Nearly 40% of all meat consumed globally is pork – with stats like that, you know that there’s something about pork that keeps people coming back. Whether it’s braised or slow-cooked, roasted, fried or sautéed, pork is definitely here to stay. Here’s a rundown of the most popular cuts and some of our favorite ways to prepare them.
Pork shoulder (aka: pork butt): This is your go-to for pulled pork. The muscles making up the cut are well-worked, which means low, slow cooking methods like braising and slow-cooking are required to make them tender. You’ll likely find 3- to 5-lb. boneless pork shoulder roasts at the store; they’ll probably be tied in elastic mesh to keep them compact, but we suggest removing the mesh before cooking so the meat is easy to shred after cooking.
So what’s the difference between pork shoulder and pork butt? Nothing. The word “butt” has Old English roots which meant “widest part”. And the widest section of the animal is its shoulder, not its rear.
Loin: The loin is a long, cylindrical-shaped cut that typically comes boneless. It can also be found with bones, making an elegant-looking roast. Because of the loin’s uniform shape, it’s ideal for butterflying – that is, cutting lengthwise and opening the meat like a book – filling with stuffing, and tying closed before roasting. A word of warning: because loin is lean, it doesn’t take much to overcook it. Always use an instant-read thermometer, aim for an internal temperature of no more than 145°F.
Loin chops: Think of loin chops as individual-sized pork loins – they’re cross-cut directly from the loin, and can be either bone-in or boneless. Chops are quick-cooking and perfect for sautéing in a speedy skillet or throwing on the grill and brushing with sauce. Like the loin, chops should be cooked to about 145°F.
Tenderloin: Quick-cooking and deliciously tender, pork tenderloin is one of the more costly cuts of pork but it’s worth the splurge. It’s easy to cook and can be roasted, sautéed, grilled, even cut into chunks and made into kabobs. Tenderloin is often mistaken for pork loin, but they’re completely different cuts. However, like the loin cuts, tenderloin is very lean so it’s important to avoid cooking it much beyond 145°F. or it could become dry.
Ham: Hams come from the hind end of the pig, and are large, typically bone-in cuts. (Boneless hams are processed and pressed so they hold together.) Most hams are cured (that is, treated with salt and sugar) and smoked – when you purchase one, it’s fully cooked. Simply heat through before serving. Leftovers are a fact of life when it comes to ham, and what’s one of our favorite ways to use up the extras? In soup, of course!
Belly: Perhaps the most coveted part of the pig, the belly’s claim to fame is bacon. Cured and smoked, bacon is a terrific flavor addition to pretty much everything from chicken breasts to soup. You can also find pork belly that hasn’t been cured or smoked – it’s often added to traditional ramen soup. Try it in this version for an authentic Japanese twist!
No matter what cut you choose, pork is a versatile cut of meat that is perfectly suited to nearly any cooking method or flavor profile. For more delicious pork recipes be sure to look through this collection for inspiration.