PORK PRIMER

The Big Grilling Guide to Pork Cuts

Now more than ever, the butcher case is full of delicious pig parts. Rollover the hotspots on the hog to find out more about these cuts and how to prepare them perfectly.

The Big Grilling Guide to Pork Cuts

Now more than ever, the butcher case is full of delicious pig parts. Rollover the hotspots on the hog to find out more about these cuts and how to prepare them perfectly.

Spareribs

Spareribs

Unlike most other pork ribs, which come from the loin, this flavorful cut comes from the belly and is usually larger and heavier. Ribs can be barbecued "wet" (basted with sauce) or "dry" (rubbed with herbs and spices beforehand).

Bacon

bacon

This cut is essentially cured and smoked pork belly, usually sliced into thin strips. It's a fattier, sweeter and wildly popular cut that can be incorporated into a wide variety of dishes. Bacon can also be sold in slabs, which you can slice as thickly as you desire - but remember to remove the attached rind first. Slices can be broiled, fried, baked, even microwaved.

Belly

Belly

This is a fresh cut (not cured or smoked) that comes from the underside of the hog once the spareribs and loin have been removed. It is a rich, luxurious cut that is usually slow cooked by braising or barbecuing. Though popular with chefs, this cut is not readily available in your butcher's case, but can be ordered in advance.

Smoked Hocks/Fresh Shanks

Hocks

The shank is the front leg and the hock is the lower, meatier portion of this area. Available fresh and cured, these cuts are often sold with the skin attached. (Ham hocks are a different cut that come from the lower rear leg.) These are rich cuts that are perfect for stews, soups and low 'n slow cooking.

Canadian-Style Bacon

Canadian-Style Bacon

Fully cooked and smoked, this cut is actually closer to ham than bacon and comes from the middle of the back - the lean eye of the loin. Try cooking this a few slices on your grill. Just place a skillet right on the grate, add some eggs and you've got a BBQ eggs benedict.

Loin Roast

Loin Roast

Often confused with tenderloin, this cut is typically larger and comes from between the shoulder and the beginning of the leg. Sold boneless or bone-in, roasts with a bone often pack more juice and flavor. This cut is best brined and roast in the oven or barbecued low and slow on your grill.

Pork Rib/Rack of Pork

Pork Rib/Rack of Pork

Pork's answer to the standing beef rib roast or rack of lamb, the full-flavor cut from the rib area makes for an impressive, party-worthy entrée. For easier roasting and barbecuing, look for "Frenched" cuts, those that have been butchered to expose the ends of the ribs.

Back Ribs

Back Ribs

Derived the "finger meat" which fits between the bones of the center and blade of the loin, this cut is smaller than spareribs (weighing in about 1.5 pounds), which is why they are also known as "baby" back ribs. Ribs can be barbecued "wet" (basted with sauce) or "dry" (rubbed with herbs and spices beforehand).

Country-Style Ribs

Country-Style Ribs

The meatiest of ribs, this cut can be eaten with knife and fork and comes from the sirloin or rib end of the loin. Ribs can be barbecued "wet" (basted with sauce) or "dry" (rubbed with herbs and spices beforehand).

Cutlet

Cutlet

As the name implies, this is a thin, tender, boneless cut from the sirloin end of the loin. Similar cuts also come from the leg then sliced and flattened. They are quick cooking - best sauteed or grilled - and fit perfectly into sandwiches.

Crown Roast

Crown Roast

The crown roast is actually not a separate cut, but rather a pork rib roast/rack of pork tied into a ring, with the ribs pointing up. It's a special occasion cut that usually needs to be pre-ordered from your butcher. If you want to go whole hog, decorate the rib tips with paper frills after removing it from the oven.

Chop

Chop

Pork chops are the most popular cut from the pork loin - the area from the shoulder to the hip - and are easy and forgiving to cook. With several different sub-types - loin, rib, sirloin, top loin, blade chops - chops of the same thickness (boneless and bone-in) all cook the same amount of time. They're usually quick cooking and can be braised, sauteed or grilled.

