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Pork's Burger Alternative

Pork's Burger Alternative

In a sea of beef, cheese and sesame buns, pulled pork sandwiches stand out.

There are a few more compelling cases for pork than that of the pulled pork sandwich.  The explosion of pulled pork items on restaurant menus across the county is a ringing endorsement of the meat's rich, bold flavor.

Pulled pork has been spotted on every part of the menu, from breakfast to dinner, and at quick service to find-dining establishments.  Its ability to go anywhere and pair with everything has led to comparisons with the burger.  Yet, in a sea of beef, cheese and sesame buns, pulled pork sandwiches stand out.

The flavor profile leading the pulled pork trend is barbecue.  According to Technomic Inc.'s 2009 Flavor Report, barbecue is the No. 3 flavor on all entrees menued across a variety of categories and restaurants and the No. 1 flavor with pork.  The combination of slow-cooked pork, delicious barbecue and all the trimmings is proving irresistible, with over 50% of U.S. households likely to order pulled pork at both lunch and dinner, according to a 2010 NPD Group/Crest report.

Restaurants are hearing the call for more pulled pork options and are rising to the occasion.  And the Pork Checkoff is working with them to help make that happen.

For example, Boston's The Gourmet Pizza Restaurant and Sports Bar Just added a barbecue pulled pork sandwich tossed in Sweet Baby Ray's sauce, topped with melted cheddar and mozzarella.  Baker's Square has pulled pork cheddar and fresh coleslaw layered in a grilled pita. 

Many operations, such as Chili's and Bar Louie, are treating pulled pork sandwiches as another kind of burger adding fried onions  and bacon and slapping it all on a traditional burger bun.  FOX Sports Grill added chipotle sauce for a delicious alternative to the chipotle cheeseburger.  Even white tablecloth restaurants, such as Bryant Park Grill in New York and McCormick & Schmick's, have added barbecue pulled pork sandwiches.

But the explosion of pulled pork doesn't stop with barbecue.  Across the country, you'll find it on Qdoba's menu as carnitas street tacos.  In Philadelphia, Paesano's best seller is the Arista sandwich, a pulled pork sandwich with classic Italian roast pork flavors.  In Chicago, Saigon Sisters is putting pulled pork on a traditional Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich.

Pulled pork is popping up in other dishes as well.  On the appetizer menu, it can be found in everything from nachos and tater skins to sliders.  The protein is also topping pizzas filling taco shells and even figured into salads and omelets.

 Customers are responding to the options.  NPD reports that during the last year, pork was the only protein source to show growth in food service, rising 4% in servings, while chicken remained static and beef and seafood dropped.  Pork sandwiches and wraps were No. 1 menu additions to limited-service restaurants in 2010, growing 44% form 2011 Center of the Plate Trend Report.

Pulled pork's popularity presents a great opportunity for pork cutout values, increasing the demand for the shoulder and the raw material for both pulled and ground pork, pork is fast becoming pork's burger.  The bottom line is that it's a win-win situation for consumers, restaurants and producers.

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