The pig, an animal that is a celebration of the wonders of fat, flesh and flavour. While there can be distinctions between the breeds in terms of fat to flesh ratios and size of cuts, the culinary outlines for each cut apply to any good quality pig.
Use the Cuts of Pork guide to learn about the different joints and cuts of pork available and help you decide the best match for the recipe you want to cook. Different parts of the animal are better suited for different recipes and cooking methods. The most tender cuts will be good for frying and grilling, others will be at their best when slow cooked by braising or in a stew. Remember that many of the value cuts deliver the richest and deepest flavours; longer cooking breaks down the denser fibres creating tender meat in a thicker delicious sauce or gravy.
During the animal’s life different parts of the body will develop in different ways depending on the amount of work they do. This means that individual cuts will have differing proportions of muscle, fat and connective tissues. For example, those that have worked the hardest, such as the neck (which is constantly moving about as the animal grazes), will build up more fibre and sinew.
Our pigs raised on the farm are a mixture of Duroc and Landrace.
The Fore End
Head - Grim to look at but the head is full of rich, fatty and gelatinous goodness.
Whole head: split it in half, and either slow roast until extremely tender or simmer in water with bay leaves, stock vegetables and herbs until soft, pick the meat from the bones and set in a terrine with the reduced cooking liquid (which will have jellified) to make brawn.
Ears: simmer to soften, slice, then breadcrumb and deep fry until crisp.
Cheek/jowl: a sweet nugget of tasty meat. Pig cheeks require long, slow cooking thanks to the work it does. You could also salt cure them, simmer then bread-crumb and deep fry for bath chaps.
Snout: not frequently cooked on its own. The snout is usually included in a recipe for brawn or roasted head. A small amount of tasty meat is featured, it can be simmered until tender, then sliced, bread-crumbed and deep-fried
Neck – This cut is an extremely underused and underrated cut and often ends up in sausages or as mince. It presents just the right amount of muscle and fat to provide a small and tasty roast.
Well suited to a sticky, Asian-style slow roast, to produce a finish similar to pork belly. It can also be boned, thinly sliced, marinated and cooked quickly on the grill or BBQ.
Shoulder – This cut is an extremely hardworking joint that is webbed with fat and connective tissue; if slow cooked the shoulder can be amazingly juicy. It can be slow or pot roasted, casseroled or minced. If you want to serve roast pork at a big family dinner, a whole shoulder (and the best part of a day of roasting) is exactly what you need.
Whole shoulder: set the oven to high, score and lightly season the skin and blast for the first 20 minutes. Turn down to 140°C o(Gas Mark 1) for 6-8 hours, depending on the size of the joint. You should end up with soft flesh that pulls apart easily and super crisp crackling.
Mince: although meatballs and sausages can cook fairly quickly, you will get best results from a slow braise, or by gently poaching sausages before grilling or frying.
Blade of pork – A small, flat cut from the top of the shoulder left on the blade bone. It is covered in a layer of skin so great for crackling.
To cook: Similar to the whole shoulder, blast it in the oven for 20 minutes and then slow roast for 3 hours. Serves 2-4 people.
Spare Ribs – Cut from the upper part of the shoulder and come in a rack of four or five ribs. Due to the generous amount of marbled fat and connective tissue, slow cooking leads to extremely tasty, sweet and succulent spare ribs. They are a versatile and economical cut.
To cook: Cook as a whole rack or individual ribs. Marinade in something sweet and sticky, before roasting at a low temperature until the meat is extremely tender. You can finish them off on the barbeque for a crispy finish and smoky taste.
Hand and Spring - A chunky, almost triangular and peculiar looking but delicious cut. The hand and spring comes from the lower part of the shoulder/upper part of the front leg and will serve 2-3 people as a roast.
To cook: Slow roast, braise with vegetables or mince to use in pies, terrines or sausages.
Hock - A small triangular cut from just above the trotter, with just enough meat to stew for two. In its cured form, it provides a lovely strong flavour which can be used to give depth of flavour in a stew or a soup for six.
To cook: Braise slowly with pulses, stock vegetables and plenty of liquid, then pull the flesh from the bone to add back to the pan. Can be marinated and slow roasted until tender, too.
