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How to Make Your Favorite Pork Dishes Keto-Friendly

There’s a reason so many people love the ketogenic diet: It considers indulgence healthy. Unlike many restrictive diets, the principle behind keto is to put your body into ketosis, or a state of burning fat for fuel. To trigger this metabolic process, followers are advised to load up on healthy fats, protein and certain types of vegetables—a move that, for many, circumvents having to sacrifice favorite foods.

Avoiding carbs is relatively easy, but keto dieters might need to tweak a few of their favorite meat dishes.

“If your dishes have starch in them, that needs to come out,” says Gerard Viverito, a chef based in New York’s Hudson Valley who follows the keto diet with his own family. Luckily, because keto promotes eating healthy fats, many delicious pork dishes like pulled pork, bacon and meatballs are fair game. “Too lean of a protein will kick you out of ketosis,” Viverito continues, “and then you will not burn fat but store it instead.” To prevent that from happening, he suggests getting creative: Start by cutting carbs in your favorite pork dishes, or seeking recipes that don’t require them.

When Viverito missed the crunchy exterior of a breadcrumb-crusted pork tenderloin, for example, he developed a clever workaround: “I discovered that I could mimic the effect by using pork rinds pulsed in the food processor as breading,” he explains. “I use a double egg-and-pork-rinds dipping sequence and then pan fry as normal.” He also uses those shattered pork rinds as breading for fried chicken sandwiches.

Because pork is such a mild protein, it can take on the versatile flavors from nearly any type of cuisine and is an ideal protein for group gatherings. Viverito suggests hosting an “around-the-world” meatball night, making various types of pork meatballs inspired by the spices and seasonings from Vietnamese, Malaysian and Italian cooking. Most spices are fat soluble, meaning the ground meat will readily absorb their flavors.

Simmering pulled pork or a pork butt roast in a slow cooker also helps the meat absorb the spice and seasoning flavors. Keto followers can still enjoy the experience of a pulled pork sandwich by eliminating the buns and creating crunchy lettuce wraps instead, or they can use the meat as a topping for taco salad.

Sausage can also be leveraged in keto diets. Too often, Viverito says, people only think about sausage in link form. Patties are an underrated ingredient for grilling and frying, while sweet Italian ground sausage adds depth to tomato sauce and a spicy-savory kick to cauliflower-crust pizzas.

From chops to sausage and every cut in between, pork’s versatility makes it a perfect protein for keto palates.“ All are great sources of fat in relation to protein and can be cooked in so many different ways,” Viverito says.“I can braise or cook them in the oven for a while unattended while I do other things.”

Make “Low-and-Slow” Pulled Pork in Half the Time Using an Instant Pot

Slow-cooker pulled pork is a guaranteed crowd pleaser at any tailgate party. But who has the time to factor in the endless hours for a low-and-slow recipe when there are a million other to-do items on a party prep list?

If this is the first time you’ve caught wind of the Instant Pot trend, welcome to the future. Electric pressure cookers like the Instant Pot are changing the game by delivering the same ultra-tender, super flavorful dishes typically made in a crockpot—but in a fraction of the time. They do it by boiling the liquid placed in the inner pot and turning it to steam, which creates pressure between the covered inner pot and the cooker base when it has nowhere to escape. The pressure and temperature inside the pot regulate automatically, thereby cooking food faster.

Melissa Clark, author of the pressure cooker cookbook Dinner in an Instant, suggests heating up the inner pot and searing the pork on all sides before adding the liquid. Broth, stock or plain water all work well. “Pork has so much flavor already that as long as you add salt and garlic, too, [the cooked meat will] be flavorful,” she says.

Cutting down the cooking time on labor-intensive dishes like pulled pork opens the door for other party prep activities—particularly if you cut the meat into smaller chunks. Because the meat will be shredded, there’s no need to be too precise in how you cut it.

“Cooking pork shoulder the traditional way, in an oven, meant braising for hours and hours,” Clark explains. “The beauty of using the pressure cooker is instead of taking nine hours, it’ll take 90 minutes. If you’re in a hurry and want to save time, cut it into 1.5- or 2-inch chunks—and it’s done in 45 minutes.”

Dousing pulled pork in classic barbecue sauce is always a winning combination, but there are plenty of other ways to savor the meat—and ditch the bun. “I love it on tacos or in tortillas,” Clark says. “I also serve it over sticky rice, making a rice bowl with it.”

She also likes to make enough pulled pork to stretch across multiple meals. “It’s one of those foods that gets better when it sits,” Clark explains. “When you reheat it under the broiler or in a frying pan with some fat, you get those crispy pieces as well as tender chunks.”

Pork Under Pressure; You … Not So Much

Looking for a creative way to cook Farm Promise® pork in your Instant Pot? This recipe from Melissa Clark’s cookbook, Dinner in an Instant, will have your family salivating.

