Bacon has come a long way in recent years, garnishing everything from burgers to desserts on restaurant menus. But the bacon obsession has opened the door to a new porcine fetish: pulled pork.
The slow-cooked shoulder of pig that’s stuffed into burritos, sprinkled on pizza, and tossed into Italian pasta is making the rounds on menus across the US. The ingredient appeared on 17.8% of US restaurant menus in 2014, up from 10.6% in 2005, according to market research firm Datassential. It’s most popular in casual restaurants (as opposed to quick service, midscale, or fine dining), where it appeared on 25% of menus in 2014, and independent restaurants (those with only 1 or 2 branches), where it was served at 19% of locations. Even fast-food chains like Burger King are getting into dishes featuring pulled pork.
Bacon is still far more popular than pulled pork on restaurant menus, but its growth has waned. It appeared on 68.4% of menus in 2014, a 9.4% increase since 2005. Pulled pork, on the other hand, saw a 67.9% increase during that same period.
What’s driving pulled pork’s ascent is as much about economics as taste. Ground beef prices have been steadily rising, up 189% since 2000, according to Cattle Network. This week, the most popular kind of ground beef, 73% lean, sold for an average wholesale price of $1.89/pound, according to the USDA. Fresh, vacuum-packed trim pork butt (aka pork shoulder, used in pulled pork) sold for an average wholesale price of $1.25/pound.
Rising interest in ethnic foods, especially Central and South American cuisines, has also boosted pulled pork consumption, says Maeve Webster of Datassential. It’s also a meat that works well in “handheld applications” like sandwiches and tacos, which have grown in popularity with more consumers on the go.
The cut of meat also appeals to home cookers, since it is relatively easy to make and hard to overcook. “It’s a pretty tough cut with lots of connective tissue, which means it needs to be braised or roasted for a long time; you can’t just cut it and fry it or grill it. But, it’s also layered with a lot of fat, so it stays super moist through long cook times,” says Christine Byrne, associate editor at BuzzFeed Food and the site’s in-house recipe developer. On Pinterest, the ultimate online destination for recipes, pulled pork pins are up 69% year-over-year, a Pinterest spokesperson tells Quartz.
The photograph above was shared by Tim Lucas under a Creative Commons license on Flickr. It has been cropped.