We’ve all been there. You arrive at the butcher counter or grocery store to buy some tasty pork, only to be completely overwhelmed by the sheer choice of pork cuts on offer.
Your mind starts racing. Should I choose a pork loin or a fillet? Is a pork butt really a delicious option? Can I cook all these cuts the same way?
If you’ve ever been confused by the different types of pork cuts available, we’ve got your back. Our ultimate guide will help you identify the main types of pork cut and advice on how best to cook them for mouth-watering results.
Cuts of pork
Use this cuts of pork diagram and the descriptions below to help identify and cook the right cut for your recipe.
Note that there are a lot of regional variations with how pork cuts are butchered and named.
If you are struggling to find the right cut at your local butcher, we highly recommend the pork from Porter Road.
1. Pork chops
Pork chops come from the loin area of the pig. This area stretches from the pork shoulder to the rump and is home to some of the most expensive, leanest and most tender cuts of meat.
Not all pork chops are equal, they differ depending upon where in the loin they come from. Common types of chops include:
- Chump Chops
- Rib Chops
- Loin Chops
As the pork loin is lean, it’s recommended to opt for pork chops on the bone to help to keep them moist while cooking. Bones tend to have sufficient fat to achieve this.
In general, most pork chops benefit from rapid cooking methods to prevent them from drying out and to limit the risk of over-cooking. For best results try pan frying, grilling, sear-roasting or broiling.
Throughout this article, we’ll discuss the different types of pork chop that you will come across. For instance, pork chops that come from the pork shoulder end are fattier compared to the ones from the loin. Therefore, correctly identifying your pork chop will enable you to determine how best to cook it.
Pork chops are highly versatile and can be matched with a huge variety of flavors. You can play it safe with more traditional pairings such as tomato, garlic or mushrooms, or alternatively, spice things up with some Asian spices or Cajun seasoning!
Check out our recipe for smoked pork chops.
2. Pork loin
Also known as the ‘boneless chop’, pork loin is one of the primal cuts that comes from the upper back of the pig, also known as the upper loin area. Pork loin consist of very lean meat with little to no connective tissue and no bones.
When cooking a pork loin roast, bear in mind that the absence of a bone can lead to overcooking and dryness, especially as this cut of pork is so lean. Therefore, fast cooking techniques such as sear-roasting, grilling or broiling are recommended to preserve a moist texture of a pork loin.
As there are no bones and subsequently no surrounding fat, pork loin is undoubtedly much easier to eat but can be fairly bland without adequate seasoning.
3. Pork butt (or shoulder)
Pork butt and pork shoulder are commonly confused. Both cuts come from the primal shoulder before being split into two sub primal cuts: pork butt and pork shoulder.
Pork Butt is also known as the Boston butt. It’s essentially the upper end of the pig’s shoulder blade where the meat tends to be thicker with more fat marbling.
Sold whole, in cubes or ground, pork butt is full-flavored and, when cooked correctly, extremely tender. Sometimes you may find pork shoulder chops that are sold with bones, but these are not as common.
Ideal for stews, pulled pork and pork roast, pork butt tastes best when cooked slowly.
You can purchase it on the bone for extra flavor or without, for ease of carving.
Smoking is a great option to create mouth-watering pulled pork (we’ve even created an in-depth guide to smoking your first pork butt if you do decide to take this route).
The pork shoulder, also known as picnic shoulder or picnic ham, is located below the butt on the leg of the pig and runs down to just above the pig’s front hoof, or hock. Picnic shoulder is usually less tender and marbled than pork butt, although, the fat cap on a picnic ham can be used to make cracklings.
You may also see pork cushion, which comes from the bottom part of the picnic shoulder, although it is a fairly rare cut. Low and slow cooking is best for pork cushion. But you can also slice this cut to make pork cutlets. In this case, use a marinade or pound them to make the meat tender.
4. Pork Tenderloin
Not to be confused with the pork loin we discussed above, the tenderloin is cut from a different part of the animal.
Also known as pork fillet, the pork tenderloin comes from the topside of the pig.
It’s a long, thin muscle from inside the rib cage. As it is used for posture, rather than just movement, it is one of the leanest and most tender cuts you can buy. However, it is also the most expensive choice.
Lean, tender and boneless, you can roast the tenderloin as a whole. You can also try grilling or pan frying fillet medallions.
Just be careful not to overcook your pork fillet. Due to its low fat content, this cut cooks rapidly. If you cook it just a little too much, it soon becomes dried out and chewy.
Due to its very low fat content, pork tenderloin is one of the healthiest cut options – making it perfect for those who are watching their diet.
5. Loin chop
Loin chops are cut from the upper part of the pig, unsurprisingly known as the loin area.
Also known as the porterhouse chop or center loin chop, this particular cut comes from towards the center-rear of the loin. Some cuts will also contain a section of tenderloin – prized for its tender texture and low fat content.
Mild flavored and fairly lean, this cut of pork may vary widely in price, depending upon the amount of tenderloin that it contains.
Loin chops with both pork loin and tenderloin present can be fairly difficult to prepare, as these two meats cook at slightly different rates.
