Everything you need to know about cuts of pork

Adrian Richardson
17 February, 2014

Meat expert and chef Adrian Richardson explains the different cuts of pork, and what you should use them for.

Which cuts of pork to buy

When choosing your pork cut, the same general rules apply as with other meat. Harder working muscles, or meat which is more substantially layered with fat, needs longer, slower cooking. Tender prime meat, such as the loin, medallions or cutlets, are ideal for quick cooking.

cuts of pork

A: Trotter

Although pig’s trotters are the darling of trendy restaurant menus these days, (especially when boned out and stuffed), they are quite challenging for the home cook, as they contain very little meat.

B: Leg/Ham

Most pork legs are cured to make hams, and there are few things as impressive as a baked glazed Christmas ham, prettily studded with cloves. Fresh pork legs also make brilliant roasts. Broken down, the leg gives us the knuckle, silverside, topside, girello and rump. The rump can be sold bone in or out for roasting. With a wonderful layer of crackling and a jug of apple sauce, this is one of our most familiar cuts.

C: Loin

On pigs the loin is very long, extending from the shoulder all the way back to the leg. It is the source of many wonderful cuts, and they are all fairly lean (especially when the fat is removed), tender and tasty. Meat from the loin is especially good at taking on flavour from marinades and herb or spice rubs. Cuts from the loin include a rack of pork, chops, cutlets, fillet (tenderloin), medallions and butterfly steaks. The whole loin may be sold rolled up and tied for roasting. And then there are the spare ribs, often sold as American-style ribs. Finally, when cured, the loin gives us back bacon.

D: Belly

Belly is primarily used for making streaky bacon and pancetta, the Italian equivalent. It is thickly layered with fat and brilliantly versatile. It can be braised or roasted or cut into strips and grilled. Although it is fatty, it is a wonderfully tasty and succulent part of the animal, which is all too often overlooked. Spare ribs are cut from inside the thick end of the belly. They are wonderful when slow-roasted in a tasty marinade, then finished on the barbecue.

E: Shoulder

The whole shoulder is huge, and it is generally broken down into the neck end spare ribs, the blade and down at the top of the leg, the hand. The neck end can also be cut off the bones to give a Scotch roast (also called the collar butt). When cured, it makes collar bacon. The boned-out blade gives a picnic shoulder roast. The hand is brilliant when pickled, or slow-cooked. Cured, it becomes picnic ham. Cubed meat from the shoulder is fantastic for making pork casseroles or curries, which need long, slow cooking.

F: Head

An incredibly productive part of the pig, which again, is generally sold as offal.

G: Hock

The hock is the first joint of the leg after the hand. It is not very meaty, being made up mainly of connective tissue, skin and bone. But it yields wonderful gelatinous juices when slowly cooked, which are brilliant in stews. Smoked hocks are wonderful when braised with lentils or boiled up with split peas to make pea and ham soup.

How do you know when your pork is cooked?

One of the reasons that people so often find pork a disappointment is because it is so often overcooked. The main reason for overcooking is because of lingering concerns about the trichonosis parasite, which was prevalent in the days that pigs were fed largely on table scraps and all sorts of other raw foods. The parasite is actually killed (and the meat safe to eat) at 59°C, but to allow a margin of error for uneven cooking within a piece of pork, in those days, pork was always cooked to a minimum of 80–85°C. In reality, the trichonosis has been eradicated from Australian pork, and these days you don’t have to cook the hell out of it to be safe.

My preference is to cook tender cuts of pork to medium, so that they are moist and juicy (there really is nothing worse than overcooked, dry, stringy pork). For really successful pork cookery I strongly believe that a digital meat thermometer is absolutely essential. It takes all the guesswork out of doneness, and you can be absolutely sure that the pork is cooked through, without it being overcooked.

Most food authorities today recommend cooking pork to an internal temperature of 75°C – and remember that the reading will rise by about 5°C as the meat rests, so you can happily take it out of the oven at about 70°C. Pork cooked to these temperatures may still have a rosy pink tinge about it – but that shouldn’t be cause for panic. It will be perfectly safe, but succulent and juicy.

Things that love pork

Apple sauce, bay leaves, cabbage, calvados, cider, curry powder, fennel, garlic, ginger, mustard, onions, paprika, pepper, pickled cherries, prunes, rosemary, sage, salt, sauerkraut, sour cream, star anise, tarragon, thyme, white wine.

This is an edited extract from Adrian Richardson's Meat. Read Adrian's guide to cuts of beef here.


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