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Learning about Different Cuts of Pork

A lot of people try to limit their consumption of pork due to its high fat content compared to poultry and fish. While I think that is a smart choice for some people, I still enjoy eating this meat very much. Let me put it this way; I'd rather do several hours of cardio a day to keep myself healthy than give up my pork. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to convince those with heart disease to rebel against their doctors' advice and indulge themselves with platefuls of bacon. If you have certain health problems related to high cholesterol, it is wise to minimize or avoid pork consumption. If you are healthy and living a well-balanced lifestyle, however, there is no need to be scared of this delicious meat as long as you consume it in moderation.

When you visit the meat section in a supermarket, you'll usually find many different cuts of pork arrayed in front of you, as if to challenge your decision-making skills. For experienced cooks, that shouldn't be a problem, but for those who aren't familiar with pork cuts, it could take a while to decide which one to get. The following guide will describe how each pork cut is different from the others and offer helpful tips on how to cook them.

Primal Cuts of Pork

Primal Pork Cuts Chart

Primal Pork Cuts Chart

What are Primal Cuts?

The term "primal cuts" refers to the initial cuts of meat, which will later be separated into smaller cuts and sold at the retail level. The five primal cuts of pork include blade shoulder, arm shoulder, loin, side and leg.

Blade Shoulder - This cut is from the upper portion of the front legs, which contains well-exercised muscles and a fair amount of fat.

Arm Shoulder - It's also from the front legs of the pig and share some similar characteristics with the blade shoulder, but has a stronger pork flavor.

Loin - The loin cut is from the area between the shoulders and the hind legs. Butchers normally divide this primal cut into various retail cuts, such as pork chops, tenderloin, baby back ribs, etc. Compared to other primal cuts of pork, the loin is pretty lean.

Side - This cut refers to the lower-rib area or the belly, which is where bacon and spareribs come from. It is by far the fattiest and most succulent pork cut.

Leg - This primal cut is from the hind legs, which may be sold either with or without the shank bone. It is easy to carve and not overly fatty. Ham hocks are from this part of the pig.

Baby Back Ribs

Alternate Name: Loin Back Ribs, Riblets

Best Way to Cook: Barbecue

The baby back ribs are cut from the upper part of the rib cage, close to the backbone. One rack of back ribs usually contains about 11 - 13 bones. These little ribs are much less fatty than spareribs but not as meaty as country-style ribs.

Center Loin Roast

Alternate Names: Center Cut, Pork Roast

Best Way to Cook: Roast

Many cooks would agree that the center loin makes the best pork roast of all, as it's so naturally juicy and tender. It contains a layer of fat covering that is pretty thin compared to other fatty pork cuts, yet also thick enough to prevent the meat from drying out during the cooking process.

Center Cut Pork Chops

Alternate Names: Loin Chops, Top Loin Chops

Best Ways to Cook: Braise, Grill, Sauté, Pan-Sear and Roast (Pan Roast)

The center-cut chop can be conveniently identified by a T-shaped bone that separates the loin meat from the tenderloin muscle. The great thing about this pork cut is that it can be best prepared in a variety of ways. And the downside? It takes some skills to handle these chops. Containing both the loin and tenderloin sections in one piece, these pork chops often get unevenly cooked. Plus, they can dry out pretty easily.

Country-Style Ribs

Alternate Name: Country Rib

Best Ways to Cook: Barbecue, Braise

The country-style ribs are from the fatty blade end of the loin. So succulently meaty, they're usually divided into invidual ribs and can be enjoyed the "no-mess" way, with a knife and fork.

Fresh Ham

Alternate Name: Fresh Leg

Best Way to Cook: Roast

This pork cut refers to the uncured hind leg, which normally weighs between 15 - 25 pounds. It's usually sold with the shank and leg bone, but you may also find boneless alternatives at some supermarkets.

Picnic Shoulder

Alternate Names: Fresh Picnic, Picnic Roast

Best Ways to Cook: Barbecue, Braise, Roast

Coming from the arm shoulder with potent pork flavor, this cut is often turned into shoulder hocks, primarily used as a flavoring ingredient in soups and stews, but many also love to buy it fresh and make it melt-in-your-mouth tender by long, slow cooking.

Pork Butt

Alternate Names: Boston Shoulder, Boston-Style Butt

Best Ways to Cook: Barbecue, Braise, Roast

This pork cut is in fact from the blade shoulder, not the rear end of the pig as its title suggests. Although the meat in this area is usually tough, it also has adequate fat to keep the meat moist and succulent. Oftentimes, it is used for barbecue and pulled pork.