Clark’s recipe calls for boneless pork shoulder cut into larger pieces, but any flavorful cut, like a loin, will marinate and simmer beautifully. Cutting the meat into smaller chunks will speed up the cooking process.

Expect to spend about a half hour actively preparing ingredients, then sit back and relax while the slow cooker does the heavy lifting.

Pressure Cooker Garlicky Cuban Pork

TIME: 2.5 hours, plus 1 hour marinating

YIELD: 8 to 10 servings

Can be gluten-free, if using corn tortillas

This cumin-scented, garlic-laced pork is marinated with grapefruit, lime, and fresh oregano for a flavor that’s earthy and garlicky, yet bright from the citrus. The meat itself is as tender as can be, falling to shreds with the touch of a fork. Serve it over garlic rice for a soft bed with maximum pungency. Or tuck it into tortillas along with some salsa and avocado to create tacos.

8 garlic cloves

Juice of 1 grapefruit (about ⅔ cup)

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1½ tablespoons kosher salt, plus more to taste

1 4- to 5-pound boneless pork shoulder, cut into 4 pieces

1 bay leaf

Chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for serving

Lime wedges, for serving

Hot sauce, for serving

Tortillas, for serving (optional)

Fresh tomato salsa, for serving (optional)

1. In a blender or mini food processor, combine the garlic, grapefruit juice, lime zest and juice, 2 tablespoons of the oil, brown sugar, oregano, cumin, and salt; process until blended. Transfer to a large bowl and add the pork and bay leaf; toss to combine. Marinate, covered, at room temperature for 1 hour (or refrigerate for up to 6 hours).

2. Using the sauté function set on high if available, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the pressure cooker (or use a large skillet). Remove the pork from the marinade, reserving the marinade, and shake the meat to remove any excess liquid. Cook until it is browned on all sides, about 12 minutes (you will need to do this in batches, transferring the browned pork pieces to a plate as you go).

3. When all the pork is browned, return the pieces to the pot along with any juices from the plate. (If you used a skillet, add 1 tablespoon water and use a wooden spoon to scrape the skillet well to include all the browned bits stuck to the bottom.) Add the reserved marinade to the pot. Cover and cook on high pressure for 80 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally.

4. Remove the pork from the cooking liquid (jus). Taste the jus, and if it seems bland or too thin, boil it down either in the pressure cooker on the sauté setting or in a separate pot on the stove until it thickens slightly and intensifies in flavor, 7 to 15 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and add a bit of salt if necessary. If you’d like to degrease the jus, use a fat separator to do so, or just let the jus settle and spoon the fat off the top.

5. Shred the meat, using your hands or two forks. Toss the meat with the jus to taste (be generous—1½ to 2 cups should do it), and serve with cilantro, lime wedges, and hot sauce.

Recipe reprinted from Dinner in an Instant. Copyright © 2017 by Melissa Clark. Photographs copyright © 2017 by Christopher Testani. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.

Seven Tips to Make the Most of Your Grill

Mastering the grill is part science, part art. It’s a blend of the right tools and intuition, adapting to variable outdoor conditions at a moment’s notice.  

“It’s a lot like sailing, because when you set out, you don’t know how long that trip is going to take,” says John Manion, chef/owner of El Che Steakhouse & Bar in Chicago. “You need to set yourself up for success, and remember that patience is involved.”

Resisting the urge to poke, prod and flip your meat every minute that it’s grilling is the first step to ensuring a delicious meal, Manion says. Follow the rest of his steps, and you’ll be a master of your home grill in no time.

Step One: Wait until the grill is hot. Then wait some more.
Most people don’t allow their grill to come up to its maximum temperature before they begin cooking. Giving your grill the proper amount of time to reach its upper temperature limit will ensure a beautiful sear. Manion recommends a full 30 minutes of preheating before cooking. “That’s a long time, but you really want it hot,” he says.

Step Two: Clean, then season.
A clean grill is an effective grill. Once the grill is hot, scrape off any scorched bits of food with a brush, then season slats with vegetable oil or a neutral non-stick spray. Don’t forget to give your meat or vegetables a brush of good-quality olive oil before grilling. Oil not only keeps food from sticking, it also conducts heat.

Step Three: No lighter fluid, ever.
“It’s putting chemicals into your food. It’s no good,” he says. To ensure his meat doesn’t taste like butane, Manion uses a propane torch to light his charcoal grill. But even a simple chimney starter will do the trick.

Step Four: Play the zone.
Create two heat zones by mounding lit charcoal to one side of the grill, or using a gas grill’s variable dials to keep one side at maximum temperature and the other at 75 percent of maximum temperature. “Get that sear on the hottest side,” Manion says. “If you need to bring the meat down a notch, it’s nice to have that safety zone on the other side.”

Step Five: Streamline your tools.
Grilling doesn’t require an entire arsenal of supplies. Most home cooks only need a set of long tongs, a spatula for scraping, and a water squirt bottle for tamping down flares created by dripping juices, Manion says.