Pork loin cuts are usually lean and tender, so pan frying, sear roasting or smoking are all recommended to get the best-tasting loin chops.
Full of flavor, versatile and cheap, pork cheeks are often overlooked in favor of more expensive back cuts.
As their name suggests, they come from the cheek area, found directly under the eyes. Pork cheek meat has the advantage of being very lean, yet moist.
It’s best braised, and after slow cooking, you’ll find it falls apart at the touch of your fork.
Thanks to its strong meaty flavor and tender texture, it’s really a great cut that, once tasted, will leave you wondering why you didn’t try it sooner. It also makes a great choice for cheaper, healthier meals thanks to its low fat content and affordable price.
Pork jowl is a cut of pork that comes from a pig’s cheek. Similar to bacon, pork jowl is a tough cut that is often cured, smoked, or ground for sausages. In Italy, pork jowl is used to make guanciale.
As is so often the case with overlooked, forgotten cuts, you may be a little stuck for inspiration. But don’t be! There are plenty of excellent pork cheek recipes to choose from, such as braised pork cheeks braised in tomato wine sauce. Or why not try them in a hearty meat pie for a tasty winter warmer?
7. Sirloin chop
Sirloin, as the name suggests, comes from the pork loin area. This is the upper section of the pig where you find the most tender and lean cuts.
Pork sirloin comes from the rump end of this area. This makes it a bonier cut than the blade end (shoulder) or the center portion of the loin.
Your average sirloin chop will contain some hip and backbone, with an overall higher amount of bone content than other chops. This also means that the meat itself is made up of various different muscle groups.
Sirloin chops have a lot of flavor, but lack the tenderness of the other loin chops.
However, they are a cheaper cut which is great for those on a budget. While pork sirloin is not an overly popular choice, when cooked correctly, it still makes for a delicious meal.
Braising is really the best way to cook pork sirloin, as other cooking methods can leave it dry and tough. We recommend slow cooking it over a low heat with lots of moisture – ideally in a stew or using a slow cooker.
8. Pork belly
Pork belly comes from the fleshy underside of the pig. It’s a long, continuous cut that has a lot of pork fat running through it.
Typically, pork belly is cured or smoked before being finely sliced to make bacon or pancetta. It can also be rolled and roasted or braised. You may also find it cut into steaks. Thanks to its crisp skin and soft, tender meat, it truly is a delicious and flavorful cut.
Pork belly is a popular choice in many Eastern cuisines, although you’ll also find it’s a great BBQ staple. It has been somewhat in vogue during recent years and you may even see it on some high-end restaurant menus.
If you decide to cook this pork cut at home yourself, be aware that it can be a little tricky to get right first time.
Ideally, you’ll need to oven roast it for several hours to make sure that the meat is soft, cooked and juicy. Once it’s cooked through, increase the heat for another 15 or so minutes to really crisp up the skin. Delicious!
If you’re not sure of the best place to purchase this cut, check out our where to buy pork belly guide.
9. Pork Leg
Pork hock comes from the leg of the pig. They are essentially the pig’s ankles, so they contain a fair amount of connective tissue and bone. When taken from the rear legs these cuts are also called ham hocks or pork knuckles.
Full of flavor, ham hocks are sold fresh, cured or smoked. We recommend cooking over a low heat with lots of moisture, preferably in a stew or stock.
When your hock is cooked through and tender, remove it from your pan and gently scrape off the meat.
Then add the meat back into your dish for great-tasting, tender meat with a strong, unmistakable flavor. Furthermore, you could try roasting fresh ham hock or cutting it into leg steaks that are great for pan frying or grilling.
The back leg of a pig is also the source of thinly-sliced prosciutto and serrano ham in Italian cuisine. These hams are cured and smoked before being air-dried.
The front hock is very similar to rear hock, but it’s usually sold brined and smoked. However, you may occasionally come across an unbrined front hock. If so, we recommend braising it for tender, flavorful meat.
10. Spare ribs
Pork spare ribs are located down the side of the pig and reach right down toward the breastbone of the animal (pig’s lower rib cage). They are also referred to as “side ribs” or “spares”.
These are probably the most popular type of ribs, so if a recipe mentions “ribs” without specifying what type, there is a decent chance they are talking about spare ribs.
Spare ribs are flatter and straighter than baby back ribs, and some people claim the meat had a richer flavor.
If you ever see pork spare ribs that have a neat rectangular shape, these are called St Louis cut ribs. This cut of rib is trimmed up to remove the cartilage and gristle you find at the bottom of the spares.
11. Baby back ribs
Baby back ribs come from the highest part of the pigs back and connect to the backbone.
They get their name from the fact that they are smaller than spare ribs, not because they come from baby pigs!
Baby back ribs are usually 3 – 6 inches in length, with a short and long end. They are usually leaner than spare ribs.
Wrapping it up
So there you have it, all you need to know about the most common and most popular pork cuts! Now you know your tenderloin from your belly, and your rib chops from your loin chops, there’s absolutely no excuse for not trying out some new, mouth-watering pork recipes.
Ready to get cooking? Let us know how you get on with your creations in the comments section below and don’t forget to share this article with your friends, family, and fellow food lovers!