Whether you’re trying to prepare some pork with a side of potato and macaroni and cheese or with some mixed salad and a veggie-filled stir-fry, it’s always important to carefully choose what specific cut of pork you’re going to be using since they can vary massively in terms of texture, flavor and overall taste.
Luckily, the good news is that there’s pork cut for any occasion, whether it’s a smaller and lighter dish such as a meaty soup, or a family feast where you have multiple mouths to feed at once, it’s never a bad idea to get a better understanding of the differences between each type of cut since there is such a wide variety.
With that being said, we have taken a deep dive into each type of pork cut so that you can choose the most flavorful option for your pork-based meal.
Why It’s Important To Choose The Right Cut Of Pork
Depending on the type of meal you want to prepare, a certain pork cut will usually be better than the others and can make the overall dish as flavorful as possible without overpowering the taste.
It also matters how many people you are planning to feed and how meaty you want the pork to actually be since certain cuts coming from bigger parts of the pig will be much more filling and more suited to certain situations such as family meals and social gatherings.
The actual preparation methods can also differ between cuts which can heavily influence which variant you choose depending on if you have a bit of time to spare to slow roast the meat over time, or if you want a cut that can be cooked up in no time at all.
Knowing your cuts also just makes preparing meals for the future easier, and allows you to experiment with a few different recipes that are sure to blow your friends and family away as soon as they take that first bite.
Types Of Pork Cuts
Rather than being cut from just one area of a pig, pork comes from all parts of its body which can change the texture and taste drastically.
Here is all you need to know about each pork cut:
Coming from the pig’s loin muscle which extends from the shoulder to the tail, pork loin is by far the most common type of pork cut that is very recognizable for its T-shaped bone appearance and can be prepared in a variety of ways which makes them perfect for a range of different recipes.
These types of cuts are incredibly juicy and can be bought both on the bone or boneless, however thicker cuts with the bone still attached are usually the juiciest and packing the most flavor.
Chops cut from the loin are ideal for pan-roasting and grilling and can either be cooked with the skin on to crisp the meat up and give it a nice crackling or you can remove the skin and marinate the entire loin.
You can also heat it up in the oven for a much more hands-free cooking experience, simply pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 35-40 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees, then start spreading a bit of butter over the top to make it as creamy and delicious as possible.
A pork belly is one long cut of meat that has a lot of fat mixed into the pork itself which is why it’s usually used for serving up some juicy bacon and pancetta.
This high-fat content does mean the belly is bursting with flavor and makes it an incredibly versatile cut that can mix in well with so many different recipes whether it be a satisfying Sunday roast or a few pieces mixed into a salad or even a soup, if you’re looking for maximum flavor, you definitely won’t want to miss out on a belly cut of pork.
It is best when cooked slowly at a relatively low temperature to make it as soft as possible so that it melts in the mouth with every bite and while you can slice and crisp up a few pieces in a hot pan, you can just as easily roast or stew a belly cut, however you should always try and skim away as much fat as possible as you would with regular slices of bacon.
After you pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, dry the pork belly skin and spread a mixture of thyme, sea salt, and black pepper over the pork before putting it in for at least 2 hours until the meat is nice and tender.
With a single belly cut usually feeding from 4 to 5 people at one time, this is the perfect cut for a barbeque, Sunday dinner, or any scenario where you want to feed a few people at once and don’t mind about the fat content.
Pork Shoulder Cut
Another super-versatile cut that can either be diced or cooked slowly when sliced up, the pork shoulder is another large cut that is a real showstopper at a dinner party or when served as the main meat at a family barbeque.
You can still get pork shoulder chops which look quite similar to regular loin chops but are a little fatter and quite a bit tougher to bite into while having a much deeper and richer meaty taste.
The best way to prepare pork shoulder is to tenderize it by cooking it long and slow, usually by an hour for each pound at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
As long as it’s wrapped in a double layer of tin foil, this will allow the meat to heat up without being overcooked which gives it an incredible melt-in-the-mouth texture.
While some can say that the pork shoulder is one of the more flavorless cuts, if it’s prepared properly and cooked for a decent amount of time this doesn’t have to be the case.
