Pigs — they’re as lovable as they are delicious. Their meat is super versatile, and you can eat just about any part of a pig. Here’s everything you need to know about the different cuts of pork.
Here’s the scoop on the different cuts of pork, as well as some tasty-AF recipes. No disrespect to Piglet (but full disrespect to Peppa).
(And if you feel bad at any point during this article, try to visualize Porky Pig’s rap battle during “Space Jam: A New Legacy.” You’ll recover instantly, knowing that vengeance has been rightfully served. Exactly zero people needed to see that sh*t.)
I’ll have the smiley face breakfast special. Uhh, but could you add a bacon nose? Plus bacon hair, bacon mustache, five o’clock shadow made of bacon bits, and a bacon body.
Bacon is so popular that, according to market research done by market research people, 65 percent of U.S. citizens would choose bacon as the national food. To quote the meat industry experts that track the ins and outs of our formerly breathing protein consumption: “It’s a bacon nation, and we just live in it.”
Bacon is a popular pork cut, to say the least. We even eat it with pancakes and syrup, which is bonkers to the rest of the world. (Whatever, rest of the world. Bacon and pancakes are awesome. Get involved.)
Pretty much any cut of pork can produce bacon, but it most often comes from the belly. Back bacon is also pretty common. What makes bacon bacony is that it’s sliced thinly, salted, and/or smoked.
As with all meat, the price of bacon can vary wildly. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of June 2021 the average retail price of sliced bacon was about $6.67 per pound.
Bacon is great. You can stick it in a frying pan and eat it a few minutes later, and it’s still a 10/10 taste bud party. However, if you want to up your bacon game, here are a few recipes:
- Gluten-free zucchini-bacon egg muffins
- Maple bacon waffles
- Bacon corn dip
- Low calorie bacon cinnamon rolls
Oh no, I said ‘steamed hams.’ That’s what I call hamburgers.
Simpsons memes aside, did you know steamed ham is an IRL and totally delicious thing?
Ham is cured meat cut from a pig’s leg. It’s a bit of an ambiguous term, though. You can get ham joints that are whole cuts, but ham can also mean slices of mechanically formed meat.
But don’t be put off by the phrase “mechanically formed.” Despite the hysteria that films like “Super Size Me” whipped up about processed meats, sliced ham is 100 percent safe to eat and tasty. Heck, there are loads of healthy ham salad recipes.
As far as oink-for-your-buck goes, as of June 2021, ham cost an average of $3.78 per pound.
But again, the price varies wildly depending on the type of ham you’re buying and where you’re buying it. A pound of sliced ham from the deli counter will set you back more than a pound of sliced ham in a can from Walmart.
Ham is often smoked or salted. It can be served as precooked cold meat or hot out of the oven. It also goes great with eggs.
Hankering for some ham? Ham-tastic. Here are some recipes:
- Maple glazed ham (perfect for the holidays and a notorious antagonist in “Christmas with the Kranks”)
- Easy broccoli and ham quiche
- Diabetes-friendly breakfast egg and ham burrito
- Eggs benedict with ham, paleo-style
Pork belly is, as you can probably guess, the cut of the pork that comes from the belly. Easy.
What makes pork belly popular among tummy-flesh enthusiasts is that it’s a boneless, fatty cut of meat. It can be fried or baked and is often cooked to have a crispy rind, which gives it a unique tender and crunchy mouthfeel (yum).
It’s notably popular in East Asian, Hispanic, and Scandinavian recipes.
Many folks love pork belly because it’s a relatively cheap cut of meat. At one point in 2020, the price of a pound of pork belly dropped to just $0.41 (the lowest since 1999).
Pork belly recipes
Want some low cost hog belly in your human one? Of course you do. Here are some fuego ways to go about it:
- Crispy pork belly tacos
- Sticky Chinese-style pork belly
- Norwegian spiced Christmas pork belly ribs (Ribbe, if you want to show off to your local Norwegians)
- Lechon kawali (a top-tier Filipino crispy fried pork belly dish)
Mmmm… Pork chops…
If you take bacon and ham out of the equation, pork chops are one of the most popular ways folks in the U.S. of A consume pig meat. As of June 2021, pork chops will set you back an average of $4.09 per pound.
Pork chops are a lean and unprocessed cut taken from the loin of the pig (that’s the sides and back between the lower ribs and pelvis, for the non-butchers out there). Specifically, they’re taken from the shoulder.
You can fry, roast, grill, or stuff pork chops. They go great with a lot of things, but apple is a notable flavor pairing. They also come in boneless and bone-in varieties. In terms of thickness, chops are usually cut between 0.5 and 2 inches.
Pork chop recipes
You can just Hank Hill it and shove your chops on a propane grill. If you want to chop with some chutzpah, though, here are a few recipes:
- Apple cider glazed pork chops
- Apple, bacon, and blue cheese stuffed pork chops
- Malaysian-style garlic butter pork chops
- Hoisin glazed pork chops
If you enjoy the experience of sucking the meat off the bone like our cave-dwelling ancestors, ribs are the cut of pork for you. A rib cut of pork includes the rib bones and surrounding meat. A few different kinds of ribs are available:
- Spareribs. These come from around Spider-Ham’s belly. If you’ve ever had St. Louis-style ribs, these are spareribs with hard bones and cartilage removed.
