When you first walk into a butcher store, you’re probably going to be overwhelmed with the amount of different cuts of meat available.
Sure, you know that you want to aim for meat from a specific animal, but what do all the various cuts mean, and how do they differ from one another?
In the case of pig meat, there are five cuts of meat available – the shoulder, belly, loin, butt, and head.
Within these cuts of meat are different names for each type of meat, all with their own defining textures, flavors, aromas, and cooking methods.
So, what’s the difference between pork, gammon, bacon, and ham? Pork refers to the uncured meat from the pig, while gammon, bacon, and ham are all cured cuts of meat.
As a result, gammon, bacon, and ham are distinctly more flavorful than pork. They also differ in terms of where the cuts of meat come from.
Here is everything you need to know about the differences between pork, gammon, bacon, and ham!
What Is Pork?
Firstly, let’s take a look at the umbrella term used for pig meat – pork.
Pork is used as a term for the meat of a pig, more specifically referring to uncured fresh meat from the loin, shoulder, leg, and belly.
Each area of the pig comes with a different texture and cooking method depending on the muscle tissue. Pork comes in two forms – uncured or fresh, and cured.
Loin Of Pork
Located between the leg and shoulder is the loin of pork, which is also called the “back” of pork.
The meat is cut from the tissue surrounding the rib cage, and is where bone in chops and boneless steaks are cut from.
In the UK and Canada, the loin is typically where bacon is cut from, and then cured to a smoked or unsmoked finish.
Shoulder Of Pork
The shoulder of pork is sold in two sections – the butt and the picnic.
This cut of pork is most commonly used for slow-roasting purposes or to tenderize the meat into pulled pork. It is also used for shoulder chops.
As a result of the fat content located in the shoulder, the butt cut of shoulder pork is often used for making sausages and ground pork.
Leg Of Pork
The leg of pork is one of the most popular cuts of pork for roasting joints, as well as pork steaks and diced pork.
This is because of the fat content, which helps to keep the meat moist and adds flavor.
It’s common for the leg of pork to be called “ham” in the United States, but this should not be mistaken for British ham, which refers to a cut of cured meat.
Belly Of Pork
Also known as pork belly, belly of pork is a fatty and boneless cut of the pig. This is where bacon comes from in the USA, whereas in the UK, belly of pork is typically used for roasting purposes.
This is because of the fresh belly pork cut which comes with a layer of skin, which becomes “crackling” when roasted.
However, pork belly is also used for bacon in the UK, but is known as “streaky bacon” due to the streaks of fat running through the meat.
When pork is cured, it is referred to in one of three different names – bacon, gammon, and ham.
Each type of cured pork is different in terms of where the cut comes from, how the meat is cooked, what the meat tastes like, what the texture is like, and the curing process to ensure its flavor.
Before we look into bacon, gammon, and ham, let’s take a look at the main forms of curing pork, and how each method results in the desired finish.
For pork meat to be smoked, it must first be cured. Smoking alone isn’t a curing method for pork, and instead is a method used to infuse flavors into the meat.
There are two forms of smoke curing – hot smoking and cold smoking.
During the hot smoking method, the cured meat is smoked (as the name suggests) in both smoke and heat.
Not only does this work to cook the meat, but it also adds a smoky flavor as the meat is being cooked.
Thanks to the mixture of heat and smoke, it’s not essential to completely cure the meat before smoking it.
Any harmful bacteria that is still in the meat will be killed off while it’s being cooked.
As the name suggests, cold smoking is a method of smoking that doesn’t actually cook the meat.
Instead, it just works to add the smoky flavor without cooking it, which is why this method can take several days to achieve the desired results.
As cold smoking doesn’t actually cook the meat, the meat will need to be cured and cooked prior to smoking.
Alternatively, the meat needs to be preserved in ways such as drying, which is why salami is typically cold smoked.
Dry curing is a method that involves packing meat into a dry salt rub, resulting in dry and salty pieces of pork, such as bacon.
The salt rub is often infused with other ingredients and flavors to reach the desired flavor, which is why there are several kinds of bacon flavors available.
This curing process takes longer than wet curing, as there needs to be enough time for the salt to penetrate through the meat.
The longer the meat is cured in a dry salt rub, the saltier it gets!
Once cured, the dry cured bacon can also be smoked to add a smoky flavor that seasoning cannot achieve.
Also known as brine curing, wet curing is when the fresh pork is injected or submerged into a solution of wet salt.
As the name suggests, it’s basically the opposite of dry curing – but can also similarly include other seasonings to achieve certain flavors.
Traditional brine curing involves creating a brine bath for the pork to be submerged in for a certain amount of time.
