The Best Cuts of Pork Every Home Cook Should Know
Here are the most popular types of pork and some quick pointers on putting them to exquisite use.
Pork: Be Inspired. Heard that one yet? It’s the National Pork Board’s new slogan, replacing “Pork: The Other White Meat,” and we think it’s about time since pork has so much more to offer than simply being a chicken alternative. In fact, in terms of nutrition, pork compares favorably with many proteins, including meats and poultry. In terms of versatility, you can use it in just about any dish you can imagine thanks to all the different types of pork available.
Pork chops come from the pork’s loin—the strip of meat running from hip to shoulder. In the supermarket, you may see a variety of different types of pork chops, including loin, rib, sirloin, top loin and blade chops. All are tender, juicy, and meaty, and because they’re cut like steaks, they’re perfect for the stovetop and grill but equally good in the oven. And talk about ease of prep—pork chops are literally a flash in the pan, taking anywhere from 8 to 12 minutes, depending on thickness (which varies from 1/2 inch to 2 inches), to reach their ideal temperature of 145°F.
The tenderloin is the full length of the pork’s loin. It can be cooked whole or sliced crosswise into medallions. Tender and mild in flavor, this type of pork is best when rubbed with spices, marinated or sauced (like Pork Medallions in Mustard Sauce).
Pork Loin Roast
The loin roast is a larger cut of the loin than the tenderloin (which usually weighs about a pound). 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.
Despite its name, “pork butt” comes from the pork shoulder, which is the top portion of the front leg (remember this when we talk about ham). 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.
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). The whole, pink, pre-cooked hams (bone-in or boneless) you see in the supermarket are usually wet-cured and are often sold as “ham with natural juices.” (Learn more about when pork can be pink.) Deli ham tends to be cured with more water than natural juices and is best served cold.
There are many types of pork ribs, including:
- Back ribs: Cut from the back, they’re sometimes called “baby back ribs,” and are perfect for barbecues roasts and slow-cooking. Here’s a fantastic baby back ribs recipe to try.
- Spareribs: Cut from the belly, they’re larger than back ribs but somewhat less meaty, albeit full of rich flavor.
- Country-style ribs: The meatiest of pork ribs, country style is sold in slabs and is perfect for anyone shy about eating with their hands. Grilled or slow-roasted as in this country-style ribs recipe, they’re fork-licking good!
Pork Rib Roast
The pork rib roast (also called a “rack of pork”) is the pork equivalent of a standing beef rib roast and rack of lamb. It’s the rib area of the loin, which means it’s fattier and richer-tasting than tenderloin. It makes a show-stopping centerpiece at a holiday dinner, whether simply Frenched or turned into a Crown of Pork (which is a rib roast turned tied into a circle).
Ground Pork and Sausage
Ground is simply pork that’s been ground or finely chopped. 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.
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. Bacon is cut from the side of the belly and is basically perfect with everything.