A Home Cook’s Guide to All the Cuts of Pork

published May 31, 2024
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pork cuts infographic
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Sidling up to the butcher counter can be a little overwhelming — especially if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Shopping for pork can be particularly confusing because so many cuts go by several different names. When your recipe calls for “blade-cut pork chops,” but the store only has “center-cut pork chops,” which should you choose? And what if you’re looking to try something new, but you’re not sure how to prepare it?

Credit: The Kitchn

Don’t worry — we’ve got you covered. We put together a comprehensive guide to the most common (and a few less common) cuts of pork so you can cook with confidence.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Pork Butt Roast

Did you know that pork butt does not come from the backside of a pig at all? It’s actually cut from the upper part of the arm. It’s a large, tender, fatty cut of meat that can be sold boneless or bone-in and can weigh anywhere from 3 to 8 pounds. It is usually sold with the fat-cap on, but no skin (unlike picnic shoulder, which usually has the skin on.) 

Boneless roasts are perfect for shredding, while bone-in works well for roasting, grilling, and smoking. Much like the picnic shoulder roast, pork butt is great for all kinds of low-and-slow cooking. It shines in braises, stews, and roasts where the fat has a chance to render out and the meat becomes tender.

Other names: Boston shoulder, Boston butt, pork shoulder
Primal cut: Blade shoulder
Best for: Stews, braises, roasting, barbecue, smoking
Pork butt recipes:

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Picnic Shoulder Roast

While the picnic shoulder and pork butt are often labeled with the blanket term “pork shoulder,” they are from different parts of the shoulder. The picnic shoulder is cut from the lower arm, while the pork butt is from the upper arm. 

The picnic shoulder is generally tougher than the pork butt, with slightly less fat, and is often sold with the skin on. It can be sold either boneless or bone-in. It’s also typically a bit more inexpensive than pork butt. Picnic shoulder is a very forgiving cut of meat that will tenderize as it cooks. It benefits from long, low-and-slow cooking and makes a great oven roast or smoked main dish. It’s also great for grinding or making into sausage.

Other names: Pork shoulder
Primal cut: Arm shoulder
Best for: Roasting, slow cooking, braising, smoking, grinding, sausage
Pork butt recipes:

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Crown Roast

The crown roast is made of two center-cut rib or loin roasts that are tied together in a circular shape to create a dramatic centerpiece. The ribs on the roast have their meat removed in a process called “Frenching,” which exposes the bone. They usually weigh between 8 and 10 pounds and are perfect for feeding a crowd.

Crown roasts are not always ready to purchase and may need to be requested in advance from your local butcher. Ask for roasts with at least 8 chops each to be tied into a crown. These roasts are made up of lean muscle with a fat cap and have a mild flavor. Crown roasts are usually roasted in the oven, sometimes with stuffing in the center. Because of their large size, they can be easy to overcook, so pay close attention when preparing one to avoid drying out the meat. 

Other names: Crown rib roast
Primal cut: Loin
Best for: Roasting

Crown roast recipes:

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Center-Cut Pork Loin

This cut, not to be confused with the tenderloin, comes from the back of the pig. Its even shape and tender texture make it a very popular choice for roasting. Weighing between 2 to 5 pounds, they’re a good option for a dinner party. Because it’s relatively lean, brining is a great option for creating a juicy roast. 

When shopping for a whole loin, look for one with the fat cap on, which will help protect the meat from drying out in the oven or grill. Other than roasting whole, pork loins are great to cut into boneless chops, and their uniform shape makes them great for easy stuffing.

Other names: Center-cut pork roast
Primal cut: Loin
Best for: Roasting (in the oven or on the grill)
Center-cut pork loin recipes:

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Pork Tenderloin

The tenderloin is cut from the back part of the loin. It’s very lean and very tender, and quite popular despite its relatively high price tag. Due to its small size, usually between 1 1/2 and 2 1/2 pounds, it’s a great choice for weeknight roasting. You can also cut it into steaks or cutlets for an even shorter cook time. 