Tenderloin

Tenderloin

True to its name, this is actually the full loin of the pig and is one of the more tender cuts. Because of this, it's best enhanced with an extra punch of flavor - a marinade, spice rub or sauce. It's equally delicious as an elegant roast or casually thrown on the grill.

Cubed & Sliced

Cubed & Sliced

The smallest cuts of pork are definitely the most versatile and quickest to cook. Cubes, pieces, slices and strips usually come from the loin but can be cut from almost any part of the pig. Cubes are best for kabobs, strips are ideal in a stir-fry or sandwich and pieces work well in soups or stews.

Fresh Pork Leg

Fresh Pork Leg

Basically uncured or fresh ham, this cut can be purchased both boneless and bone-in, whole and halved. Since it's a less common cut, you may need to order in advance from your butcher. Fresh ham is best prepared as a roast, either in the oven or on your grill.

Ham

Ham

Cured ham is meat from the leg that has been dry- or wet-cured and is usually sold fully cooked. For this reason, it can be served warm or cold. Most hams are wet-cured in a brine solution, but dry-cured (also known as country- or Southern-style) is a delicious, salty delicacy from the American South.

Shoulder

Shoulder

Just like the names implies, this cut comes from the top of the front leg and is generally divided into two smaller parts - the arm picnic (lower portion) and the Boston blade roast, which includes the shoulder blade bone, a nicely marbled, tender cut that is the source for most pulled pork.

Sausage

Sausage

This cut describes all seasoned, encased ground pork and can come from the shoulder or the loin. It's available fresh, smoked or cured, so be sure to check the label to see if it requires full cooking. Nearly every culture has its own signature sausage - Andouille (French/Cajun), Bratwurst (German), Chorizo (Latino) - so the possibilities are endless.

Blade Steak

Blade Steak

Also known as pork steak, this cut comes from the area of the shoulder that contains the blade bone. Great for grilling, blade steaks are tender, marbled and high in flavor.

Ground Pork

Ground Pork

This is a fresh, unseasoned preparation with an average 30 percent fat. Ground pork is an extremely versatile cut that's ideal for quick-cooking weeknight dinners, leftovers and as an ingredient in favorite dishes like pizzas, salads and pasta.

Buying your hog

  • Order your pig from a specialty meat packer, grocery store or local locker. It is often necessary to give them 7 days advance notice. Before purchasing make sure the pig is absolutely clean.
  • Dressed pigs are 70% of the live weight.
  • Smaller animals will have a greater percentage of bone and skin and will yield proportionately fewer servings of meat.
  • The carcass should be opened butterfly-fashion.

Three methods for roasting a hog »

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Prep Guides

Prep Guide
How to's from the store to the fridge.

Cook Time Guide

Here's our cheat sheet on the ideal cooking times for perfect pork.

Featured Pork Recipes

Featured Pork Videos

Resources

Pork Terms

What's the difference between organic and natural? Here's a handy guide to take shopping with you.

Breed Specific - A particular breed, such as Berkshire, Duroc or Tamworth.

Free Range - The USDA defines this as hogs that have had access to pasture for at least 80% of their production cycle. Also known as "pasture raised", "free roaming" and "raised outdoors".

Locally Grown - A flexible term for which there are no USDA guidelines or definite specifications. Ask the seller for more information.

Natural - A product that meets the USDA Natural Standards, which specifies that no artificial ingredients or added color are present and that the product is only minimally processed.

Naturally Raised - A term that varies in meaning. Look at the package or the marketing materials to find out more.

No Antibiotics Used, Raised without Antibiotics - Self-explanatory, but both require USDA documentation.

Organic

Defined by four sub-categories below. All are certified by the USDA.

100% organic - all organic ingredients and methods

Organic - 95% or more organic ingredients

Made with organic - 70 to 95% organic ingredients

Less than 70% organic - an optional designation

Cheat Sheets and Links

Pork Basics (PDF) - a printable guide to pork cuts to take to the market

Pork Cooking Times (PDF) - a printable cheat sheet on cooking perfect pork

Pork Be Inspired - the National Pork Board's recipes and how to's

National Organic Program - information on the USDA's organic designations