Pork Cuts

PORK Primal & Sub-Primal Cuts

In the process of butchering an animal, the meat is taken off the carcass in large sections commonly referred to as "primal cuts".  The primal cuts are muscle, fat and bone that are further broken down to sub-primal and then retail cuts.  Depending on the location in the animal, some muscles get a great deal of use (like the shoulder), and their tissue tends to be leaner and often very flavorful but also tougher. These portions requires slower cooking and marinading to soften the tissue.  Other primal cuts, like the tenderloin, get very little exercise, and tend to have a good deal of fat marbled throughout...These are the most tender cuts coming off the animal.

Knowing where a cut comes from is important when cooking your meat.  You will want to know the proper cooking method (braising, stewing, grilling, broiling, etc.) to assure that your meat is cooked to the correct temperature and presented at it’s best possible flavor and texture.



The rear legs are often referred to as “ham.” This primal cut is sold as large roasts and is available fresh or cured.

Common cuts that come off the Ham Primal:

ham shank

Fresh Ham, Shank End - The leg is divided into two cuts, the tapered shank end and the more rounded sirloin end.  This cut is usually covered in a thick layer of fat and skin, which should be scored before roasting.  This cut is not as fatty as you might think and benefits from brining.

AKA: Shank end fresh ham.

Fresh Ham, Sirloin Half - Because of its bone structure, the rounded sirloin is more difficult to carve than the shank end.  Its flavor, however, is quite good.

AKA: Ham Sirloin End; Ham Butt End; Ham Butt Portion


Ham Steak - A ham steak is simply a slice of ham from a whole ham roast.  While a whole ham costs less per-pound than a ham steak, we don't usually want a whole ham, so buying the smaller steak ends up being more cost-effective.  Like bacon and salt pork, just a little ham can add a lot of flavor to a dish.



The pork belly contains the most amount of fat on the hog.  It contains the pork side ribs and pork breastbone.  When the side ribs are removed, the retail name for the belly is side pork.  This is the section cured and smoked to make pork side bacon.  The side pork can also be rolled and processed to make pancetta.

Common cuts that come off the Side/Belly Primal:


Bacon - Bacon comes from the belly of the hog. There are two sides to the animal because when it is broken down, it's spilt. So that means two sides of belly and two slabs of bacon.  In order to turn belly into bacon, you must first cure the meat.

AKA: Pancetta; Rasher

raw pork belly

Pork Belly - Pork belly is the same meat as bacon in its uncured, un-smoked form.  Recently, chefs have taken notice of this previously underused cut, praising it for its succulent fat, crisp skin, and deeply flavorful meat.

AKA: Sow Belly; Pork Bellies; Pork Slab.


Spare Ribs - A variety of pork ribs cooked and eaten in various cuisines around the world.  They are cut from the lower portion of the pig, specifically the belly and breastbone, behind the shoulder, and include 11 to 13 long bones.


St. Louis-Style Ribs - Spareribs are the meaty ribs cut from the belly of the animal after the belly is removed.  They are usually trimmed down into the popular St. Louis-style spareribs by cutting away the hard breastbone and chewy cartilage, so the slab is more rectangular in shape.

AKA: Breastbone-off Pork Spareribs; Side Ribs.



The area between the shoulder and back legs is the leanest, most tender part of the animal.  Rib and loin chops are cut from this area, as are pork loin roasts and tenderloin roasts.  These cuts will be dry if overcooked.

Common cuts that come off the Loin Primal:


Baby Back Ribs - Back ribs are cut from where the rib meets the spine after the loin is removed.  The upper ribs are called baby back ribs, but not because they come from a baby pig!  They're only called baby because they are shorter in relation to the bigger spareribs.

AKA: Pork Loin Back Ribs; Back Ribs; Loin Ribs.

New York-Chops

New York Pork Chop - Are the pork chop version of a New York strip steak.  They either can be boneless or on-the-bone, but are usually sold boneless.  They range in thickness from ½" to 2”.

AKA: Center-cut chops; Top Loin Chop; Center Cut Loin Pork Chop; Pork Strip Chop

Notes:  If boneless, these chops are sometimes called pork loin filets.


New York Pork Roast - The loin roast comes from the area of the pig between the shoulder and the beginning of the leg and is sold either bone-in or de-boned. Loin roasts can be rolled and tied with string. Loin roasts with a bone tend to be juicier and more flavorful, but the bone can make carving a bit tricky.

AKA: Top Loin Roast.


