From where on a pig do you get that cut of meat? If you’ve ever found yourself asking that question, we have the answer for you! From the head to the heart to the ham to the hocks, just about every part of the pig is used in some way.
The pork cuts most of us are familiar with come from four main sections of the pig: the loin, the side, the leg, and the shoulder.
The largest variety of cuts of pork comes from the loin area and includes back ribs, Canadian bacon, chops, country-style ribs, crown roast, loin roast, rib roast, and the tenderloin.
- Back ribs originate from the blade and center section of the pork loin, which is known for the “finger meat” between the bones. Back ribs also are referred to as “baby” back ribs because they are smaller than spareribs.
- Canadian bacon is closer kin to ham than to regular bacon. Canadian-style bacon is fully-cooked, smoked pork loin.
- Chops are the most popular cut from the pork loin, which is the strip of meat that runs from the pig’s hip to shoulder. Depending on where they originate, pork chops can be found under a variety of names, including loin, rib, sirloin, top loin and blade chops.
- Country-style ribs are cut from the sirloin or rib end of the pork loin. The meatiest variety of ribs, country-style ribs are sold either as “slabs” or in individual servings. These pork ribs are perfect for those who want to use a knife and fork.
- Crown roast is an attractive special-occasion entrée created using a pork rib roast/rack of pork. The easy-to-prepare crown roast is formed from a pork rib roast/rack of pork that is tied into a circle, ribs up.
- Loin roast comes from the area of the pig between the shoulder and the beginning of the leg It is sold either bone-in or deboned. Loin roast can be rolled and tied with string. Loin roasts with a bone tend to be juicier and more flavorful, but the bone can make carving a bit tricky.
- Pork rib roast is also referred to as rack of pork (it also may be labeled center-cut pork loin). The cut originates in the rib area of the loin, so it contains a bit more fat which makes it flavorful. The pork rib roast/rack of pork is the pork equivalent of a standing beef rib roast or a rack of lamb. For reference, a pork rib roast/rack of pork is a simpler version of a pork crown roast, which is a pork rib roast/rack of pork turned into a circle and tied. This cut makes a show-stopping centerpiece for an elegant dinner.
- Tenderloin comes from the full pork loin. As the name indicates, the tenderloin is one of the most tender cuts of pork. Typically, pork tenderloin weighs between ¾ and 1 ½ pounds. Pork tenderloin makes an elegant entree for a small dinner party but also can be roasted or grilled whole for a quick weeknight dinner.
From the side of the pig we get spare ribs as well as pork belly and bacon.
- Spare ribs come from the belly of the hog and are known for their delicious, meaty pork flavor. These ribs are the least meaty variety of ribs, but full of flavor. Spareribs are typically larger and heavier than back ribs.
- Pork belly comes from a hog’s ‘belly’ or underside after the loin and spareribs have been removed. This boneless cut may be served fresh, which means it is not cured or smoked. Fresh belly is succulent and richly flavorful and is often served in small portions.
- Bacon is pork belly that has been cured and smoked. An abundance of fat gives bacon its sweet flavor and tender crispiness. Bacon is typically sold in slices.
Pork shoulder produces shoulder butt or Boston butt as well as ground pork, sausage, and blade steak or pork steak.
- Ground pork is pork that has been ground or finely chopped. It is unseasoned and usually is available fresh with an average lean-fat ratio of 70 percent lean, 30 percent fat. Sometimes ground pork is known as “the other burger” and can be substituted for ground beef in many recipes.
- Sausage is seasoned ground pork that is often enclosed in a casing. The ground pork used for sausage can come from a variety of cuts of pork including the shoulder butt and the loin. Sausage may be fresh, smoked or cured. Sausage is a highly versatile type of ground pork thanks to its capacity to blend well with a variety of herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables.
- Shoulder butt or Boston butt is the top portion of the front leg of the hog. The terminology for pork shoulder can vary widely depending on the region. However, the lower ‘arm’ portion of the shoulder is most commonly called the arm pork roast. The upper part of the shoulder, often called the blade pork roast, comes from the area near the loin and contains the shoulder blade bone. The blade roast is a well-marbled cut. This versatile cut can be pot-roasted whole, cut up for stews or cooked over moist smoke in a smoker to transform it into classic pulled pork barbecue. Whether it is roasted, braised or barbecued, blade roast becomes meltingly tender and deliciously flavorful.
- Blade steak or pork steak comes from a roast cut that’s been sliced. Blade steaks (also called pork steaks) are cut from the pork shoulder and contain the blade bone. Blade steaks are flavorful like roasts because they are rich in marbling, which keeps them tender during cooking. Blade steak is a popular, quick-cooking cut for grilling.
From the front and hind legs of a pig we get ham roasts, fresh ham or fresh leg, and hocks or shanks.
- Cured ham is leg meat that has been dry- or wet-cured. Hams are labeled according to the amount of water added to the ham during the curing process. Because the leg muscle is a well-exercised part of the hog, ham is surprisingly low in fat.
- Fresh pork leg, also known as fresh ham, is the uncured hind leg of the hog. Like cured ham, fresh leg of pork/fresh ham is available either bone-in or boneless and may be purchased whole or halved. Fresh ham also may be cut into rump (from near the sirloin), shank (lower leg portion) or center portions.
- Smoked hock and shank are flavorful, inexpensive cuts that originate in the front leg of the hog, known as the arm picnic shoulder. The term shank refers to the front leg of the hog. The hock is the lower, meaty portion of the front leg. Hock and shank are often available both fresh and cured/smoked upon request at the meat counter. Hock contains two round shank bones that are exposed on both ends and is often sold with the skin still attached. Note that the ham hock is different — it originates in the lower rear leg (or ham). Ham hocks are most often available cured.