Front end of Loin – The fore end of the loin is slightly fattier than the back, however still provides the neat eye of meat for which the loin is generally desired. If you draw a comparison against beef it is essentially the fore rib of pork. The ends of the bones can be French-trimmed to present an impressive and tasty roast rack of pork, it can be separated into cutlets or boned and rolled into a neat, round roasting joint with an eye of meat and a covering of fat and skin.
As a rack joint: score and salt the skin then start in a hot oven to get the crackling going. After 20 minutes, turn the heat down to 170°C and roast for a further 45 minutes per 500g, or until cooked through.
Cutlets: fry, grill or barbeque for around 8 minutes, turning every 2-3 minutes.
Boned and rolled: score and salt the skin, roast in a hot oven for 15 minutes. Turn the oven down to 170°C and roast for a further a further 20 minutes per 500g or until cooked through.
Loin – Comes from the middle of the pig’s back. As it is an area that doesn’t work hard this cut is about as lean as this fatty animal will get. The loin is an excellent roasting joint – particularly on the bone. Cut up, the loin makes pork chops.
Chops: bake or pot roast at a low temperature for really tasty, tender chops, or grill to get crispy fat.
Loin on the bone: score and salt the skin then start in a hot oven to get the crackling going. After 20 minutes, turn the heat down to 170°C and roast for a further 35 minutes per 500g, or until cooked through.
Chump end: makes excellent, tender, meaty chops, which should be fried and finished in the oven or grilled.
Tenderloin – When you compare this cut to beef the tenderloin is essentially the fillet of pork. It is incredibly lean and is taken from the other side of the rib to the loin chop.
To cook: The tenderloin is incredibly lean so be careful about overcooking it. Suited to a quick cooking style the fillet is a versatile cut. Cut into medallions and sear until just cooked and serve with a creamy mustard sauce, or butterfly, stuff, wrap in prosciutto and roast for 20 minutes.
Belly – Once an unpopular cut, now the favourite cut of chefs and home cooks alike. Its fat-rich composition makes it a fantastic addition to sausages and pies, but it is in its slow-roasted form that this cut comes into its own. It is extremely rich meaning that a little goes a long way, and so even at its currently popular height, it is still an economical roast.
Thin end: the thinner end with no bones. Square off the piece of meat, then lay a stuffing – anything from Asian spices to a Mediterranean mix of sundried tomatoes, feta cheese and olives – down the centre. Roll the two sides together to form a fat horseshoe and secure with string. Start in a hot oven for 20 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 150°C and roast for 3 hours.
Thick end: leave on the bone and use the roasting times and temperatures above.
Rump – this is a large lean muscle that is tasty when roasted but lacks fat of other cuts and therefore shouldn’t be overcooked. It makes fantastic escalopes and other quick cooking items.
To cook: Ask your butcher for thin slices to make breaded escalopes, pork cordon bleu or lean pork steaks to fry, or cube and marinate for tasty BBQ skewers.
Leg – A classic roasting joint which has currently fallen out of favour. Again this cut is fairly lean and so needs careful cooking, but a leg of good quality pork won’t dry out as some people think. Due to its size, it can be wise to opt for a boneless joint to speed up the cooking a little to prevent it drying out – but it can be slow roasted on the bone for a big gathering.
Whole on the bone: super low and slow does it; 20 minutes on high then 4-6 hours at 140°C with a glass of wine, water or cider and some stock vegetables in the roasting pan.
Boned and rolled: this cut makes a great pot roast or braise. Place into a lidded pot with stock vegetables, a splash of water and some bay leaves. Put the lid on the pot, and roast in the oven at 150°C for 3 hours.
Leg steaks: leg steak should be nice and thin, and fried or grilled quickly so as not to dry out.
Tail - A gelatinous and rich addition to the stockpot. For the carnivore in you, simmer the tail, bread crumbed and deep-fry so the wobbly, soft flesh can be prized off with your teeth.
Trotter – The best source of gelatine, which is essential for a hot-water pastry pork pie. Ensure that your butcher has cleaned the trotter properly, as it can be awkward to do at home.
Jellied stock: cover two trotters with three pints of water and simmer very gently with herbs and vegetables for three hours, skimming impurities off the surface. Strain, discarding the solids, and reduce the resulting liquid by a third to a half depending on how solid you need it to set, and season to taste. When seasoning, make the jelly slightly over rather than under salted, as it loses a little flavour when chilled. For the brave chef, the trotter can be carefully deboned and stuffed, however this requires a lot of time and skill.
