Your Guide to Pork Cuts & Cooking Methods
Though pork isn’t quite as popular as chicken, it’s still a great nutritional choice. Many cuts of pork are just as lean or even leaner than chicken, while still packing a pork-ful of protein with every bite. If you haven’t already added pork to your diet, finding a few favorite recipes to have on standby can be a great way to add diversity (and deliciousness) to your meals. Whether you’re a newbie or a pro pork-aholic looking to try something new, we’re here to help you get acquainted with 5 common cuts of pork, with tips and recipes to help you cook each variety to porky perfection.
Sometimes called rib chops, this popular cut of pork comes from the loin, which is the area between the shoulders and hips. Like beef steaks, pork chops are available in several varieties and thicknesses, and in general they’re tender, lean and easy to cook.
Pork chops are perfect for stovetop cooking or throwing on the grill, and they can cook in just 8-12 minutes. We love this recipe for Korean Grilled Pork Chops, which uses a spicy marinade to add tons of flavor.
Pork Butt & Pork Shoulder
Both pork shoulder and pork butt come from the front shoulders of the pig, and while they’re very similar cuts, there are a few differences.
Pork butt comes from the higher section of the shoulder, and it’s usually well-marbled. It has a thick “fat cap” that’s typically left on when sold, and it can be found bone-in or boneless.
On the other hand, pork shoulder comes from lower down on the front leg and typically has less fat than a butt. It’s often sold with the skin on, so it can be great for recipes that call for a crispy skin.
Both pork butt and shoulder are on the tougher side, so they both benefit from low-and-slow cooking methods. Slow roasting, stewing or braising in the oven are great ways to turn these cuts into tender pulled pork, like in this sweet and savory recipe for Blackberry Pulled Pork. You can also use a smoker to create a delicious smoked pork butt or shoulder.
Cut from the full length of the loin, pork tenderloin is a mild and tender cut found along the backbone. It’s a smaller cut of meat, but the upside is that it can be cooked relatively quickly. Because of its mild flavor, it’s a fantastic vehicle for spices, rubs and marinades.
Pork tenderloin is versatile and can be roasted quickly. In this sweet and savory recipe for Pork Tenderloin with Brown Pear Gravy, the tenderloin is only in the oven for 15 minutes. You can also cook it on the grill or slice it into medallions for a stovetop stir-fry.
Not to be confused with pork tenderloin, pork loin is another cut that comes from the pig’s back. It’s sometimes called a center cut pork or rib roast, and it’s available bone-in or boneless. Pork loin is a larger cut than pork tenderloin, but it can be cut to order. Like a tenderloin, the loin is lean and mild, and it can be seasoned in a variety of delicious ways.
It’s easy to overcook pork loin, so it’s best to cook it over medium heat. You can do this on a grill, or you can slow roast it in the oven like in this recipe for Seasoned Pork Roast.
Baby Back & Spareribs
Though both of these cuts can result in mouthwateringly delicious ribs, there are a few differences between baby back ribs and spareribs.
Cut from the upper ribs closest to the back, baby back ribs are a little bit smaller than spareribs and contain less fat. Their smaller size means they cook faster than spareribs, so these are the ribs most commonly used for barbecuing and grilling.
Spareribs are the most popular type of pork rib, and they’re the kind you’ll most easily find at your local store. These ribs come from the belly after the bacon has been cut away from the sides, and they’re considerably thicker and fattier than back ribs.
Wondering how to cook ribs? Spareribs are a tougher cut of pork, so these ribs benefit from slow cooking at low temperatures. The best and easiest way to make them at home is to brown them under the broiler, then bake in the oven until they become fall-off-the-bone tender. Baby back ribs can be prepared the same way, or you can cook them on a grill or smoker like in this zingy recipe for Smoked Ribs with Apricot Glaze.
Now that you’re a pork professional, it’s time to test your chops in the kitchen. We’ve got a variety of pork-centered recipes for all seasons and skill levels, with guaranteed delicious results. Check out our collection here, and when you find a recipe you like, you’ll be able to easily add ingredients to your shopping cart or list.
Visit our Meal Solutions page for more meal planning inspiration, tips and tricks.