Tenderloin can be tough to cook and lacking a bit in flavor compared to other cuts. It doesn’t have fat or bones and can easily dry out when cooking. Like other boneless cuts, it can benefit from a quick brine to help lock in moisture. Try wrapping it in bacon, or cooking in sauce to add fat and flavor. Tenderloin also makes for great leftovers and can be incorporated into anything from fried rice to sandwiches.

Other names: We’ve only seen this labeled as “pork tenderloin”
Primal cut: Loin
Best for: Roasting, pan-searing, braising
Pork tenderloin recipes:

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Country-Style Ribs

These ribs are slightly different from the typical barbecue ribs. Cut from the upper part of the fatty blade-end of the loin, they contain both darker, fattier meat from the shoulder and leaner meat from the loin. You can find them either bone-in or with the bones removed, and are often cut into individual ribs and packaged together. 

They’re a versatile, inexpensive cut that can be used in ways you wouldn’t normally think of for ribs, like braises or stews (they’re even great in the slow cooker). As a result, country-style ribs are equally delicious used in more standard rib fare like on-the-grill preparations, or slow-roasting in the oven.

Other names: Country ribs
Primal cut: Loin
Best for: Grilling, roasting, braising, stews
Country-style rib recipes:

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

St. Louis-Style Spareribs

Spareribs are the meaty ribs cut from the belly of the animal. They are usually trimmed down into the popular St. Louis-style spareribs by cutting away the breastbone and chewy cartilage, so the slab is more rectangular in shape. Spareribs are larger, flatter, and fattier than baby back ribs. Their flat shape and extra fat helps them cook more evenly and consistently than leaner baby back ribs.

Spareribs are sold by the rack. A typical rack weighs 2 1/2 to 3 pounds and feeds three to four people, and is usually less expensive than baby back ribs. Much like baby back ribs, spare ribs benefit from low-and-slow cooking and are great for barbecue, smoking, and oven-roasting. They’re more forgiving and aren’t at as much of a risk of drying out as baby back ribs due to their higher level of fat, but still require long cooking times to become tender.

Other names: Spareribs, breastbone-off pork spareribs
Primal cut: Side
Best for: Grilling, barbecue, smoking, oven-roasting

St. Louis-style sparerib recipes:

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Baby Back Ribs

The term “baby back ribs” can lead to a bit of confusion. They do not come from a baby pig; they’re in fact cut from the loin of a fully grown animal, where the rib meets the spine after the loin is removed. They’re leaner, shorter, and generally a bit more expensive than spare ribs. 

A rack of baby back ribs usually contains 10 to 13 curved ribs that are 3 to 6 inches long and weigh 1 1/2 to 2 pounds each. Baby back ribs are great for grilling, although their leaner meat means they can dry out easier than other styles of ribs (like St. Louis-style spare ribs). Low-and-slow barbecue-style grilling, smoking, and oven roasting are great cooking methods for these lean ribs.

Other names: Pork loin back ribs, back ribs, loin ribs
Primal cut: Loin
Best for: Roasting, smoking, barbecue
Baby back rib recipes:

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Center-Cut Pork Rib Roast

This cut is the equivalent of a beef prime rib roast. It’s a perfect roast for a special occasion and works just as well in the oven as it does on the grill. Two of these rib roasts tied together are what make a crown roast. Cut from 5 to 8 ribs on the loin, it is usually sold with the fat cap attached, making it great for roasting whole. The attached bones and fat cap make this less likely to dry out when roasting than the center-cut loin roast (which is cut from the same muscle, but with the fat and bones removed.)

There are a few ways to prepare this large cut. You can remove the bone from the ribs and then tie the meat back to the bones (or ask your butcher to do this for you) to take maximum advantage of their flavor and insulation for the tender meat, and then remove the bones before carving. You can also roast with the bones and fat cap still attached, or carve between the ribs to make bone-in chops.