Liver – Pork liver has a very strong flavour and is extremely rich in iron. Even the most dedicated of liver eaters may find pork liver a bit too much. In cooking, small amounts of pork liver are often added to faggots, pates and terrines to give depth of flavour. If you use pork liver in your own cooking it needs to be trimmed of any membrane or grainy bits.
Kidneys - these can be a real treat, though need them to be from a quality pig and thoroughly cleaned to avoid the taste of ammonia. If you buy them whole, make sure you remove any membrane; trim out the white gristly centre before cooking.
Devilled: chop the prepared kidneys into large chunks. Season them then sear in a hot pan with a little butter. Add to the pan a good shake of cayenne pepper, a teaspoon of redcurrant or damson jelly, a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce, 1tbsp Dijon mustard, 1tsp red wine vinegar and a little pepper. Cook for 1 minute, then add a splash of double cream and season to taste, then serve on toast.
There are three types of fat to be gathered from the pig, each with its own use to the cook.
Back fat – this is the firm, white, creamy fat from beneath the skin of the pig, which forms the crust below the skin in crackling or scratchings. This firm fat is essential for sausage making, as it doesn’t get broken down in production, instead softening in the pan to baste the meat from the inside while retaining some of its shape instead of melting away into the pan.
Soft fat - Taken from the inside of the carcass, particularly from the loin areas around the kidneys. It is then rendered to make lard.
Caul fat - A web-like membrane of fat obtained from around the internal organs. Often used as a casing for faggots and as a protective basting layer in which to bake terrines. Caul fat was the original casing for sausages.
Bacon & Gammon Cuts
Hock/Bacon Knuckle – Taken from the lower part of the leg, just above the trotter and is sold either green or smoked. It is a very economical and sweet cut, perfect for terrines. As with its fresh counterpart, this cut needs gently simmering for at least 2 hours, before the meat can be flaked away from the bone. Never throw away the simmering stock, as it is an excellent base for soups and gravies.
Leg – While a fresh pork leg can make a wonderful roast, it is in its cured form that the leg really shines, as ham. Traditionally, English hams were heavily salt cured in order to extend the length of preservation. However the invention of colder curing methods allowed for the use of brine, making for a quicker, gentler and more even cure. Try simmering the leg, then bake it with a sweet glaze, studded with cloves.
Gammon - Comes from the top of the rump. For a small, tidy joint, you can ask for a slipper or corner gammon, where the leg meets the rump. It can be cut into thick slices for gammon steaks to grill or fry.
To cook: Rinse the gammon in cold water. Pour one inch of boiling water into a baking tin. Place the gammon on a rack in the tin, making sure the water doesn’t touch the meat. Loosely cover the gammon with foil but ensure the foil is airtight. Bake at 180˚C for 45 minutes per kilo. Remove from the oven and when cool enough to handle, remove the skin (but not the fat), criss-cross the fat, cover with honey mixed with mustard and place in a hot oven for 20 minutes to glaze.
Short back bacon – Often considered the premium bacon cut in the UK, taken from the back of the loin where there’s a nice big eye of meat and a slightly smaller layer of fat. If left on the bone, the loin can be cured to make bacon chops, ideal for grilling.
Long back bacon – Cut from the middle of the back, this cut features the best of both back and streaky bacon; the fat and flavour benefit of a little streaky with an eye of leaner meat too.
Streaky bacon – Although the cheaper option it is often the favourite with foodies. Streaky bacon is taken from the belly and consists of plenty of fat, it can be fried or grilled to get really crispy bacon.
Shoulder or Collar – Collar of bacon is a sweet, economical cut, which needs to be thinly sliced if used in the same way as back or streaky bacon. Boned and rolled, makes a classic boiling ham joint.
Cheek/Jowl - must be finely sliced if it is to be grilled or fried as a bacon cut. A cured cheek is a good addition to a bean or lentil soup. Slow cook them in fat to make a cured pig cheek pate.
Picnic ham – A small cut from the hard working shoulder, this needs long simmering to break down the muscular tissue. It is sometimes known as a poor man’s ham for this reason.
Last edited on mlApr 30th, 2015