Pork Cuts & Cooking
Pork shoulder is the top portion of the front leg of the hog. The terminology for pork shoulder can vary widely depending on the region. However, the lower 'arm' portion of the shoulder is most commonly called the arm pork roast. The upper part of the shoulder, often called the blade pork roast, comes from the area near the loin and contains the shoulder blade bone. The blade roast is a well-marbled cut. This versatile cut can be pot-roasted whole, cut up for stews or cooked over moist smoke in a smoker to transform it into classic pulled pork barbecue. Whether it is roasted, braised or barbecued, blade roast becomes meltingly tender and deliciously flavorful. This inexpensive cut may need to be pre-ordered. You also may wish to have the meat trimmed and netted so that it remains intact as it cooks to fork-tenderness. The blade roast is available bone-in, averaging six to nine pounds) or boneless (averaging four to seven pounds). Pork shoulder also is often ground for use in making ground pork.
Pork chops are the most popular cut from the pork loin, which is the strip of meat that runs from the pig's hip to shoulder. Depending on where they originate, pork chops can be found under a variety of names, including loin, rib, sirloin, top loin and blade chops. Porterhouse Pork Chops are from the lower back (just behind the rib chop) and have a characteristic T-bone shape. These chops include a lot of meat as well as a bit of tenderloin meat. Ribeye Pork Chops originate in the center of the loin in the rib area and include some back and rib bone. Sirloin Pork Chops come from the area around the hip and often include part of the hip bone. New York Pork Chops (sometimes called Center Cut Chops) are boneless and located above the loin chops, toward the head. The 1 1/4 inch-thick top loin chop is also called an "America's Cut." Blade chops are cut from the beginning of the loin in the shoulder area. They may contain some blade bone as well as back-rib bone. Blade chops are usually thicker and more marbled. They often are butterflied and sold as pork loin country-style ribs.
The cut used to make bacon comes from the side -- or belly -- of the pig. When it is cured and smoked, it becomes bacon. An abundance of fat gives bacon its sweet flavor and tender crispiness. Bacon is typically sold in slices. Bacon may be packaged in thin slices (about 35 strips per pound), regular slices (about 16-20 strips per pound), or thick slices (about 12-16 strips per pound). Bacon also may be available in slab form, which is one solid piece. Spareribs are another popular cut that comes from the side.
Cured ham is leg meat that has been dry- or wet-cured. Hams are labeled according to the amount of water added to the ham during the curing process. Because the leg muscle is a well-exercised part of the hog, ham is surprisingly low in fat. Hams are dry-cured by rubbing salt and spices into the meat's surface. Wet-curing involves a brine solution that contains water, salt, sugar and spices. Dry-cured hams are known as 'country-style.' Wet cured hams are most common. Wet-cured hams are most commonly available in three varieties. Ham with natural juices is a favorite for a dinner centerpiece. This type of ham has had little water added during the curing process. Its velvety texture and attractive appearance make it an idea choice for holiday meals. Ham with water added retains more water during the curing process than ham with natural juices. This type of ham is ideal for steaks, thin-slicing and shaving. Ham and water product is a common type of ham, most often found at the deli counter. This type of ham has the most water added of all the ham varieties. It is a great choice for ham that's intended to be served cold.