Pork Rib Eye Roast - The pork equivalent of a standing beef rib roast or a rack of lamb.  For reference, a pork rib roast is a simpler version of a pork crown roast, which is a pork rib roast turned into a circle and tied.

AKA: Rack of Pork; Center-cut Pork Loin; Center Rib Roast.

pork tenderloin

Pork Tenderloin - Pork tenderloin is the muscle that runs alongside the backbone.  Boneless, the average size of a tenderloin is one pound.

AKA: Pork P\Filet; Pork Tender


Sirloin Pork Roast - Taken from the animal’s back, the Pork Sirloin Roast can be sold bone-in or boneless.  Bone-in loins with the backbones removed and the ribs trimmed of meat (or "Frenched") are sometimes called pork racks, and if the pork rack is tied into a circle, it is called a crown roast of pork.

AKA: Center Cut Pork Loin Roast; Center Cut Pork Roast; Pork Center Loin Roast; Pork Center Cut Rib Roast; Pork Loin Center Cut; Pork Loin Center Rib Roast, Pork Loin Roast Center Cut; & Pork Loin Rib Half.

This cut makes a show-stopping centerpiece for an elegant dinner.


Porterhouse House Pork Chops - Pork's take on the classic beef porterhouse: it's a 7-oz. America's pork chop on one side and a succulent pork tenderloin on the other.

AKA: Center Loin Chop, Center-cut Loin Chop, Loin Chop Bone-in, Pork Loin End Chop.


Ribeye Chop - Spans from the rib section of the loin, starting at the shoulder, to the middle of the loin (the rib bones attached to these chops are actually baby back ribs).  Contains a large eye of lean loin meat and no tenderloin meat.  There is a bone running along one side and sometimes a layer of fat on the outside.  Rib chops from the blade end have more fat and connective tissue than chops from the shoulder end.

AKA: Center-cut Rib Chop, Pork Chop End Cut, Pork Rib Cut Chop, Rib End Cut, Rib Pork Chop.


Sirloin Pork Chop - Sirloin chops, sometimes called blade pork chops, aren't quite as tender as a center cut pork chop.  The farther from the center of the pig to the back -- where the sirloin is located -- the meat is less tender, bonier and fattier.

AKA: Sirloin Steak



Cuts from the upper portion of the shoulder (called the blade shoulder) are well marbled with fat and contain a lot of connective tissue, making them ideal candidates for slow-cooking methods like braising, stewing, or barbecuing.  Cuts from the arm, or picnic shoulder, are a bit more economical than those from the blade area but are otherwise quite similar.

Common cuts that come off the Shoulder Primal:


Arm Pork Roast - Obtained from the lower portion of the shoulder, this cut contains more fat than the blade roast, a well-trimmed arm roast.  It provides a very rich flavor when roasted.  It is often smoked and referred to as a picnic ham, although it is not a true ham.

AKA: Arm Picnic; Arm Shoulder; Picnic Shoulder.


Blade Pork Roast - A cut of pork that comes from the upper part of the shoulder from the front leg and may contain the blade bone.  Boston butt is the most common cut used for pulled pork, a staple of barbecue in the southern United States.

AKA: Boston Roast; Boston Butt or Shoulder Butt; Butt.

 Country-Style-Ribs-BI Country-Style-Ribs-Bnls

Country Style Ribs - Country-style ribs are cut from the blade end of the loin close to the pork shoulder.  They are usually available either bone-in or boneless.  They are meatier than other rib cuts.  They contain no rib bones, but instead, contain parts of the shoulder blade.

AKA: Pork Shoulder Country Style Ribs


Pork Cutlets - These flat slices of pork can be taken from varying portions of the animal's anatomy, but they share a handful of common characteristics.  They're always thin and tender, and they're usually relatively lean.  Cutlets often come from the relatively lean, tough muscles of a hog's leg.  These are chewy and relatively small in diameter, so butchers cut them across the grain at a thin diagonal to give the slices a larger surface area. Next, they're pounded with a meat mallet -- or its mechanized equivalent -- to make them even larger and to tenderize them.


Shoulder Steak - Originally considered just a St. Louis thing, it is now pretty prevalent throughout the Midwest due to its low price, ease of preparation, tenderness, great flavor, and the vast multitude of preparation/cooking options.

AKA: Blade Chops; Blade Steaks; Blade-end Pork Loin Chops; Pork Loin Blade Chops; Pork Shoulder Steaks; Pork Shoulder Blade Steaks; Pork Steaks.