Cuts of Meat and How To Cook Them – Pork

This is the 2nd part of “demystifying” the dizzying options of meat cuts at the store. The first post was all about beef, (Check it out here) and this one is all about pork. Eventually, we’ll get to poultry too:).  Hopefully, this will clarify some of your questions and give you more confidence at the grocery store. When you curl up on your couch with the weekly grocery store sales flyers, you’ll know what menu to plan, since you’ll know what recipe works best for each cut of meat.IMG_3259 (550x367)

 Pork

All About the Pig

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Boston Butt:

Boston Butt comes from the upper shoulder of the pig. This portion of meat has a lot of connective tissue. When it’s cooked, braised, roasted, etc, for a long time at a low temperature, the meat will be so juicy and moist. Why is it called “Boston Butt”? Many, many years ago, (American Revolution time) this cut of meat was packaged in barrels called “butts” for storage and shipment, thus the funny name.

Best used in recipes such as: Pulled Pork, Braised Potatoes with Pork, Sausage

Collage (550x378)

Mom's Braised Potatoes (550x367)Picnic Shoulder:

This portion of meat is tough as well. Since it has a lot of connective tissue too, it’s often used for ground pork. It’s also a great choice for pulled pork, since all that connective tissue will break down as it cooks slowly at a low temperature and become juicy and tender.

Best used in recipes such as smoked meat, pulled pork, sausage, any recipe that uses ground pork.

Recipes: Zucchini Stuffed With Pork and Barley, Porcupine Meatballs, Sausage, Mushroom and Potato Dinner, Golubtsi – Cabbage Rolls, Mini Stuffed Peppers, Lazy Cabbage Rolls, Potato Pancakes With Meat Filling.

Ham:

From the back leg of the animal, this large piece of meat is a classic holiday entree. It can be sold as a fresh ham, which means it needs to be cooked for quite a long time, since it’s such a large size, or already cured and smoked. If the ham is already cured and smoked, it technically doesn’t need to be “cooked”, just reheated, in which case you would cook it in the oven and most likely glaze it.

When choosing a ham, look for the shank end, it has one bone going straight down and is easier to carve later when you’re serving it at the table. You can certainly use the butt/sirloin end too, it will just be a little more challenging to cut. Spiral sliced ham is easier to slice too, since it’s already partly sliced for you. Another thing to watch out for is not to buy ham that has “water added” or is a “ham and water product”. These hams will have a spongy and wet texture.

Recipe: Glazed Holiday Ham IMG_0918 (550x367)

Prosciutto

Prosciutto is a dry cured and dry aged Italian ham, from Parma, Italy. You can also find domestic Prosciutto, but there is a distinct difference in taste and flavor. This stuff is incredibly delicious. Sliced thinly and served on a sandwich, with melon or on top of Chicken Saltimbocca, this ham is very flavorful, salty and nutty.

Serrano ham is similar, but it’s a Spanish style cured ham, although it’s cured for a shorter amount of time and dry aged at a higher altitude.

Ribs:

  • Baby Back Ribs vs. St. Lois Style/Spare Ribs:

Baby Back Ribs are meatier and smaller, cut from the back of the pig. The Spare ribs come from the belly of the pig and are larger and heavier than the baby back ribs. Ribs benefit from marinating or being slathered with a dry rub, with all those flavorful spices soaking into the meat. Ribs should also be cooked at a low temperature over a long period of time.

  • Crown Roast:

By tying the rib portion into a circle, you will have a spectacular, impressive dinner. It’s usually served with a stuffing that is placed into the center of the circle. It’s impressive, beautiful and boasts of delicious pork flavor.

Recipe: BBQ Ribs 

Pork Loin:

If this cut of meat is cooked properly, it is very tender and juicy. Since it’s protected by the ribs and not well exercised, it’s very tender. It also doesn’t have a lot of fat or connective tissue, so it’s very important not to overcook it. The loin is usually prepared as a roast, cut into pork chops and can be stuffed, glazed or grilled. There are many, many ways to prepare this cut of meat.

Rib Roast/Rack of Pork:

This cut of meat is actually the pork loin with the bones. Since it’s cooked with the bone in and has a significant fat cap, this roast is especially juicy and moist. It’s a breathtaking entree for a holiday dinner.

Canadian Bacon: 

Canadian bacon is a misleading name, since it’s not bacon at all, it’s a cured and smoked meat  prepared from the loin.
Recipes: Eggs Benedict With Canadian Bacon, Roast Pork, Stuffed Pork Loin (I can’t believe I haven’t shared any recipes for pork loin, since I make it quite often, but I soon will)

Tenderloin:

Similar to the loin but much smaller, the tenderloin is very tender, lean and juicy, as long as it isn’t overcooked. Cook this cut of meat quickly. It can be grilled, seared, roasted, stuffed and cut into fillets.