- Baby back ribs. These are, thankfully, not made from a baby’s back (pig or otherwise). They’re the ribs around Spider-Ham’s spine, or the “loin” in butcher terms. They’re shorter and leaner than spareribs.
- Country-style ribs. These are sliced from the shoulder end of a pig’s loin. They’re the meatiest of the ribs on our list.
We’re sure we don’t need to repeat ourselves by this point: price fluctuates, a lot of factors, yadda yadda yadda. As of July 2021, pork ribs cost an average of $2.45 to $3.59 per pound, depending on the type.
Pork rib recipes
Like every pork cut, ribs can be cooked in a whole bunch of ways. Everything from a skillet to a slow cooker is fair game. Here are some rib-cipes to get you going:
- Crispy fried pork ribs
- Fall-off-the-bone oven-baked ribs
- Crockpot ribs
- Spiced skillet country-style pork ribs
Pork shoulder is the shoulder of a pig. We’re not sure how we can elaborate on that. The clue’s in the name. It’s also sometimes called “picnic shoulder” or “picnic roast.”
You usually roast pork shoulder. It’s possible to cook pork shoulder joints so they have a hard rind (crackling) on the outside, which is pleasantly crunchy, if that’s your thing.
It’s pretty cheap compared with ribs and chops. According to July 2021 estimates from the USDA, picnic shoulder costs less than $2 per pound on average.
Pork shoulder recipes
Maybe these can shoulder barge their way onto your weekly menu:
- Pork roast with crispy crackling
- Pernil (Spanish roasted pork)
- Char siu (Chinese BBQ pork)
- Schweinebraten (German roast pork shoulder)
It’s not just cows who are at… steak. Pork steak (also sometimes called pork blade steak) is cut from the shoulder (aka butt) of the pig.
While both look like slabs of a cooked pig when they’re on your plate, pork steaks are hella different from pork chops (well, as different as two cuts of meat from the same animal that are relatively similar in shape and size can be, anyway). Pork steaks have way more fat than chops, and this gives them a more succulent texture.
We couldn’t find statistics for pork steak prices specifically, but the consensus is that they’re cheaper than chops on average.
Pork steak recipes
Here are some succulent pork steak recipes to get you started:
Pork tenderloin is a long, thin cut of pork. It’s notably tender and cut from the loin (funny, that). Pork tenderloin also sometimes goes by the name “pork fillet.”
It’s a fairly lean cut of meat that mainly consists of muscle. You probably know it best from pork tenderloin sandwiches. Prices vary, but tenderloin tends to be on the expensive side (that must be why it’s sometimes called the “Gentlemen’s Cut”). As of July 2021, the USDA reports that it costs an average of $4.46 per pound.
As we said, though, it’s most commonly sandwich meat that’s sold by the slice rather than in pounds.
Pork tenderloin recipes
If you’re looking to do some tenderloin cooking, here are some dope recipes to start you off:
Pork can be fried, roasted, slow-cooked, steamed, grilled… basically, if it’s a way of cooking meat, you can do it with pork.
As you can probably guess, though, different cuts are better for different techniques. There’s also the whole thing about not getting food poisoning.
So yeah, here are some of the universal pork cooking laws.
Which cut for which dish?
Pork is pretty versatile, but there’s no doubt that different cuts lend themselves better to different dishes. For example, some would see a slab of bacon as an odd choice of meat for a holiday roast.
We’re all for creative cooking with bacon. Baconate everything. Overall, you can get pretty inventive with how you use your cuts of pork. If you want to know which cuts recipes are likely to suggest, though, here’s a rough guide:
- Pulled or shredded pork: shoulder (sometimes sold as a Boston butt, because tee hee hee)
- Homemade burgers/sausages (or any ground pork): shoulder
- Sandwiches (excluding the pulled pork kind): tenderloin or a loin cut
- Roast pork: loin, belly, or leg
- Stir-fry: varies by region (Pork belly is particularly popular in authentic East and Southeast Asian cooking. You can, of course, make a stir-fry with any cut, though, so long as you can dice it and avoid bones. Shoulder, pork steak, and tenderloin are other popular choices.)
- Stew: shoulder or pork steak
- BBQ: any, but ribs and pork steak are notable outdoor cooking funtime favorites
You can turn most parts of a pig into a delicious dish.
As far as cuts go, pork tends to be sold as bacon, ham, belly, chops, ribs, shoulder, steak, and tenderloin. There are other sub-genres of these, such as blade steak or St. Louis-style ribs.
The price of pork cuts varies by location and over time. Pork is a versatile meat, but certain cuts are definitely best suited for certain dishes (like shoulder cuts for pulled or shredded pork).
There’s a metric f*ckton of pork recipes from around the world, regardless of cut. If you find yourself in possession of pork, that’s a lot of meals right there. Just make sure you keep it refrigerated and consume it within 3 days at a piping-hot 145°F if you don’t want trichinellosis (and trust us, you don’t).