LOIN CUTS: loin roast (bone-in or boneless), loin chops (bone-in or boneless), butterfly chops (boneless), tenderloin, baby back ribs, sirloin roast, sirloin steaks, peameal bacon
What is the loin? The loin (back of the carcass) is the most tender and expensive part of the pig. Attached to it are the back ribs and tenderloin. Once these are removed, the remaining muscle is divided into three parts:
(1) the rib or blade, closest to the shoulder;
(2) the centre cut;
(3) the sirloin end, closest to the leg.
The loin is tender and lean and best cooked by dry high heat (such as roasting, grilling or pan-frying) to an internal temperature of no more than 150°F (65°C), leaving the meat slightly pink and still juicy.
• Smokey Barbecue Pork Loin
• A collection of 14 pork tenderloin recipes
• Fall-off-the-Bone Ribs in Barbecue Sauce
SHOULDER CUTS: shoulder butt (blade) roast, shoulder blade chops, stewing pork, picnic roast
What is the shoulder? A shoulder cut contains the highest level of fat, making it ideal for sausages and slow-braising. It consists of two parts:
(1) the blade (butt) portion, closest to the loin, is tender enough for dry roasting and fatty enough for braising;
(2) the picnic cuts are often made into chops or ground.
• Pork and Pearl Onion Adobo
• 6 speedy pork chop recipes
LEG CUTS: ham roast (fresh, smoked, bone-in or boneless), cutlets (schnitzel)
What is the leg? The plump hind leg, or ham, is commonly smoked, cured (for prosciutto) or sliced into luncheon meat. It is usually sold whole or cut into three: inside, outside and tip. Ham is lean, so it is best cooked by dry heat, such as roasting or frying.
• Whole Ham Glazed with Red Wine and Quatre Epices
• Prosciutto and Melon
BELLY AND VARIETY CUTS: spareribs, belly (fresh, cured or smoked as bacon), foot and hock, tail
What is the belly? The belly, or underside, includes side ribs, from which spareribs are cut, as well as side bacon, pancetta (Italian-style bacon) and salt pork.
• Sticky Ribs
• Broccoli and Pancetta Saute
Learn about Heritage Pork on page 2
Today Canadian consumers have a choice of which breed of pork to buy. Pigs bred for the supermarket provide lean, consistent meat and fat (not flavour). So rare breeds (which take longer to grow, have more fat and produce tasty meat) are gaining interest from butchers and chefs alike. The two heritage breeds garnering the most attention for their superior taste are Berkshire and Tamworth.
Berkshire: Originally from Berkshire, England, Berkshire pork is touted for its rich taste, tenderness and generous marbling of fat. Watch for it in many forms, including cured or smoked, such as bacon and prosciutto. Try it at a restaurant or ask your butcher about availability.
Tamworth: One of the oldest breeds of pig, this takes its name from the town of Tamworth in Staffordshire, England. In Canada, many farms had a few Tamworth pigs until the 1960s, when new regulations contributed to their decline. Primarily a bacon pig, they are making a resurgence as a great dual-purpose pig for their tasty meat and tremendous bacon.
Iberico Pork: Click here to learn all about this acorn-munching breed from Spain >>
Some supermarkets sell what is labelled “seasoned” pork, meaning it has been injected with a brine containing salt and sodium phosphate. Since some cuts are quite lean, they can seem too dry and tough when cooked. Seasoned pork retains moisture even if overcooked, but is less flavourful than unseasoned regular pork as a result.
Pork cooking tip: Think pink
A touch of pink in pork is both safe and desirable, especially to keep loin cuts flavourful and juicy. Concerns about undercooked pork came from trichinosis, a disease caused by a parasite. However, it hasn’t been a health issue for years. Besides, the microbe in question is destroyed at 137°F (58°C), well below the recommended 160°F (71°C) internal temperature for roasts and ground meat.
Read more: Our professional tips for making succulent pork ribs >>