Pork Tenderloin

Alternate Name: None

Best Ways to Cook: Grill, Stir-Fry, Roast, Sauté

The tenderloin is a very lean and delicate cut of pork. Health-concerned diners will definitely love it. This boneless pork cut cooks very fast and can dry out before you know it, so you'd better keep your eye on it as you're cooking.

Rack of Pork

Alternate Names: Center Rib Roast, Pork Loin Rib Half

Best Way to Cook: Roast

This beautiful cut is from the center rib area of the loin. It is mild, fairly lean and easy to carve. At some supermarkets, you may need to order this special cut beforehand. However, it's totally worth the inconvenience, as you can transform this pork cut into an extravagant centerpiece for your dinner party. Form two racks of pork into a circle, then tie the ends together, and you'll get a gorgeous "crown roast."

Rib Chops

Alternate Names: Rib Cut Chops, Pork Chops End Cut

Best Ways to Cook: Braise, Grill, Pan-Sear and Roast (Pan Roast), Sauté

These thick, tender chops are from the rib area of the loin. They usually contain a part of back rib bone running along one side. Having a fair amount of fat, they are very flavorful and unlikely to dry out during cooking.

Sirloin Roast

Alternate Name: None

Best Way to Cook: Roast

The sirloin roast is a sinuous cut. As it contains a fair amount of connective tissue, it needs to be cooked for a very long time to become tender. Plus, this pork cut includes parts of the hip bone and backbone, so it can be pretty difficult to carve. The average price of a sirloin roast is quite economical, but if you want to opt for a boneless alternative, you'll have to pay a little extra.

Spare Ribs

Alternate Name: Side Ribs, St. Louis-Style Ribs

Best Ways to Cook: Barbecue, Braise

The spare ribs are from the belly or lower rib cage. They are flat and not very meaty, but tend to be more tender than back ribs and country ribs due to their high amount of fat.

Quick Survey

Please feel free to talk about your favorite pork cuts and share your cooking tips!

Om Paramapoonya (author) on May 14, 2012:

Thanks, Pamela. You're right; the ribs and tenderloin are very flavorful pork cuts!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on May 12, 2012:

I never thought about the different cuts of pork. We don't eat it too often, but we do consider barbecued ribs and pork tenderloin as the best cuts. Thorough hub on pork, so up and useful.

Om Paramapoonya (author) on May 09, 2012:

Thanks, Angeline. I think the fact that you decided to follow your husband's religious tradition and gave up pork after your marriage certainly shows that you love him a lot. If my Steve was Jewish, however, I might have to choose pork over him! hehehe

anglnwu on May 08, 2012:

Wow, this is a very comprehensive article on the different cuts of pork. Love that cute piggy picture. I've given up on pork (husband is Jewish--can't eat it) since I got married but my family loves pork. I remmber the pork leg stew and the "Char siew." Great job and rated up.

Om Paramapoonya (author) on May 08, 2012:

@TomBlalock - I've never been to NC but I think I might want to go there sometime (mainly for the BBQ)! Glad you enjoyed this article and sorry for making you hungry. hehehe

@Arlene - Thanks, Arlene. I think cheating every once in long while is probably okay ;)

@FalconSays - Yeah, I certainly did! Thanks so much for dropping by.

Karen S Falcon from Las Vegas, NV on May 08, 2012:

Wow! You put a lot of work into this hub! Great job!

Arlene V. Poma on May 07, 2012:

VERY USEFUL AND INTERESTING. I enjoyed this article. It had so much information on pork that is so useful to anyone who has to shop for groceries as well as cook. Since I have gout, I am on the outside, looking in. Drooling. But I do cheat at times (a little ham for Easter). I would love to share this article, but my whole family suffers from gout!

TomBlalock from Hickory, NC on May 07, 2012:

This article might be the most unhealthy article I've read so far. It is like reading distilled heart attack. I have to say as well, that I love it. It is my favorite article thus far. I know most of the cuts by experience, working as a chef, but having it as a reference, and seeing those delicious cuts of pork, it made me hungry all over again. I suppose that is the burden of any southerner that cooks, though, seeing the meat not as a cut of muscle and meat, but as the finished, delicious produce. I think I'll have to make another trip by Lexington Barbecue, in Lexington NC. If you're ever in NC, I pity you, but you'll love the barbecue.

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