Other names: Rack of pork, center-cut pork roast, bone-in rack of pork
Primal cut: Loin
Best for: Oven roasting, grill roasting
Center-cut pork rib roast recipes:

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Pork Rib Chops

Pork rib chops are bone-in, thick-cut — typically 1 to 1 1/2 inches — chops cut from the rib section of the loin. They’re what you probably think of when you picture a classic “pork chop.” They have a higher fat content than boneless rib chops, which makes them less likely to dry out when cooking. For even more protection against drying out, try a quick wet or dry brine for the chops before cooking.

Rib chops cook relatively quickly and are great for searing on the stovetop, grilling, or baking in the oven. They’re a very versatile cut that’s perfect for weeknight cooking — you can even throw them in the slow cooker or Instant Pot.

Other names: Pork chops, bone-in center-cut pork chops, bone-in pork loin rib chops
Primal cut: Loin
Best for: Stovetop cooking, baking, grilling
Pork rib chop recipes:

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Boneless Pork Chops

Boneless pork chops are another extremely versatile cut — they’re perfect for weeknight cooking. They’re usually cut from rib chops, but can also come from a center-cut loin. They are thinner and leaner than pork rib chops, which means that in addition to cooking faster, they also run the risk of becoming dry. 

Boneless chops can be incorporated into everything from stir-fries with vegetables to katsu sandwiches and work with just about any cooking method you can think of from the oven to the stovetop to the air fryer.

Other names: Boneless pork loin chops, center-cut boneless pork loin chops
Primal cut: Loin
Best for: Stovetop, grilling, baking 

Boneless pork chop recipes:

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Center-Cut Pork Chops

You can tell a center-cut pork chop from other varieties by the bone in the center that separates the larger section of loin meat from the smaller, darker tenderloin. Because these chops are made up of both dark and light meat, they can be a bit tricky to cook. They’re not quite as moist as rib chops, but not quite as lean as boneless loin chops. 

Center-cut pork chops shine when cooked like a steak — seared on the stovetop or grilled. Try using them in recipes that call for bone-in chops. 

Other names: Top loin chops, loin chops
Primal cut: Loin
Best for: Stovetop, grill
Center-cut pork chop recipes:

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Center-Cut Pork Belly

Pork belly is cut from the underside of the pig and comes from the flesh surrounding the stomach. It has plenty of fat, which is why it is used to make bacon and pancetta

It’s sold both with the skin, which is great for preparations that allow the skin to crisp up, like frying or roasting, and without the skin, which is better suited to braises, soups, and stews.

Other names: You’ll always find this labeled “pork belly”
Primal cut: Side
Best for: Roasting, braising, frying, curing, soups
Pork belly recipes:

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Pork Hock

Pork hocks are the joint of a pig’s leg, specifically where the leg meets the foot. They are full of bone, fat, connective tissue, and skin, which is why they’re often used in sauces, soups and braises to add fat, flavor, and richness. 

While smoked ham hocks are very common in grocery stores, you can also purchase hocks fresh. Once cooked, the meat can be pulled off the bone and added to soups, stews, greens, rice dishes, or tacos.

Other names: Pork knuckle
Primal cut: Leg
Best for: Braising, sauces, soups, stews
Pork hock recipes:

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Pork Shank

Pork shanks are the shin of the pig, specifically cut from the front forearm. They can be sold with or without the skin, and have a tough texture that benefits from low-and-slow cooking to tenderize the meat. Pork shanks can be less expensive than veal or lamb shanks, and can be used as a substitute (cook times may vary).

This cut is often used in much the same way as pork hocks, adding flavor and body to soups, stocks, and sauces. Shanks have less fat and connective tissue than hocks, however, and are therefore also employed as the star of braised and roasted dishes. 

Other names: You’ll see this labeled “pork shank”
Primal cut: Leg
Best for: Braising, soups, stews, stock, roasting
Pork shank recipes: