We’ll walk you through everything you need to know, from what to buy at the grocery store to how to handle the meat when you get home to the best methods for cooking each cut. What they are: Pork chops are cut from the loin, which runs from the hip to the shoulder (it’s also where you’ll find the tenderloin).
This popular cut is tender and lean with a really great, mild flavor. The tenderloin is a considerably smaller cut, averaging about one pound, and benefits from different cooking methods than the larger loin.
What they are: Spareribs are arguably the most popular type of ribs and the ones most commonly found in your local grocery store. Brown the whole slab under the broiler, then let them bake low and slow for several hours until they become super tender.
It’s larger, tougher, and fattier than leaner cuts like pork tenderloin and chops. It can require a lengthy cook time, but the reward is worth it when it hits the table.
Kelli is the Food Editor for Plan & Prep content for Kitchen. She's a graduate of the French Culinary Institute and author of the cookbooks, The Probiotic Kitchen, Buddha Bowls, and Every day Freeze Meals.
In fact, in terms of nutrition, pork compares favorably with many proteins, including meats and poultry. All are tender, juicy, and meaty, and because they’re cut like steaks, they’re perfect for the stove top and grill but equally good in the oven.
Lauri Patterson/stock / Getty Images Plus The tenderloin is the full length of the pork’s loin. Bone-in, it’s at its juiciest and most flavorful, but cooking time will be longer, and the bone can make carving a bit challenging.
Whether bone-in or boneless, loin roasts are wonderful when brined, as in this Spice-Brined Pork Roast (here’s why brining works to make your meat so tender), or rubbed with spices and then cooked over indirect heat. There are a variety of pork shoulder cuts, including the blade roast, which is well-marbled and becomes fork-tender in the slow cooker or with any kind of braising (moist cooking), making a perfect pulled pork.
YingkoiStock/Getty Images Plus Ham is the hind leg, and it’s almost always been dry-cured (with salt and spices rubbed onto the surface of the meat) or wet-cured (which is the same thing as brining). Spareribs: Cut from the belly, they’re larger than back ribs but somewhat less meaty, albeit full of rich flavor.
It’s often made from pork shoulder, which gives it an average lean to fat ratio of 70:30. Relatively speaking, it’s a bargain, so go ahead and try it in meatballs or meat loaf, or in this Jiffy Ground Pork Skillet.
Sausage is seasoned ground pork and may be fresh, smoked or cured. Olivia Sharing/stock/Getty Images Plus Thin-sliced, thick-sliced or sold in a slab; cured or uncured; sweet, salty, smoky or spicy: there are so many types of delicious bacon.
Note: There are endless regional and cultural variations on how to butcher. Rather, it is the flesh that runs on the underside (the belly) of the pig and surrounds the stomach.
It can also be cooked fresh and is often seen on menus as “braised pork belly.” Bruce McIntosh/Getty Images Several cuts can be called pork chops.
They can still be grilled, broiled, or pan-fried to great effect, especially if marinated or tenderized beforehand, but they can also stand up to longer, slower cooking methods like braising, too. Getty Images When the ribs on a rib roast (see “roasts” below) are “Drenched” (trimmed of meat), this cut becomes a rack of pork.
Pork cutlets are usually lean steaks similar to sirloin chops, but meatier and boneless. Cutlets are classically pounded thinner, to make them even more tender, dredged in breadcrumbs, and pan-fried.
They are delicious that way, but can also be baked or quickly seared in a pan or on a grill to excellent effect. Michael Interbrand/Getty Images Ham is from the top of the pork leg (the bottom is the shank, which can sometimes be a hock, see below).
It can be sold fresh, boiled, smoked or cured (as pictured). Center portion is, obviously, in the middle and is the leanest, most tender, and, of course, most expensive section of pork.
When sold as whole “roasts,” pork loins are usually tied up, as pictured. If the roast is bone-in, then ask the butcher to crack the backbone between the ribs to make carving easier.
Pork Tenderloins (see below) are popular for roasting because they are lean, moist, and flavorful. They are difficult to carve if they are bone-in, so have your butcher bone, roll, and tie it.
Boston Butts (see below) need long, slow cooking, but offer up the tremendous flavor. Use kitchen twine or plain, uncolored cotton string to tie loops around the roast, or ask your butcher to do it for you.
When the skin is removed they are called shanks, usually sold raw (as pictured) and respond very well to braising. So many styles and regional variations exist in butchery, however, that it's difficult for the average consumer to know exactly where the cut is from.
Luckily, both need long, slow cooking and are great barbecued, braised, or used as stew meat, or in making gyro, so you can use them interchangeably. Pork tenderloins are sometimes sold with a silver skin, or silvery membrane, still attached.
As such, fatback is a key ingredient in sausages to add fat and moisture. Fat back has rather high water content, so adding too much to burgers or meat loaves will cause noticeable shrinkage when cooked.
Maximilian Stock Ltd./Getty Images Lard is simply rendered fat from pork. It can be used the same way any cooking oil or fat is used and is prized for the flavor it adds when used for frying.
It comes from the visceral, or “soft,” fat from around the kidneys and loin of the pig. Pork lard lacks any real pork or meaty flavor, making it an excellent neutral-flavored cooking fat with a high smoking point.
Knowing what pork cuts to choose can be super-confusing, so we’ve put together a guide with all the info you’ll need. This means the animal has led a happy and healthy life, often born and reared outdoors in small numbers where it can forage and exercise as nature intended, rather than being kept in confinement.
If you’re looking to trade up, look for higher-welfare certifications, such as ASPCA Approved or Certified Humane as a minimum. Pork is a great source of protein, vitamins and minerals, but just make sure you choose leaner cuts on most occasions, reserving the fattier pieces for weekend treats.
It can either be minced or diced for cooking slowly in stews, or kept on the bone and slow-roasted until tender and falling apart. The fillet from the top of the shoulder is just tender enough to be cut into steaks for grilling or barbecuing.
Pork fillet is the leanest of all cuts, so it’s the healthiest choice. Marinate or tenderize the fillet, then cook it quickly at a high temperature until slightly blushing pink in the middle for extra-juicy results.
Serve with a tangy chutney or dressing to cut through the fattiness of the chop. Cooking the meat on the bone will help to keep it moist and produce lovely juices that you can use for gravy, like in this delicious roast pork leg recipe.
Pork belly is very high in fat, which makes it a delicious and versatile cut. It can be cooked slowly at a low temperature for soft meat that melts in the mouth, or it can be sliced and crisped up in a hot pan.
As a robust cut, it works well paired with aromatic flavors and Asian spices. Pork cheek is such an underrated cut and is really cheap to buy.
Chop and cook it slowly in a stew or reign, or keep whole and braise in a rich and sticky sauce. Italians use pig’s liver to add rich flavor to the base of stuffings or reigns.