Know Before You Buy: Cuts of Pork From Bacon to Tenderloin

Pork 101: Get to Know Parts of the Pig Before You Talk to Your Butcher

Pork has become an American staple food thanks to bacon for breakfast, baked hams for festive occasions and grocery stores stocking various cuts of pork. After a hog leaves the farm, wholesalers make four primal cuts before sending pork to meatpackers or butcher shops, including the shoulder, loin, leg and belly. Every type of pork you take home comes from one of these four areas. Knowing your pork helps you decide the best cuts to put in dishes.

Bacon

Bacon comes from the belly of the pig, but the meat doesn’t turn into bacon until it’s cured and smoked. Around 12 thick-cut strips of bacon make 1 pound of meat. Consumers usually pan-fry, broil or bake bacon until crispy.

Ham

Ham comes from the upper part of the rear leg areas of pigs. This area is relatively low in fat compared to other cuts of pork because pigs use their back legs a lot. If you purchase a half ham or whole ham in the grocery store, you’re buying part of the rear hips of the pig.

Canadian-Style Bacon

Canadian-style bacon comes from the loin, or the back, of the pig. This meat is cured and usually comes in rolls for you to slice and put on sandwiches.

Pork Chops

Pork chops also come from the loin area. This part of the pig sits between the front shoulders and back legs of the animal, and meat from this area creates the leanest and most tender cuts of pork.

Tenderloin

Tenderloin is the most tender cut of pork, and one portion usually weighs between 3/4 pound and 1 1/2 pounds. This cut makes fantastic dishes when it’s roasted, sauteed or grilled.

Shoulder

Pork shoulder generally refers to the top part of the animal’s front legs. It is a versatile cut used for roasts, stews and pulled pork.

Ribs

When meat lovers talk about ordering moist, juicy ribs that fall right off the bone, most of the time they talk about pork ribs. Most ribs come from the back area of the loin section. Spareribs are larger, contain more fat and come from the belly of the pig.

Blade Steaks

Blade steaks, also called pork steaks, are great for grilling and baking. These tender cuts of meat contain a lot of marbling, which keeps these cuts juicy while cooking.

Crown Roast

The crown roast offers a unique cut of ribs tied into a circular pattern. Glaze this dish and roast it in the oven for special occasions, holiday meals and elegant dinner parties.

Sausage

Sausage comes from ground pork. Use ground pork for pizza toppings, biscuits and gravy, and stews as a flavorful alternative to ground beef. Sausage packers make mild to spicy versions of ground pork from which to choose.

Shank

Shanks come from the leg, and this cut is covered in a layer of fat. Before roasting a shank, score the fat layer and add brine to this lean cut to help maintain moisture.