Best Pig Breeds For BBQ
For the ultimate pitmaster who has moved beyond traditional grocery store pork, it will be helpful to learn that there are specific breeds of pig that consistently offer tastier, juicier meat when grilled on the barbecue. When it comes to taste, it pays to be discriminatory with your pork selection.
Which pig breeds are best for tasty barbecue? Most commercially-raised pig breeds will give you a tasty barbecued pulled pork, but for the absolute best barbecue, you might choose one of the following breeds:
- Red Wattle
- Chester White
Read on to learn more about these pig breeds and what makes them a great choice for barbecue.
Know Your Pork Cuts To Pick The Best Pig Breeds For BBQ
To understand why each of the following breeds will offer the tastiest grilled meat, it is important to have a basic knowledge of the most commonly grilled pork cuts.
The most commonly grilled cut of pork is the “pork butt” – which interestingly does not come from the pig’s rear end at all. “Pork butt” is actually taken from the shoulder of the pig. This may be labeled as “pork shoulder” or it may be labeled as “pork butt”. Both labels mean the same thing – it is the meat from the shoulder of the pig. Pork shoulder is the cut of meat that has the most marbling to it, which gives it exceptional flavor and juiciness.
Another popular cut of pork for the barbecue is the pork loin. Pork loin is the back muscle of the pig, from the hip to the shoulder. It is best when cooked at a moderate level of heat on the grill, and has a mild flavor.
Pork tenderloin is also taken from the pig’s back, but is the muscle under the pork loin that runs along the spine. Pork tenderloin is distinct from pork loin in that it is leaner, more flavorful, and more tender (hence the name). Pork tenderloin is best on the grill with high heat for a fast cook.
We can’t discuss barbecue cuts without mentioning ribs. There are several different pork rib cuts. There are spare ribs, baby back ribs (or just “back ribs”), and St. Louis cut ribs. Baby back ribs are from the top-most ribs of the pig, and are connected to the loin. The term “baby back” refers to the fact that the back ribs are smaller than the spare ribs, and has nothing to do with the age of the animal.
Spare ribs are found along the side of the pig, all the way down the breastbone. St. Louis ribs are spare ribs that have been cleaned and trimmed and are a popular cut among barbecue competitors. If you’ve heard of “country ribs”, those are not actually ribs at all, but a cut of meat found along the shoulder.
Top Breeds Of Pig For BBQ
Now that we know more about the different cuts most commonly grilled, it will help us understand why there are some breeds who perform better on the barbecue than others.
BBQ Pig Breed #1: Duroc
Two of the biggest annual barbecue competitions in the United States are the Memphis in May event and the American Royal World Series of Barbecue in Kansas. One thing that many of the top competitors of these events have in common is the use of the Duroc pig.
Durocs are the second most popular meat pig in the United States, and they have two attributes in particular that make them so successful on the grill. The first is the marbling of the Duroc’s meat. Marbling is the mixture of fat within the muscle, and gives the meat a superior texture, flavor, and juiciness. Whether talking about pigs or beef, more marbling almost always equals higher quality.
The second quality of Duroc meat is the color – meat from this breed is uniquely dark red and holds moisture better than the meat of other breeds, adding to the juiciness. Durocs produce especially good pork shoulder, and top competitors are so serious about this breed that there are “brands” (farms) that are known to produce the best of the best (Comparte and Smithfield, to name a couple).
BBQ Pig Breed #2: Berkshire
Berkshire pork is considered a delicacy in many countries, and is highly sought after in the high-end restaurant circuit. What makes Berkshire pork so special? The amount of marbling is probably the biggest reason – as is the case with Durocs, the high rate of marbling in the Berkshire causes the breed to lead in tenderness, flavor, and texture.
The flavor is said to be much deeper than traditional pork, with the dark meat said to have a texture more like that of beef than other commercially-available white-meat pork.
Berkshire meat also has a higher pH than other pork. Why would this matter? A higher pH leads to a higher water retention in the meat. This higher water retention lends to a juicier, more tender finished product.
BBQ Pig Breed #3: Mangalitsa
While Berkshire pigs used to be referred to as the “Kobe beef of pork” (and still are, to a degree), another breed has been taking that title in the last several years, and that is the Mangalitsa.
The name Mangalitsa is literally translated as “hog with a lot of lard” in Hungarian. The Mangalitsa is one of the fattiest pigs in the world, with the average carcass being 65-70% fat. It is highly marbled and has a rich taste due to its high-fat content.
Mangalitsa meat can cost as much as 10-20 times that of traditional grocery store pork, and much of that is due to the way that the Mangalitsa is usually raised. The fact that you can sell the Mangalitsa’s meat for such a high price makes it a good option to raise on the homestead.
BBQ Pig Breed #4: Iberian
The Iberian pig goes by a couple of other names as well, like the Iberico or the Pata Negra. Iberian pigs are a Spanish breed and are not as easy to find in the United States as the other breeds on this list, but their unique taste and composition gives them a place on this list.
Iberian pigs are traditionally fed only acorns and pasture during the last Winter of their lives, and this leads to a meat that has different nutritional content than other commercial pork.
True Iberian pig meat is touted as healthier than the meat of other pigs, and is said to be especially beneficial for those with special dietary requirements, children, the elderly, and adults with high cholesterol. While the Iberian pig is highly flavorful and healthier, you will have to pay a significant price if you want to try it. The leg of an Iberian pig can cost you as much as $4,000-$5,000.
BBQ Pig Breed #5: Tamworth
Many claim that the meat of a pasture-raised pig is more flavorful than the meat of a grain-fed pig. The Tamworth is especially suited to pasture life and does best when not confined. Tamworth pigs have a longer torso than most other breeds, which leads to a higher ratio of pork belly and larger pork chops. They are a great option for the homestead pitmaster.
BBQ Pig Breed #6: Red Wattle
The Red Wattle is similar to the Tamworth in that it does exceptionally well on pasture alone. Red Wattles are known for their distinct “pork” flavor, and cannot be described as mild-tasting. Red Wattles are highly marbled and are an excellent choice for dishes that are meant to be loaded with flavor and spices. Red Wattles are especially well-known for their high-quality ham.
BBQ Pig Breed #7: Yorkshire
The Yorkshire pig is the most popular pig in the United States and is just as happy living in confinement as living on pasture. Yorkshires are not a heritage breed; they have been commercially bred to offer the most meat in the shortest amount of growing time. Yorkshires have particularly long bodies, which allows them to give you more back fat, pork chops, and ribs than most other breeds.
BBQ Pig Breed #8: Chester White
The Chester White is an American heritage breed that is sometimes known as the “white Duroc”. Chester Whites are hardy and easy to raise while producing a high quality of meat. The meat of the Chester White is high-fat and known to be particularly flavorful, tender, and juicy.
Both the Yorkshire and the Chester White would be a good choice if you are looking for a meat pig with white hair – a prized trait for an appealing carcass.
Which Of These Pig Breeds Is Right For Your Grill?
The barbecue master knows that it takes a lot more than the right breed to create the most savory of grilled dishes. Barbecue perfection includes several factors like the right heat source, the right amount of heat, the right cut, and the age and diet of the animal in addition to the specific breed.
Nevertheless, the breed can have a great impact on the taste of your barbecued meat, so whether you are a homesteader or a barbecue boss (or both), you will find the right breed for you within this list of tasty BBQ breeds.