Whether you have yet to explore the pork section of your grocery store meat case, you're ready to take your repertoire beyond the pork chops in your weekly meal plan, or you know your stuff and are ready for something new, we are here to help.
This is your guide to getting better acquainted with the five most popular cuts of pork: chops, tenderloin, loin roast, spareribs, and shoulder. We'll walk you through everything you need to know, from what to buy at the grocery store to how to handle the meat when you get home to the best methods for cooking each cut.
1. Pork Chops
What they are: Pork chops are cut from the loin, which runs from the hip to the shoulder (it's also where you'll find the tenderloin). This popular cut is tender and lean with a really great, mild flavor.
Buying pork chops: Think of chops as pork's version of beef steaks. In fact, they're even quite similar in how they're cut, priced, and cooked. While you may see several varieties of chops in the meat case (they vary depending on where along the loin they were cut), the most popular cuts are loin chops and rib chops.
Cooking pork chops: Pork chops are incredibly quick-cooking and super-versatile, so it's no wonder they are a top pick for weeknight dinners. Cook them on the stovetop or in the oven or slow cooker, or use them in stir-fries and soups.
2. Pork Tenderloin
What it is: If you're really into pork chops, pork tenderloin is the cut of meat to know. Cut from the loin, this is the most tender cut of pork. It takes on added flavors from marinades, rubs, and spices with ease.
Buying pork tenderloin: Don't confuse pork tenderloin with pork loin (more on this cut below!). The tenderloin is a considerably smaller cut, averaging about one pound, and benefits from different cooking methods than the larger loin.
Cooking pork tenderloin: Tenderloin is incredibly versatile, and because of its relatively small size, it can cook up in under 30 minutes when roasted. It can also be cooked on the stovetop, grilled, and stir-fried.
3. Pork Loin Roast
What it is: This is the budget-friendly cut to know if you love pork chops and pork tenderloin. Pork loin roast has a bit more fat, although it's still quite lean, with a mild taste.
Buying pork loin roast: Loin roasts are sold boneless or bone-in, and typically range between two and four pounds. Despite some similarities, loin roast is not the same as pork tenderloin, and the two shouldn't be substituted for one another. Pound for pound, this larger cut roast comes in cheaper than the butchered chops and pork tenderloin you're familiar with.
Cooking pork loin roast: Don't be put off by its larger size — loin roast is simple enough to cook on a weeknight and easy enough to dress up for a special occasion or dinner party. Pork loin roast benefits from slow roasting in the oven or on the grill.
What they are: Spareribs are arguably the most popular type of ribs and the ones most commonly found in your local grocery store. Rib meat is fairly tough and can be fatty, but if given plenty of time to cook down, you'll be treated to tender, flavorful meat.
Buying pork spareribs: Pork spareribs are sold in a large slab, typically weighing between 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 pounds. At least half of that (if not more) is bone, so plan on at least one full slab for every two adults.
Cooking pork spareribs: Spareribs benefit from low, slow cooking, and the easiest way to do that at home is in the oven. Brown the whole slab under the broiler, then let them bake low and slow for several hours until they become super tender.
5. Pork Shoulder
What it is: Pork shoulder is the budget cut to keep on your radar if you love pulled pork, carnitas, and stew. It's larger, tougher, and fattier than leaner cuts like pork tenderloin and chops. After it's cooked, this cut is tender, juicy, and packed with flavor.
Buying pork shoulder: Cut from different areas of the shoulder, pork shoulder can also be labeled as pork butt or Boston butt. These cuts are very similar and can be used interchangeably. Pork shoulder is sold boneless and bone-in, and typically weighs between five and 10 pounds.
Cooking pork shoulder: Pork shoulder is super versatile, forgiving, and quite easy to cook. It can require a lengthy cook time, but the reward is worth it when it hits the table. Use pork shoulder in a braise or stew, or prepare it in a slow cooker or pressure cooker.