The Iowa Chop: A cut above the rest
Iowa doesn’t officially recognize a state food, yet we can likely agree that our most famous local food is the Iowa Chop.
Here in the nation’s top pork producing state, we’re so fortunate that we can easily find the best-of-the-best Iowa Chop at our local grocery stores, butcher shops and favorite restaurants.
“We are very proud of the Iowa Chop,” says Steven Lonergan, a meat scientist and professor of animal science at Iowa State University (ISU). “Of course, we produce a lot of pork (in Iowa), so it’s an important part of our identity.”
Iowa pork farmers coined the name “Iowa Chop” in the 1976, according to ag historians. The Iowa Porkettes, a former statewide organization of farm women, launched a successful marketing campaign in the 1970s that made the Iowa Chop a mainstay at meat counters and restaurant menus – a legacy that continues 50 years later.
The Iowa Chop is a bone-in center cut from the pork loin, or the back and ribs, Lonergan explains. The meat from the loin is extremely tender and flavorful.
An Iowa Chop also must be at least 1-1/4 inches thick. A thicker pork chop retains more moisture while cooking, increasing its tenderness and flavor, Lonergan says.
What makes the Iowa Chop unique is that it’s made of two to three different muscles from the loin, depending on how it is cut, says Chef Austin Bailey, an instructor at Des Moines Area Community College’s Culinary Institute in Ankeny.
“(The Iowa Chop) has a bunch of different textures and some different flavors,” Bailey says. “There’s just different eating experiences throughout the whole meal.”
Iowa farmers are listening and adapting to meet consumer demand for pork that is nutritious, high-quality and quick to cook for busy lifestyles.
Genetic selection has a lot to do with today’s pork quality, Lonergan says.
Farmers today are focused on raising pork that is more flavorful and has more intramuscular fat, at the request of chefs and consumers, Lonergan says.
In addition, Iowa farmers understand that keeping pigs as comfortable and as stress free as possible impacts overall pork quality, Lonergan says.
Modern hog barns are equipped with technology that keeps the pigs comfortable by maintaining good air quality and controlling the temperature in Iowa’s extreme weather.
“Happy pigs will make for good food. You can definitely taste the difference in a well-raised hog,” Bailey says.
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