BUTCHER SHOP BASICS: KNOW YOUR CUTS OF PORK

We’re all familiar with pork chops, pork roast, and pork loin. Some may even be adventurous and grab pork ribs to throw on the BBQ every once in while. There are a few other cuts, however, that are worth knowing about. Understanding your cuts of pork can help expand your culinary IQ. Of course, not all pork is created equal. To get the highest quality with the best flavor, look for all-natural, locally raised Berkshire pork. This breed, when raised on a small farm, is typically fed an all-natural diet and contains no hormones, antibiotics, or steroids.

The following breakdown provides guidance on where the cuts come from on the animal, as well as some basic cooking guidelines. Some cuts are good on the grill, while others will be better for slow roasting.

Pork Chop
Let’s start with the most popular. The pork chop comes from the loin area. The typical pork chop is a large section of white meat on or off the bone. For something a little more special, your butcher shop may serve porterhouse pork chops. This variety comes from the lower back (just behind the rib chop). These are bone-in, T-bone-shaped chops that contain a large section of white meat as well as a small section of tenderloin. Boneless pork chops are popular because they are more convenient; however, the bone-in chop is more attractive and tends to hold the juices longer during cooking. Pork chops are great on the grill but can also be baked.

Loin Roast
The loin roast comes from — surprise — the loin area. This roast tends to be more flavorful when cooked bone-in; however, it’s a popular boneless roast. The loin roast is easier to cut when boneless and can be rolled and filled when the bones are removed. It can be prepared with a spice rub or brined for an extended period before cooking. Braising or stewing is not recommended — it will often lose moisture and fall apart under these cooking conditions.

Spareribs and Country-Style Ribs
Spareribs come from the midsection or belly area of the pig and are known for having a meaty, appealing flavor. They don’t have as much meat as some other rib varieties, but they’re sought after for their delicious taste.

Spareribs can be tricky to grill or braise because they’re curved and won’t lie flat on the cooking surface. If this is a concern, ask your butcher to prepare St. Louis-style ribs. This variety is cut with the sternum bone, cartilage, and rib tips removed. This process creates a rectangular-shaped rack that lies flatter on the grill or pan.

Country-style ribs are a much meatier cut. They come from the sirloin or rib end of the pork loin. The excess meat makes it easier to dig in with utensils. Both spareribs and country-style ribs are typically prepared with a dry rub and finished with BBQ sauce. When cooking, use low heat for extended periods of time. This method will help break down the tougher meat fibers, making the meat more tender.

Tenderloin
The tenderloin is one of the most popular cuts of pork. This cut lives up to its name by being extremely tender. The same characteristics that make the tenderloin so soft also lead to drier meat, in some cases. Because there’s less fat, the meat will dry out easier during cooking. Searing the meat before roasting will help keep moisture in. Although this cut can be flavorful grilled, this cooking method tends to result in a dryer end product.

Blade Steak
The blade steak comes from the shoulder butt section. Another common name for this cut is pork steak. The blade steak is heavily marbled and has great flavor as a result. It’s great for grilling but can also be braised and then roasted in the oven. Sometimes it’s sold with a bone in it.

When it comes to choosing a cut of pork, consider how you like it cooked and prepared, and for what type of occasion you’ll be serving it. Pork ribs are excellent for grilling, while a pork roast will make a great Sunday evening meal. Either way, pork makes for an excellent alternative to the more popular chicken and beef. For the best cuts, always go with natural pork raised without added antibiotics, growth hormones, or steroids. And ask your butcher for advice along the way.