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Pork Cuts Explained: Ultimate Guide To Different Cuts of Pork

13 July, 2021

Photo @findininglovers

Pork Cuts Chart

The pig is initially broken down into four main pieces or ‘primal cuts’. These are called the shoulder, loin, side/belly, and leg. These primal cuts are then cut into sub-primal cuts such as rib roast, tenderloin, pork belly and of course bacon.

Primal Cut – Pork Shoulder

pork cuts explained shoulder

The part behind the head, at the top of the leg down to the front trotter, is called the shoulder. It is typically broken down to the pork shoulder, picnic shoulder and pork butt. These cuts are quite large, and unlike the more tender parts of the pig, they are suitable for low-and-slow cooking, especially on the barbecue. Because of their structure, they are a very forgiving cut of pork and can handle low-and-slow cooking with virtually guaranteed deliciousness. Pork butt is the most common cut used for pulled pork, but the others can be used too. These cuts have a lot of fat on them, so if you are buying from your butcher, ask if you can keep the fat on them. You can trim the fat and use it for a million things in your kitchen, or leave it on the meat for extra flavour. Coppa is seasoned pork shoulder and it makes a delicious appetiser when cooked sous vide and served with Sambuca, fennel and pistachios.

The Science of Pulled Pork

The pork shoulder and picnic shoulder are usual Sunday roast cuts and they need a long time in the oven on low heat to break down all the connective tissue and collagen, which give the meat plenty of rich flavour. Pulled pork sandwiches are a classic with plenty of flavour. Try this easy recipe for a tasty brunch or quick meal.

Primal Cut – Pork Loin

The loin is the part of the animal that renders the most cuts of pork, including the ones that people find most familiar. It’s the part where the chops are cut from, as well as blade end roast, boneless blade-end chop, baby back ribs, centre-cut rib roast, pork tenderloin roast, sirloin roast and crown roast.

The blade chop, centre-cut chop, sirloin chop and rib chop are easily cooked in a frying pan or on the barbecue. Garlic, lemon, rosemary and thyme are traditional flavour enhancements here. They take a short time and have a good balance of meat to fat for plenty of flavour. Baby back ribs, not to be confused with spare ribs, come from the back of the pig. They make an excellent barbecue cut and can be marinated so the sauce caramelises on the flame.

Pork tenderloin isn’t particularly difficult to cook, but you do need to get it right from the start if you want it to be at its best after roasting. Here are a few tips on what to watch out for.

pork cuts explained loin

Pork Side/Belly

The underside or the belly of the animal gives us the fattiest and therefore most flavourful pork cuts, including pork belly, lard and pancetta. It also gives us some of the best bacon found anywhere on the hog – side bacon and streaky bacon. Italian pancetta comes from here also and is an all-important ingredient in so many Italian dishes because of the wonderful flavour of the fat. After falling out of favour for a few years, lard is very much back in the kitchen. It is very useful as a shortening in pastries, and can be rendered for use in just about anything because of its mild deliciousness.

Made with the local black canary breed of pig, this well-balanced recipe created by Oscar Dayas Rodriguez uses French and Asian techniques to showcase pork belly at its finest.

The Science of Italian Lardo

pork cuts explained side belly

Primal Cut – Leg

The leg is the part that gives us our hams: fresh ham shank end, fresh ham sirloin end, spiral sliced bone-in ham and country ham. The leg is a very lean part of the animal, but the primal cut is perfect for smoking and curing and giving us prosciutto and Jamón ibérico. The shin or hock is used for very slow cooking whether in the slow-cooker or roasted, and the trotters, while often under-appreciated, make a great addition to stocks and can be stewed as well.

pork cuts explained leg

Other Cuts

Because the pig is so thoroughly utilised, the category of ‘other cuts’ is very large and can contain just about any part of the pig that doesn’t fall into any of the other four primal cuts. It includes the head, sometimes called the fifth primal cut, cheeks - known as guanciale in Italian, all the offal including liver, kidneys and tripe but not the lungs, and even the ears, snout and tail, which are useful in hot pots, stews and stocks.

Pork Cuts explained other

Try these 10 easy pork recipes for a mid-week dinner

Try this Black Canary Pork Belly Recipe

The Ultimate Pork Cuts Chart 

Here is how the hog breaks down in to all the different primal and sub-primal cuts it’s a very useful beginners’ guide for the home cook who wants to understand a bit more about the animal they are consuming.

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pork chops

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