Common Cuts of Pork
The richest and meatiest chops are cut from the center of the loin: The two most common types are loin chops, which look like miniature T-bone steaks and have a bit of the tenderloin attached, and rib chops, without the tenderloin (see Pork Tenderloin). Because they dry out quickly during cooking, it’s especially important not to overcook lean boneless chops. Choose cuts that are at least an inch thick so they stay juicy.
Best for: Grilling, broiling, and pan-frying.
Buy this large cut (from the back of the pig) without bones, which makes it easier to slice. Pork loin has a dense texture and a robust flavor, with a large cap of fat from the back. Stuff it and cook it as a roast, or slice it into 1-inch chops for pan-frying and grilling.
Best for: Roasting.
This lean, very tender cut from the end of the loin is pale pink and has a fine grain. Long, narrow, and tapering at one end, it is much smaller than a pork loin roast, so it cooks quickly and is a good choice for weeknight dinners.
Best for: Pan-frying, roasting, and grilling.
Made from ground pork, sausages come in a variety of sizes and are already seasoned. Flavors range from sweet to savory and spicy. Buy sausage out of the casing and use it as an alternative to ground beef in sauces or stews or as a pizza topping.
Best for: Pan-frying and grilling.
Small and meaty, these curved slabs are taken from the pig’s rib cage near the backbone. Prized for their sweet, juicy meat, they cook quickly. A full rack has at least 8 ribs. For the tenderest meat, select a rack that weighs 2 pounds or less (which should feed 2 people).
Best for: Roasting and grilling.
Although not as meaty as baby-back ribs, spare ribs are very tasty, thanks to a generous amount of fat. Large and irregularly shaped, they come from a pig’s underbelly or lower rib cage (also the source of bacon). A full rack has at least 11 ribs and weighs 3 to 4 pounds (which should feed 2 or 3 people).
Best for: Roasting, grilling, and braising.
Conventional bacon is made from fatty slabs taken from a pig’s underbelly, then smoked and cured with salt, which concentrates flavor. Leaner Canadian bacon is cut from the loin and comes in cylindrical slices. Pancetta, also cut from the belly, is cured (salted or brined) but not smoked. Bacon has a longer shelf life than uncured pork. It can be refrigerated for up to 7 days and frozen for 3 months.
Best for: Pan-frying.
A ham is taken from a pig’s leg. Some hams are sold fresh for baking, but most are cured with brine, salt, and spices, making them juicier, and fully cooked. Some are smoked, which imparts a meatier, more intense flavor. Hams are sold boneless, semiboneless, and with the bone in. Bone-in hams usually yield the best flavor, while boneless are easier to cut. Prosciutto is ham that has been cured and air-dried for long periods of time for tenderness and a more complex flavor; it is typically sliced paper-thin and consumed uncooked. Precooked ham can be refrigerated for up to 7 days; when sliced, consume it within 4 days. Sliced deli ham keeps in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped, for up to 7 days. Freezing cooked ham is not recommended, as it results in an unpleasant texture.
Best for: Baking.