Modern methods of wet curing involve injecting the brine into the center of the meat and then vacuum packed to speed up the curing process.
Once cured, the meat can then be smoked.
Alternatively, modern methods will infuse a liquid smoke solution into the vacuum packed process to save time and money on traditional smoking.
What Is Bacon?
Everyone knows bacon as the deliciously salty breakfast or lunch item that typically accompanies toast, eggs, burgers, pasta dishes, pizza, and other meats such as chicken.
But what actually is bacon? Bacon is a type of cured pork that derives from three primal cuts of a pig – the loin, belly, and shoulder.
Also known as back bacon, bacon that comes from the loin of the pig is most commonly made in the UK and Canada.
These cuts of bacon include the eye of the loin (a large muscle in the back) and a small part of the belly attached, providing a nice amount of fat for a juicy and flavorful slice of bacon.
Once cured, the bacon can be sold either smoked or unsmoked, with the smoked variety providing more of a smoky flavor.
They are sold in thin slices or rashers, and then fried, grilled, or broiled. When the belly is attached to the eye of the loin, this is called “middle” or “middle back” bacon.
This typically looks like a tail of streaky bacon attached to the original loin. Sliced bacon, on the other hand, just comes in one piece.
Bacon that comes from the belly is known as streaky bacon. This bacon is aptly named from the steaks of fat that run through the bacon.
Streaky bacon is just known as regular bacon in America, but is more specified in the UK as streaky. It can be sold either smoked or unsmoked.
Cured pork that comes from the shoulder is sold in various ways across the world. In Europe, shoulder bacon is typically cured like salami and sold dry.
In the UK, however, the bacon is sold raw and unsmoked. British boneless bacon from the shoulder is called “collar bacon”, and is cured in a brine solution.
The bacon is sold in small cut portions called “joints”, which are boiled in water and served either warm or cold in dishes.
If you’re wondering why you don’t see collar bacon readily available in stores, it’s likely due to the health concerns about the meat.
Collar bacon carries a lot of fat, after all, which is why it’s less desirable than cuts of pork that are considered healthier.
In Europe, shoulder bacon is dry cured and smoked in various seasonings for up to or longer than 6 months.
This bacon is sliced very finely, just like salami, and is served on meat boards with bread and cheese.
What Is Ham/Gammon?
Ham and gammon might mean the same thing or different things, depending on where you are in the world. In the USA, ham and gammon refer to the same type of meat.
In the UK, however, ham typically refers to pre-cooked pork slices that go into sandwiches. Either way, ham or gammon comes from the leg of pork.
The leg of pork is cured into a product called gammon, which is sold either as steaks or joints and can come either smoked or unsmoked.
Gammon steaks are most popular in the UK, and served as a pub food along with a fried egg or large pineapple slice.
Joints of gammon are versatile to cook, with methods including boiled, roasted, or a mixture of both with a glaze poured over.
When raw, the fresh pork is called a leg of pork. Once cured, the joint is called gammon.
Once cooked, the gammon is mostly called cooked ham. So, technically speaking, gammon and ham are the same thing in America.
The only reason why ham has a slightly different meaning in the UK is because it can be sold as a sandwich filling.
Once cured and cooked, gammon is sliced very thinly and sold in packets. Even here, gammon and ham mean the same thing, as they both come from the leg of pork.
So, there you have it! While it might sound confusing at first, there are key differences between pork, bacon, gammon, and ham.
Pork is used as an umbrella term for pig meat, but it is officially used for uncured meat.
Bacon, gammon, and ham are terms used for cured cuts of pork deriving from various primal cuts of the animal.
Hopefully, this guide has given you some guidance on the differences between these types of pork for your next trip to the butcher store!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Gammon And Bacon The Same Thing?
While both gammon and bacon are names used to reference cuts of cured pork, they are actually not the same thing.
Bacon is a piece of cured pork that typically derives from the loin, belly, or shoulder.
It is cut into thin slices and sold either smoked or unsmoked. It is most commonly fried or grilled to accompany a variety of dishes.
Gammon, on the other hand, is the cured version of the fresh leg of pork. It is most commonly sold as a joint, but often as steaks. Once cooked, the gammon is then named cooked ham.
What Is The Difference Between Ham And Pork?
Pork is a term used to describe the uncured and fresh cuts of meat from a pig, whereas ham refers to a cut from the leg of pork that is cured and cooked.
Without being cured or cooked, any cut of meat from a pig is known as pork. Once cured and cooked, the meat has a different name depending on where the cut was made.
So, if you’re boiling and roasting a leg of pork, it is then referred to as cooked ham once cooked.