8 Common Cuts of Pork (Plus What You Should Know About Each)
Pigs are the source of many delicious cuts of meat, including bacon. Pork cuts tend to be lean now, so the meat is higher in protein and about 30 percent lower in calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol than the pork produced in the 1970s. This meat is also incredibly versatile—and cooking pork is pretty easy. There are eight commonly used pork cuts that are great (and beloved) for everything from breakfast to holiday feasts, and picking the perfect type of pork can take your dish to the next level.
Knowing you want to enjoy a great pork roast or pulled pork tacos is one thing, but being able to pick the right pork cut is another. Here, we've broken down eight popular pork cuts, with information on what they are, how they should be cooked, and the recipes they're best for. Whether you're planning your main course to go with those tasty pulled pork sides or hoping to try a new pork ramen recipe, this guide to different types of pork will help you pick the right cut for your occasion.
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 (or in tasty pork dumplings).
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 eight ribs. For the tenderest meat, select a rack that weighs 2 pounds or less (which should feed two 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 two or three people).
Best for: Roasting, grilling, and braising.
There are many types of bacon. 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 seven days and frozen for three 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 seven days; when sliced, consume it within four days. Sliced deli ham keeps in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped, for up to seven days. Freezing cooked ham is not recommended, as it results in an unpleasant texture.
Best for: Baking.