston butt on his Traeger grill. It was fall-off-the-bone tender and made the best pulled-pork sandwiches with his homemade barbecue sauce.
The bone-in Boston butt is a smaller cut of meat from the pork shoulder; it’s full of flavor and keeps its shape thanks to the bone.
If you don’t have a Traeger smoker, you can use a charcoal grill, adding chunks of hickory, apple or pear, or simply make it in your slow cooker and skip the smoking. Either way, it will taste great — and you’ll be helping your fellow pork producers. Here’s my son-in-law’s recipe:
David’s Pulled Pork
8-pound Boston butt, bone-in
sweet and smoky rub
wood-fired garlic rub
Smear mustard over the pork butt; then rub in the applewood, sweet and smoky, and garlic rubs. Smoke with hickory pellets in the Traeger at 225 degrees F for eight hours. Then wrap in foil and let rest before pulling apart. While cooking, spritz with apple cider-apple juice mixture.
If you use a charcoal grill, place the meat on indirect cooking, and then add chunks of hickory, apple and pear on the “hot side” to add the smoky flavor.
If you use a slow cooker, simply place the prepared meat in the cooker and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours, or until a thermometer reaches 145 degrees F.
Fargo is a registered dietitian with Southern Illinois University Medical School in Springfield, Ill. Send recipe ideas to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions of this writer are not necessarily those of Farm Progress/Informa.