Pork Cuts – Complete Guide [Pictures Included]
You are at the store looking for a great cut of pork, but you are not sure which one is best for your needs. There are several types of ribs and pork chops that you can choose from, but you are having trouble deciding which cut you want to purchase. You'd ask the butcher, but you don't want to sound like you have no idea about the different pork options that are available.
Maybe you want to know the difference between a pork shoulder and a pork butt. Well, this guide is designed to help you find out which cut is which so that you can make the best pulled pork that you've ever tasted. Get the cut of ribs that you want, and know which cuts of pork are the best for the grill.
Pro Tip: A pork shoulder and a pork butt actually come from the same front shoulder of the pig, the only difference is that when you purchase the butt, the top portion of the shoulder, which is also known as the picnic, is removed.
Common Pork Cuts
- Pork Loin Chops
- Pork Shoulder Chops
- Pork Cutlets
- Pork Spare Ribs
- Pork Country-Style Ribs
- Pork Baby Back Ribs
- Pork Belly
- Pork Roast
- Pork Crown Roast
- Pork Loin
- Pork Shoulder
- Pork Hocks
1) Pork Loin Chops
Pork loin chops are portions of the pig that come from the loin. There are a few different cuts that you can get from this area, but regardless, these chops will taste delicious broiled, pan-fried, or grilled. The main difference between the different pork loin chops is where the bone is positioned and the shape of the bone. A full loin chop is going to have a t-bone in the center with meat the loin and the tenderloin, while a rib chop has a curved bone with meat only on one side.
Pro Tip: Since these chops can dry out quickly while cooking, you are going to want to find a thick cut of meat with the bone intact for the most flavorful pork loin chops.
2) Pork Shoulder Chops
There are also shoulder chops that you can consider if you want a pork chop. This is a fattier cut, but it will also be a bit tougher than loin chops because they come from the shoulder. These chops are best when they are marinated before they are cooked, which actually will tenderize the meat a bit before it is grilled or pan-fried. If you want to cook this cut without marinating the meat, you may want to consider braising it so that it cooks a little slower.
Pro Tip: You only need to marinate pork shoulder chops for about two hours.
3) Pork Cutlets
In some stores, you will find pork cutlets labeled as boneless pork chops. While this is sometimes true, a pork cutlet is typically a bit leaner than a loin chop. These can be grilled on the grill, but be careful not to overcook them because they will cook quickly. They can also be baked, but the most common way of preparing a cutlet is to pound it to tenderize the meat more and then coat it in breadcrumbs before you pan fry it.
Pro Tip: A quick sear on each side is all you need when the pork is breaded and fried.
4) Pork Spare Ribs
Spare ribs are the actual ribs that are located on the underside of the pig. These ribs are not the meatiest rib option, but they are very tender, especially if they are cooked over low heat for a long period of time. These ribs are best when they are baked in the oven or cooked in a slow cooker, but you can grill these ribs as well. Before you cook this cut of meat, make sure that you remove the layer of silver skin that is often on the underside of the bone so that it is easier to separate the ribs when they are done.
5) Pork Country-Style Ribs
Pork country-style ribs are actually the meatiest ribs that you will get at the market, and the reason that these ribs have so much meat is that they are not actually ribs at all. This cut is taken from the shoulder of the pig, which is why this cut of meat is typically sold boneless. If there are bones in the country-style ribs that you purchase, it is most likely bone from the shoulder blade.
Pro Tip: These ribs can be cooked low and slow or high and fast, so they are an ideal cut for a stir-fry.
6) Pork Baby Back Ribs
The baby back ribs are actually the small ribs that you find on the back of the pig. These ribs typically have more meat on them than spare ribs do. Because of the location of these ribs, they are a very lean cut. That being said, they are also a popular cut, which means that they tend to cost a bit more than other ribs. Typically, these ribs are sold in a rack with about 10 to 12 ribs, which gives you enough food for you and a friend.
Pro Tip: Baby back ribs are great baked or grilled, but if you can cook them low and slow in a slow cooker, they will literally melt in your mouth when you eat them.
7) Pork Belly
Pork belly is a marbled cut of meat that can be found on the underside of a pig. The full belly can be braised to create a delicious meal, but more often than not, you purchase this portion of the pig after it has been cured, smoked, and cut into much thinner slices. The pork belly is the portion of the pig that bacon is made out of, and if you look at a slab of belly, you can see the same marbling that you would see in bacon. Pancetta, which is a cured portion of pork, is also made out of this cut.
8) Pork Roast
A pork roast that you find in the store can be several different cuts of meat; in fact, you can find pork rib roasts, pork top loin roasts, pork sirloin roasts, and Boston butt roasts sold as a pork roast. No matter which cut you get, you will be able to cook the roast in the oven low and slow to tenderize the meat and create a juicy roast. A pork roast can either have a bone in the middle or it can be boneless and tied together to keep its shape.