Country Style Ribs:

This cut of meat has both the dark meat from the shoulder and light meat from the loin; it’s cut from the sirloin or rib end of the pork tenderloin. It’s a very affordable option and can be prepared many different ways – braised, dry rubbed, brined, or prepared in a slow cooker. If you’re cooking them in large pieces, it’s best to cook them low and slow.

My favorite way of serving country style ribs is to pound them out thinly, brine them for a short amount of time and pan sear them quickly over a high heat. I’ll definitely have to share the recipe with you guys soon.


Pork Belly/Bacon/Pancetta/Salt Pork:

      • Pork Belly: As the name already states, this cut of meat is taken from the belly of the pig. Fresh pork belly is awesome when it’s cooked low and slow, braised, with a sauce, etc.
      • Bacon: This is a very familiar pork option, very popular to serve for breakfast and to add to many, MANY dishes. Bacon is salted, sugared and cured or smoked and then cooked until it’s crispy and golden brown.
      • Pancetta is most commonly known as Italian bacon. It’s also used in the Slovania, Croatian and Spanish cuisines. The only difference is that it’s not smoked, usually has peppercorns interspersed throughout and is rolled up or sometimes straight. It’s great in many recipes, usually first cut into small cubes, called lardons and rendered. It adds a lot of flavor to sauces and soups.
      • Salt Pork: Slavic people know this as “salo”. Made from the same cuts as bacon and it’s salt cured but not smoked or cured.

Bacon (550x341)Pig Feet:

This one is easy to figure out where it comes from on a pig:). Pork feet have a huge amount of collagen, which means they are perfect for aspics, Holodets, which gelatinize when cooked for a long period of time.

Pork Chops:

Pork chops are probably the most popular cut of pork and served most often. They are all from the back of the pig and depending on where they are cut will determine how to cook them. They can be on the bone or boneless and cut thick or thin.

      • Blade Chop: Cut from the part of the pig that has the loin and the shoulder. Since the shoulder needs a long time to become tender, the best cooking method for these chops is to braise them for a long time.
      • Rib Chop: This pork chop comes from the center of the loin with the rib bone attached. Basically, it’s cuts from the Rib Roast. It’s a great choice for pan searing, grilling and for stuffing. The boneless option of this cut are the boneless center cup chops. They are very lean and beautiful to work with. Cook them quickly, over high heat. You can pan sear, grill, or bake them.
      • Center Cut Chop: This pork chop is very similar to a T-bone steak. It has a bone in the center and the loin on one side and the tenderloin on the other. This cut of meat is very lean but hard to cook since the bone in the center usually gets in the way. The best way to cook it is on the grill. Don’t overcook this pork chop.
      • Sirloin Chop: This cut tends to be bony, and with parts of the loin, tenderloin and hip muscles. This chop is very hard to cook, since all of these different cuts of meat cook at different rates and temperatures. I don’t choose this type of cut for cooking, since the meat will usually be very dry and tough.

I’ll be sharing some of my favorite Pork Chop recipes with you in the near future as well.

I hope this was another helpful post for you guys to be used as a reference.

I’d love to hear all your favorite pork recipes, so please share:).

 

 

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Comments

  1. Katy says

    Your posts are always so helpful! Love this one and love the recipes you’ve included alongside the different types:) Thank you!

  2. Jae says

    Hey Olga! I absolutely love your site. Last thing I made was the Russian Hamburgers, and while I had a little bit of difficulty (because they were a little too wet), they did come out awesome. Next time, maybe better! I have a question about a cut of pork I have (which I plan to use tomorrow). The package says Center cut Pork Loin chop on the bone. . . can you braise this cut of pork? By what I read in your post, it sounds like a big no-no.
    Thanks for your Help!!!

    • says

      Hi Jae! Thanks for stopping by.
      Center cut pork loin chops should not be braised; they will be too dry and rubbery. I would sear them in a skillet or grill them.
      The Russian hamburgers (kotleti, I assume) are usually very wet and soft, but that will make them super juicy and tender when cooked. I like to use damp hands to shape them, and keep washing them and using damp hands throughout the whole process. Hope that helps:).

  3. Jae says

    Thanks so much for your reply Olga! I assumed braising them would be the wrong decision, but decided to check in with you first. =)
    I will definitely be making the Russian Hamburgers again – best recipe I came by yet. Have a Great Day!

    • says

      Great idea, Natalya!
      There are so many great recipes that we grew up enjoying, and they are my favorite kind to include in the blog. I’ll have to make it sometime soon.

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