Increasing hot carcass weights observed in the pork industry from 1995 and 2018 create the potential to increase revenue from new retail products because individual muscles are heavier when pigs are heavier. In particular, novel cuts through alternative fabrication methods can be created from the shoulder. However, there are concerns with compromised chilling of heavier pork carcasses, and little information exists on postmortem temperatures of pork shoulders. Therefore, the objectives of this study were to 1) characterize the effects of increasing carcass weight on pork carcass characteristics and yields from traditional and alternative fabrication methods, 2) determine the quality and sensory attributes of novel cuts from the pork shoulder, and 3) determine the effects of hot carcass weight (HCW) and carcass location on postmortem muscle temperature.

Eighty-five pigs including both barrows and gilts from three commercial genetic lines were slaughtered at the University of Illinois Meat Science Lab. Carcasses were classified by hot carcass weight to represent current industry averages, carcasses that were 16% heavier than current averages, and carcasses that were 32% heavier than industry averages. Postmortem temperature was monitored in the loin, ham, and shoulder. Then carcass sides were fabricated either using traditional industry methods or alternative methods were the shoulder was removed from the loin between the 4th and 5th rib. Alternative fabrication yielded novel cuts from the triceps brachii and serratus ventralis muscles. These muscles were made into chops and compared with loin chops in terms of size, fresh quality, and eating quality.

As expected, heavier carcasses chilled more slowly than lighter carcasses. Shoulders chilled more slowly than loins but more quickly than hams. The effects of carcass location and carcass weight compounded in terms of slowing chilling in hams from very heavy carcasses resulting in ham temperatures that were 5.1°C warmer than industry typical loins at 22h postmortem. As carcasses get heavier in the future, carcass chilling programs will require adjustments to ensure adequate chilling of hams. Again, as expected, heavier carcasses produced heavier cuts of meat. However, increased cut weights were in proportion to increased carcass weights. This suggests that, unless genetic selection is used to change the distribution of weight within the big to select for larger loins or hams, increases in carcass weights will simply result in a carcasses that are larger in all cuts. The advantage of this uniform increase in weights is that alternative fabrication of shoulders to yield novel cuts resulting in a longer shoulder primal and shorter loin and belly primals can be accomplished in heavier pigs and still result in similar loin and belly weights observed in contemporary carcasses. Fresh meat quality was largely unaffected by increasing carcass weight, such that heavier carcasses are not expected to have worse meat quality than contemporary pigs. Finally, tenderness, juiciness, and flavor intensity of pork chops from the shoulder (triceps brachii and serratus ventralis) from heavier pig were all improved compared to industry typical loin chops. An economic analysis, as well as consumer testing of these cuts, is needed to determine whether they are a valuable addition to the pork retail case.

Key Findings

  • Postmortem temperatures of shoulders were intermediate to those of hams and loins. Heavier carcasses chilled more slowly than lighter carcasses. As pigs get heavier, there may be concerns with effective chilling of shoulders, in additions to hams.
  • There were minimal differences in fresh meat quality between weight classes of pigs. As carcasses get heavier, even exceeding up to 136 kg (300 lb), fresh meat quality issues are not anticipated.
  • Heavier pork carcasses yielded heavier cuts that were in proportion to the increase in carcass weight.
  • Alternative fabrication of pork shoulders reduced belly and loin length. Though shorter, loins and bellies from heavier carcasses weighed more than loins and bellies of contemporary pigs.
  • Alternative fabrication of pork shoulders yielded two novel cuts from the serratus ventralis and triceps brachii muscles. These cuts were more tender, juicy, and flavorful than pork loin chops.