A lot has changed for salt pork since the advent of refrigeration, but a lot has also stayed pretty much the same. After all, it’s still salty, it’s still pork, and a little bit still goes a long way. While 200 years ago, eating meat as the centerpiece of supper was a way of life, many modern day green eaters and health advocates look for ways to use meat as more of a flavor agent rather than as a big old hunk of center-of-the-plate protein.

In a YouTube video produced by Jas. Townsend & Son Inc., an Indiana-based maker of reproduction period clothing, an actor decked out in a striped cotton work cap, blue banded collar work shirt and woolen breeches explains that salt pork was one of the quickest products a farmer could bring to market in early 18th century Connecticut, Massachusetts and Virginia. The little piggies went to market in various sized barrels – sometimes packed in dry salt, sometimes in a salt brine, always to preserve the meat from going bad before refrigeration.

You got what you paid for. A barrel full of the better cuts was more expensive than one filled with off-cuts like heads and feet. But no matter the cut, salted pork (aka barrel pork, or sometimes just advertised as “pork” because fresh pork was a delicacy) was consumed by folks from all walks of life. While some soldiers who’d receive salt pork as rations might eat it raw, the actor explained, cooks would generally rinse off the salt and soak the pork, sometimes for days through many changes of water, to make it taste more like meat than salt.

Since most modern American kitchens have a refrigerator, salt pork is now usually made from pork belly with a lower salt-to-meat ratio in the cure than in the past, and at the grocery store, it’s typically sold in ¼-pound packages near the bacon. Unlike bacon, salt pork is never smoked. It tastes more like Italian pancetta than American bacon.

Very fatty salt pork made from the bottom of the pork belly, left, and a piece of leaner salt pork taken from the top of the pork belly. Mainers have been cooking with salt pork since before Maine was a state. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Mainers have cooked with salt pork for centuries; bacon is a more modern substitution. Salt pork has long been used in seafood chowder recipes, where the fat is rendered from small pieces of salt pork before onions are added to form the base of a flavorful broth. The crispy bits of meat left over from the rendering process (called “scrunchions” in Newfoundland and the Maritime Provinces of Canada) are saved to be sprinkled over bowls of hot chowder.

Writer Sandra Martin Morgan, who grew up in Greenwood in a large family of modest means, wrote in her autobiography a passage describing how a silver pot full salt pork and dandelion greens (also the name of the book), long simmered over a wood stove, was a celebrated spring feast. Her Ma would pull pieces of salt pork from the pot where it had already seasoned the dandelions with salt and imparted meaty flavor to the broth. She’d place them in a frying pan to crisp up and then warm up leftover cooked potatoes in the fat.


“The table is set, glasses of water are at each plate, and we all sit down to our potato, salt pork, and dandelion greens (with vinegar on top, of course) supper,” Morgan wrote.

Hollis Edwards, who owns Eureka Farms in Palmyra with his son, Seth, where they operate a year-round farm stand, recalls his mom keeping a 1-inch square piece of salt pork on a fork near the stovetop. When she made pancakes for dinner, she’d rub the salt pork around the pan to grease it before pouring the batter in.

But his favorite use for salt pork is to cook it into a pot of baked beans. “It mostly disappears into the broth, but the flavor it leaves behind is a cross between sweetly meaty and nutty,” Edwards said.

About five years ago, he starting buying salt pork from Maple Lane Farms in Charleston when the new crops of dried local beans arrive at the farm stand in the fall. He sells it for $6/pound, explaining that it’s leaner than the salt pork that sells in the grocery store.

The best place to find local salt pork in Maine is your favorite local butcher shop. Bisson Brothers in Topsham is my source. The salt pork is brined on site and is offered in both lean and fatty cuts that cost $5.49 and $2.99 per pound, respectively. Other places that sell their own salt pork include Farmers’ Gate Market in Wales ($11/pound) and Kennebec Meat Co. in Bath ($16.99/pound).

A modern cook needs to be aware of three things when working with local salt pork. The first is, always cook it low and slow. Cooking it over high heat will only render burnt fat, charred scrunchions and a smoky kitchen.


The second is that the salt content will vary. Before you go throwing a big chunk into a pot of beans or dandelion greens, take a small slice, place it in a frying pan over low heat to render the fat and crisp up the flesh. Taste both and you’ll have a better idea of how much you’ll need to add to your dish.

Finally, keep in mind that a little salt pork goes a long, long way. For your body, that is a healthy thing because we are talking about salt and saturated fat. And environmentally speaking, it’s also a sustainable way to consume meat.

Salted Pork Eye of the Round. The recipe comes from columnist Christine Burns Rudalevige’s mom. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Salted Pork Eye of the Round

My mom made a version of this recipe most Sundays when I was growing up. The salt pork seasons the lean beef and keeps it succulent as it slowly roasts. I like to season the roast with an herb mix as well (my favorite is Gryffon Ridge Senor Pistole’s Mild Chili Seasoning), but whatever you use, make sure salt is not in the mix, given that the salt pork is.

Serves 8-10

3-pound beef eye of the round roast
2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
Gryffon Ridge Senor Pistole’s Mild Chili Seasoning
4-6 thin slices of salt pork
2 tablespoons flour
2-3 cups beef stock
3 sprigs fresh thyme


Use a sharp paring knife to cut 15-20 slits all over the roast. Use your fingers to push garlic slices and a pinch of chili seasoning into each slit.

Place a cast iron skillet large enough to hold the roast over medium high heat. When the pan is hot, place the roast into the pan to sear it on all sides for 2-3 minutes per side. Sear the cut end of the roast as well.

Turn the heat off from under the pan and transfer the meat to a cutting board. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Rub the outside of the roast with 1 teaspoon chili seasoning. Lay the sliced salt pork over the roast. Use butcher’s twine to secure the pork in place. Put the prepared roast back into the cast iron pan and slide the pan into the preheated oven. Roast the meat until an instant read thermometer inserted into the center of the roast reads 115 degrees. Transfer the roast to a cutting board to rest while you make the gravy.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the rendered pork fat. Place the pan over medium heat. Sprinkle the flour over the fat and use a whisk to mix them into a roux. Cook the roux, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in 2 cups of stock, add the thyme and simmer for 5 minutes, whisking periodically. Taste the gravy; if it is too salty, add more stock until the salt level is acceptable.

As the gravy simmers, cut the butcher’s twine, remove the cooked salt pork and thinly slice the beef. Serve warm with the cooked salt pork and gravy.

Local foods advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is the editor of Edible Maine magazine and the author of “Green Plate Special,” both a column about eating sustainably in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her 2017 cookbook. She can be contacted at: cburns1227@gmail.com

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