Step Six: Don’t guess when it comes to temperature.
Think of the dramatic differences between a 100-degree summer day and a 0-degree winter night. The same is true for meat, which cooks very differently at 500 degrees than it does at 400 degrees, Manion explains. Spring for a digital-read thermometer, and you’ll be able to adjust your grill’s heat source to compensate for changes in your backyard’s wind and air temperature. Also, bear in mind the temperature that your meat should be cooked to: Pork,for example, should reach 145 degrees Fahrenheit with a three-minute rest.

Step Seven: Go easy on the marinade.
Marinades and seasonings will add flavor, but marinating too long runs the risk of ruining your meat. If you want to soften up a piece of meat, Manion suggests using a tenderizer or Jaccard tool.

Bonus Tip: Use a cast-iron skillet on the grill to sear firm lettuces like romaine, radicchio or endive. Charring gives the lettuce flavor depth that lends a clean, slightly bitter counterpoint to a rich pork chop.

Your Guide to Understanding Meat Packaging Claims

Once upon a time, a trip to the grocery store was a simple task. Hit the meat case, pick up a few pork chops, and call it a day. Today, it’s a bit more complicated. The same meat packaging symbols and phrases intended to make shoppers’ lives easier have turned into a veritable guessing game. Is Hormone-Free the same as No Hormones Ever? What does All-Natural even mean?

You can thank the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) for doing the legwork to ensure food labels are truthful. Their job is to make sure that a company can’t claim its bacon will make you smarter or that their ham is aged a year if it’s only been aged for one week. Likewise, claims about how animals are raised or what they’re fed need to be cleared by the FSIS.

Understanding the difference between these complicated labels will help you shop with confidence the next time you’re scanning the meat case. Here are seven terms to know:

No Antibiotics Ever, No Antibiotics Administered, Raised Without Antibiotics: These phrases can appear on meat labels only if a producer has certifiably proved that their animals were never given antibiotics, whether through food or by injection.

USDA Process Verified: This term means a USDA auditor has made an in-person visit to a producer’s farm or facility to confirm that its claims are true. Such claims may include “No Antibiotics Ever,” “100% Vegetable Diet,” “Gestation-Crate-Free” or “Raised Without Growth Promotants.”

Fed a Vegetarian Diet: This means animals have been raised on a vegetarian diet free of any animal byproducts. Companies that use labels with animal-raising claims like Fed a Vegetarian Diet, Grass-Fed, etc., are required to back up those claims with proper documentation.

Animal Welfare: Third-party animal-welfare programs include “Animal Welfare Approved,” “Global Animal Partnership (GAP),” “Certified Humane,” and “American Humane Association Certified.” Some meat companies have their own internal certification standards, meanwhile. Some labels also carry second-party humane certificates or are certified by USDA (sometimes called self-certification). Each program has its own standards for how animals are housed, weaned and cared for, and you can generally locate more information about standards on a company’s website or through their certification. Animal-welfare claims like Group Housed and Gestation Crate Free, for example, require documentation in order to receive the USDA stamp of approval.

No Hormones Added, No Steroids Added: Legally, farmers can’t give hormones to pigs, so the USDA requires that pork label claims like “No Hormones or Steroids Added” be followed with this disclaimer: “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in poultry (or pork or veal).” The use of the claim “Raised Without Growth Promotants” requires the disclaimer “Ractopamine-Free Diet” since the use of the feed additive ractopamine is still permitted in the United States.

Meanwhile, livestock such as cattle and sheep are legally allowed to receive hormones, so in order to use these terms for these products, the USDA requires farmers to provide proof that no hormones were used while raising them.

All Natural: Many consumers assume that the term “All Natural” doesn’t mean anything. But it actually refers to meat that was minimally processed without artificial ingredients, chemical preservatives or colors. (You may also see the term “minimal processing,” which refers to a meat product that wasn’t radically altered during processing). Bottom line: Whenever you see a meat product package labeled “All Natural,” there should be a statement (such as “no artificial ingredients” or “minimally processed”) backing up its claims.

Uncured: If you see the term “Uncured” on meat products such as bacon, ham or hot dogs, it means that no chemical (or artificial) nitrites or nitrates have been added. (Curing agents give these meats their characteristic flavor and pink color.) Instead, uncured meats contain nitrites derived from celery or other produce that is naturally high in nitrates (which converts into nitrites). Processed meat products that are labeled “All Natural” must be Uncured; however, products labeled Uncured aren’t necessarily All Natural—unless every single ingredient is also natural. (Note: The USDA is currently undergoing a potential change the “Uncured” label to “Naturally Cured” to help clarify this statement.)

While the seven terms defined here are the most common labeling claims, inevitably you might run into others. When in doubt, grab your phone and search the label term, plus “USDA,” to discover whether it’s regulated by the government or a third party.

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