A pork chop is just a pork chop, right? Well, there's actually more than one cut out there! Depending on what you buy, this popular cut of meat may be tender, mild-tasting, and only need quick cooking; or it can be tough and need braising but be extremely flavorful at the end.
Pork chops are the equivalent of beef steaks and the priciest part of the animal. In fact, chops and steaks are actually quite similar in the way they are cut and priced. So here's a guide to the most common pork chop cuts, what they taste like, and the best ways to prepare them.
What Part of the Pig Is a Pork Chop?
Pork chops all come from the loin, which runs from the hip to the shoulder and contains the small strip of meat called the tenderloin. The most common chops you see in the butcher case are from the ribs and the loin.
Working our way down from the shoulder toward the back of the pig, we have four major sections where pork chops come from: the shoulder or blade chops, rib chops, loin chops, and finally, sirloin chops. Here's the breakdown of each section:
1. Shoulder Chop
- Other names: Blade chops, blade steaks, blade-end pork loin chops, pork loin blade chops, pork shoulder steaks, pork shoulder blade steaks, pork steaks
- Where it's from: The shoulder.
- What it looks like: Shoulder chops have dark-colored meat, lots of fat and connective tissues, and some blade bone.
- What it tastes like: While shoulder chops have loads of flavor, they also have a fair amount of tough gristle and bone. The meat has to be braised to be tender or tenderized before cooking.
- How to cook it: While shoulder chops can be cooked over high heat if tenderized properly first, they have enough fat to withstand being braised in slow, moist heat to break down the connective tissues.
2. Rib Chop
- Other names: Center-cut rib chop, pork chop end cut, pork rib cut chop, rib end cut, rib pork chop
- Where it's from: The rib section of the loin, from the shoulder to the middle of the loin (the rib bones attached to these chops are actually baby back ribs).
- What it looks like: 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.
- What it tastes like: The chops are very tender, have a little more fat than loin chops, and have a mild flavor.
- How to cook it: Since the meat on these chops is lean, quick cooking like grilling, broiling, or sear-roasting are the best methods. Brining first will help keep these chops moist and tender.
Center-cut pork loin chop
3. Loin Chop
- Other names: Center loin chop, center-cut loin chop, loin pork chop, pork loin end chop, porterhouse, top-loin chop
- Where it's from: The hip and loin toward to the back of the animal. Depending on where they're cut from, the chops may have some pieces of tenderloin.
- What it looks like: Loin chops cut toward the center of the loin will have a T-shaped bone that has loin on one side and tenderloin on the other. Sometimes the more tenderloin present, the higher the cost. Top loin chops will have no tenderloin.
- What it tastes like: Very lean, very mild pork flavor.
- How to cook it: Because tenderloin and loin cook at different rates, loin chops can be hard to cook properly since both are present. Like rib chops, they should be cooked quickly, so grill, broil, or sear-roast these chops, but be careful not to overcook them. Brining will also help with keeping the meat moist.
4. Boneless Chop
- Other names: America's cut, pork loin filets
- Where it's from: Usually toward the head of the loin above the loin chops, boneless pork chops are basically top loin or rib chops with the bones removed.
- What it looks like: Lean meat, very little connective tissue or fat, no bones.
- What it tastes like: The absence of bones to provide protection from overcooking and the lack of fat present usually around these bones means that these chops are less flavorful than their bone-in counterparts.
- How to cook it: Cook boneless pork chops the same way as rib or loin chops — grilling, broiling, or sear-roasting. It is highly recommended that boneless pork chops are brined.
5. Sirloin Chop
- Other names: Sirloin steak
- Where it's from: This cheaper cut is from the hip area toward the back of the loin.
- What it looks like: Contains some hip and backbone, with a higher percentage of bone than other chops; the meat is composed of various muscle groups.
- What it tastes like: Lots of pork flavor, but tough unless braised.
- How to cook it: Because of all the different muscles present, sirloin chops should be cooked over slow, moist heat, in braises or stews.
Pork Chop Cooking Tips
- Thicker is better. Nowadays, pork is bred to be quite lean and can be very easy to overcook. Thicker pork chops are more forgiving, so try to purchase double-cut pork chops (which are cut twice as thick as thin ones) or ones that are at least 1 1/2 inches thick.
- Brine. Brining helps to keep the meat moist and offer a bigger buffer against overcooking. Plus, it injects flavor into this mild-tasting meat!
- Don't overcook. For the quick-cooking loin and rib chops, be very careful not to overcook and dry out the meat. The USDA says to cook the chops between 145 and 160°F and let them rest a few minutes before serving.
- Go for bone-in. The bone helps provide some protection from overcooking and also has some fat around it that keeps the pork juicier and tastier, so we prefer the bone-in chops.
(Image credits: Christine Gallary; Stanil777; Fresh Direct; Emma Christensen; Sara Kate Gillingham)