9) Pork Crown Roast
A pork crown roast is not actually a roast, which can be confusing because it is often cooked low and slow in the oven just like a pork roast. Once the meat is fully cooked, you will want to raise the temperature to crisp the outside. This cut is one that is made from the loin and the ribs, so it is a bit tenderer than a pork roast. Sometimes, the crown roast can be made from one large cut, or it can be made from two racks of pork that are tied together to create a crown.
Pro Tip: You can cook stuffing or another side dish in the center of the crown.
10) Pork Loin
The pork loin is one of the most tender parts of the pig, which means that there is going to be very little fat in the meat. That being said, it is important that you are careful while you are cooking the loin so that the meat does not become dry because it was cooked too long. This cut can be sold as a whole roast or cut into sections. The blade end, which is closest to the shoulder blade on the pig, is the part of the loin with the most fat, while the end closest to the back end of the pig is going to be bonier. The tenderloin and sirloin both are cut from this area of the pig.
Pro Tip: The center portion of the loin is the most succulent cut, but purchasing that tender cut is going to cost you more. However, this cut will taste amazing on the grill, so spending a little more for this cut may be well worth it.
11) Pork Shoulder
A full pork shoulder is going to come with the bone and the skin intact. A shoulder is actually made up of two parts that you may have seen with a different name at the market. The thicker section of the shoulder is often called the butt, while the triangular portion below that joint in the shoulder is called the picnic. If you get the butt or the picnic, chances are that the skin and the bone have been removed, so if you want to make pork crackling out of the skin, you may want an entire shoulder. Since this is a thicker cut of meat with a lot of muscle, you are going to want to cook it low and slow so that it becomes tender.
Pro Tip: If you are planning to make pulled pork, the pork shoulder is the best cut of meat for the dish.
We have all enjoyed ham from time to time, so you know the shape of the cut. This portion of the pig comes from the pig's upper back legs, and it is often cured with salt before it is sold in the store, which is why ham often tastes saltier than other cuts of pork. When the ham is cured, it can also be smoked before it is ready to be cooked. A whole ham is often baked in the oven, but you can also purchase it pre-sliced, which allows you to pan fry or grill the ham as well.
Pro Tip: Fresh ham, which has not been cured at all, is also available at the market, so you will need to make sure to fully cook this ham before serving it.
Sausage is not actually a specific cut of meat; it is small pieces of meat that does not fit into another cut and pork back fat that is ground together and placed into a sausage casing. You can purchase sausage in most markets raw, cooked, smoked, or cured. Most sausages taste amazing on the grill, but if you have uncooked sausage, you will need to cook it for a longer time so that it is not raw in the middle. Pan fried sausages are also delicious.
Pro Tip: A good sausage is going to have a little bit of resistance when you bite into it. You want the skin to snap and release the juices inside the sausage when you take your first bite.
14) Pork Hocks
The pork hock is the cut that is connected to the ham, which means that it is effectively the lower leg of the pig. Hocks are typically smoked when you get them at the market, which is why they taste so great in greens, broths, and soups. When the skin is removed from this cut of meat, they are called shanks and they should be cooked slowly to ensure that they are tender. If you want to go a bit below the hocks, you can also use the trotters or the feet of the pig for soups and stews.
Did you enjoy this list? Nothing will make your food taste better than choosing the right cut of meat for a dish, which means that knowing the different cuts is imperative for any cook. Some pork cuts need to be cooked low and slow, while others can be charbroiled on a hot grill, and hopefully, this guide has helped you know a little more about each cut. Let me know what you think about the article, and feel free to share it with others so that we can all choose the right cuts at the market for the meal that we want to create.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Healthy is Pork Meat?
Pork is considered a red meat, so if you’re avoiding red meats you should also avoid pork cuts. That being said, pork is high in protein and many of the cuts are lean and low in saturated fats. Some cuts of pork are healthier than chicken, especially the tenderloin and loin cuts.
What is the Most Tender Cut of Pork?
The most tender cuts of pork also have the least amount of fat. The loin is the leanest, most tender cut of pork. This cut is also the sub-primal where pork chops are cut. If you are looking for a naturally tender piece of pork that you won’t have to cook low and slow, the loin is the best choice. The second best choice is the tenderloin, which is also naturally very lean but it can become very tough if you overcook it.
What is the Best Cut of Pork for Pulled Pork?
The pork shoulder is the most popular cut for pulled pork. It is a very tough cut, but it becomes tender and shreddable when cooked low and slow. You may see the pork shoulder sold in the grocery store as the Boston Butt or as a Picnic Shoulder. These are the two cuts that come from the whole, bone-in pork shoulder.
What’s The Difference Between Baby Back Ribs and Spare Ribs?
Baby back ribs are cut from the loin, which is where the pork chops are located. This makes them a little bit leaner. Spare ribs are more tender and fattier because they’re cut from the belly section. If the spare ribs have been trimmed, they’re often called St. Louis style.
What Temperature Do You Cook Pork?
The National Pork Board recommends a minimum safe cooking temperature of 145 degrees F for any pork cut. For a more medium cooked pork, the cooking temperature is 160 degrees F. For low and slow cooking, like pork shoulder or ribs, pork should be cooked until it reaches an internal temperature of 190 degrees F. This will ensure it is fall apart tender.