Pork is divided into large sections called primal cuts, illustrated in the pig diagram. These primal cuts are then broken down further into individual retail cuts, which is what you find at the grocery store.
The most tender cuts of pork are from the rib and loin. It's where the expression "high on the hog" comes from. The most desirable cuts of meat come from higher up on the animal. By contrast, the shank and shoulder muscles produce the toughest cuts. With proper cooking, even those tougher cuts can be luscious and tender.
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Pork Butt (or Boston Butt)
Despite what its name might indicate, the pork butt, also called the Boston butt, comes from the upper shoulder of the hog. Consisting of parts of the neck, shoulder blade, and upper arm, the pork butt is a moderately tough cut of pork with a good deal of connective tissue. Pork butt can be roasted or cut into steaks, but it is also well-suited for braising and stewing or for making ground pork or sausages.
Just above the Boston butt is a section of fat called the clear plate or fatback, which can be used for making lard, salt pork, or added to sausage or ground pork.Continue to 2 of 8 below.
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Pork Shoulder (Picnic Shoulder)
Another tough cut, the pork shoulder (also called the picnic shoulder) is frequently cured or smoked. Pork shoulder is also used for making ground pork or sausage meat. The pork shoulder is sometimes roasted, but it's not really ideal for this.Continue to 3 of 8 below.
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Hogs are bred to have extra long loins so they can have up to 17 ribs, unlike beef and lamb which have 13. The entire pork loin can be roasted or it can be cut into individual chops or cutlets. The tenderloin is taken from the rear of the pork loin and baby-back ribs come from the upper ribcage area of the loin. Above the loin is another section of fatback which can be used for making lard, salt pork, or added to sausage or ground pork.Continue to 4 of 8 below.
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The back leg of the hog is where we get fresh, smoked, or cured hams. Serrano ham and prosciutto are made from hams that are cured, smoked, and then air-dried. Fresh hams are usually roasted, but they can be cut into ham steaks as well.
The ham hock, which is used extensively in southern U.S. cuisine, is taken from the joint at the shank end of the ham where it joins the foot. The ham hock is often braised with collards or other greens.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
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Pork Side (Pork Belly)Continue to 6 of 8 below.
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Taken from the belly side of the ribs where they join the breastbone, pork spareribs are often prepared by grilling very slowly over low temperatures. Pork spareribs can also be braised or cooked in a crock pot.Continue to 7 of 8 below.
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The pork jowl is mostly used in making sausages, although it can also be cured and made into bacon. In Italian cooking, cured pork jowl is referred to as guanciale.Continue to 8 of 8 below.
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High in collagen, pork feet are excellent sources of gelatin and are frequently added to soups and stews. Long, slow simmering breaks down the tough connective tissues in the pork foot and tenderizes the meat. Pork feet can also be cured, smoked, or even pickled. Pig feet are a key ingredient in the traditional Mexican menudo.