The prolonged exposure to heat helps to break down the high-fat content in the meat along with the connective tissues to bring out as much flavor as possible.
While it’s a large cut that can be enjoyed just as well on its own, pork shoulder usually goes best when mixed with a few contrasting textures and flavors from lighter side dishes including kale with onion and garlic or vegan creamed spinach.
When preparing the pork shoulder, it can be a worthwhile idea to season the skin with some salt and a dash of apple juice 24 hours beforehand before letting it simmer in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for a few hours, perfect when you have the time to prepare one of the most delicious cuts out there.
Often mistaken as a loin cut and found on the inside of the ribcage, pork fillets are a lot smaller than regular chops while also being the leanest and most healthy type of pork you can choose.
It’s also fairly versatile and can be cooked whole or cut into smaller pieces to make them a smaller side dish as part of a recipe.
While the fillets do have less flavor than the leg or shoulder, they do come with the benefit of being incredibly easy to prepare and can be served after just 40 minutes in the oven at 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pork fillets are also incredibly rich in selenium which helps to improve our immune system along with still being very high in protein.
As long as you season the fillets before you pop them in the oven, they can still be a delicious serving that are perfect when you want something quick and easy to cook up both as part of a solo meal, or as a tasty treat to share around the table.
Garlic, onions, and rosemary are a few savory seasonings that will kick the flavor up a notch so that the fillets don’t taste too bland or stale, along with any herbs you feel could spice up this cut even more.
There aren’t any meat enthusiasts, or really anyone who has been at a family barbeque who hasn’t tried the deliciously smoky flavor of pork ribs, however, there are a few different types of ribs that can differ in texture and taste quite drastically.
- Baby back ribs – Lean ribs that range between 3 to 6 inches and are a little smaller than other types of ribs.
- Spare ribs – Flatter and straighter than baby back ribs, spare ribs also have a much richer and more flavorful taste overall.
- St Louis cut ribs – Trimmed spare ribs that are a little shorter than spare ribs, St Louis ribs are still incredibly rich in taste and usually have a more distinct smoky flavor.
While the overall taste of the ribs will depend on the spices and especially the sauce you decide to cover them with, they are known for being a cut with a meaty and fatty flavor overall that’s perfect to bite off the bone.
While each kind of rib will vary in cooking times and temperatures, all of them are served best when baked at a low temperature in the oven, usually between 250 and 275 degrees Fahrenheit.
While baby back ribs will usually be ready in approximately 4 hours, spare ribs and St Louis cut ribs usually only take a little longer at around 5 hours.
While you can stick with the classic BBQ sauce to layer over the ribs, you also can’t go far wrong with some sticky Jack Daniel’s sauce or even some apple cider vinegar for a slightly more tangy taste.
Pork Leg Cut
While the leg is usually roasted whole, it can also be boned and cut into smaller roasting joints that can be cut thinly.
Unlike many pork cuts, the leg is actually very low in fat, however it’s still known for having a slightly sweeter taste with a savory undertone which goes great as part of a roast and served with some mashed potatoes or with a few fresh tomatoes and parmesan.
If you’re cooking a pork leg on the bone, this will help keep it moist and produce some delicious juices which can even be used as gravy.
If you slice the legs into thinner pieces, also known as escalopes, they can be easily flash-grilled or grilled quickly to prevent the meat from drying out.
The best way to prepare a pork leg cut so that it tastes as tender and delicious as possible is to roast it for around 40 minutes at around 400 degrees Fahrenheit until there’s a slight crisp crackling, and then turn the heat down to 355 degrees Fahrenheit and slowly cook the meat for around 3 and a half more hours until it can be easily pulled apart, perfect as a delicious switch up in flavor to the more popular loin cuts.
Located between the neck and the loin and nearer to the shoulder, the pork butt has a moderately high-fat content that not only makes it incredibly juicy and flavorful, but also means the meat can be cooked for a long time without any danger of it drying out.
Pork butts have a moderately tough texture and are the most popular cut when preparing ‘pulled pork’ which goes great with some grilled corn or light and slightly tangy coleslaw.
While pork butt will retain a lot of its juices and flavor when roasted over a decent period of time, it can be enjoyed just as much when braised or even smoked.
The standard temperature to cook pork butt is between 250 and 275 degrees Fahrenheit for about 40 minutes per pound which means a regular cut will usually take around 4 hours to be thoroughly heated and ready to serve.
While pork butt is often used to make some chewy and delicious pulled pork, it can also be used to make some thick and delicious sausages or really any savory pork-based foods.
One of the more underrated pork cuts, the pork neck is a lot tougher than most other cuts which is why it is usually used to make sausages, ground pork, and even bacon on some occasions.
While pork neck cuts usually have a small amount of meat, when simmered for a few hours the flavor really ramps up and becomes much more rich and tasteful which makes up for the slimmer quantity.
The pork neck is also incredibly high in protein and minerals while also having a decent amount of fat which does give each and every bite a good amount of flavor and can be the perfect option to mix in with a veggie salad with a dash of mustard sauce to really compliment the overall flavor and taste.
While this fully-flavored muscle is delicious especially after it’s been slowly braised, pork cheek unofrtuntaely is largely overshadowed in terms of popularity compared to it’s counterparts.
Pork cheek cuts can often be found being quite cheap in majority of food stores and if you ever do manage to get your hands on this cut, there’s no better way to serve it than as part of a nutritious soup with a few crunchy carrots, leeks, celery and garlic.
With a final addition of some fresh thyme to spruce the flavor up to the maximum, pork cheek is an extremely underrated but delicious part of essentially any recipe that’s a bit on the lighter side.
How To Choose A Specific Pork Cut
When deciding which pork cut will be the best to pick up for your next meal, quantity is the main factor to keep in mind and specifically how many people you are intending to serve at once.
For bigger occasions such as barbeques or family gatherings where you want a bulkier cut to ensure everyone is satisfied, the shoulder and belly cuts can serve multiple people at a time while still being packed full of flavor thanks to their higher fat content.
These types of cuts are usually best when served alongside a light side dish and a layer of sauce to make for a delicious meal with just enough meat to leave you and your guests more than satisfied.
Ribs are another pork cut that is great for those bigger occasions, however, while they can also be served alongside a lighter side dish, their more distinct smoky flavor means they can be served just as well on their own with a serving of some delicious sauce over the top.
If you just want to mix a smaller cut of pork into a solo meal, or maybe just as an evening treat to cover in some delicious spices and spread around the dinner table, pork fillets and loin chops are an excellent choice and can be prepared in much less time.
A pork butt also works well when feeding a few people, specifically because you can separate it into pulled pork which can be eaten on its own mixed with a few potatoes or veggies, or even as part of a burger.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is The Healthiest Cut Of Pork?
The healthiest and most lean cut of pork tends to be the pork loin with a 3-ounce serving containing around 120 calories and 2.98 grams of total fat which is far less than many of the other cuts such as the pork belly which will have a lot more flavor but a far higher amount of fat.
If you’re thinking about how to make an incredibly healthy meal from a specific cut, one recipe that is packed with nutritional value and a great way to incorporate some pork into a diet is to use small pork fillets as part of a stir fry.
To make this dish as healthy as possible, make sure to trim off as much excess fat as possible from the fillets and try to use a food number of greens, veggies, and spices as part of the stir fry to make it both healthy and packed full of flavor.
What Pork Cut Is The Quickest To Cook?
Because of how much smaller they are than other cuts and their limited amount of meat, pork fillets can often be heated up and ready to serve in just 40 minutes at a moderate temperature.
This makes pork fillets the perfect go-to option if you want to skip the slow-cooking method that majority of other cuts require, and instead want something you can heat up as soon as you get home ready for a delicious dinner or evening meal.
Pork fillets are especially delicious when served with a side that’s a little more creamy such as mashed potato or even as part of a parmesan soup to really bring out the tenderized flavors.
Choosing the right cut of pork is a lot more important than many of us might initially think, and can actually make or break a meal depending on which you choose to pick up.
Whether you need some smaller but delicious pork cuts that can be cooked up in no time to enjoy as a solo afternoon meal, or if you’re expecting a few guests and really want to show off your cooking skills with a bulkier cut that will give everyone more than enough meat to chew on, there’s a pork cut for each and every situation.