As you peruse the pork selections in your grocer's meat case, you can easily identify your favorites and probably know different ways to cook them. However, unless you grew up on a hog farm, it's likely you don't know exactly where each of the cuts come from on the animal. Having this knowledge helps you choose the right cut for the occasion and the best preparation methods.
The loin portion of a hog yields the greatest variety of cuts. All varieties of pork chops are cut from the loin, including blade, rib, top loin, loin, smoked loin, sirloin, sirloin cutlet and butterfly. Ribs, one of the most favored parts of the loin, include country style and baby back ribs. The loin also contains many types of pork roasts including crown, center rib, blade, boneless blade, top loin, center loin, sirloin and boneless sirloin. The beloved pork tenderloin comes from this part of the hog, as well as Canadian-style bacon.
Hog legs are sometimes cut into top leg roasts and leg cutlets but are more commonly transformed into hams through curing, smoking or both. Whole smoked bone-in, boneless, smoked shank and rump hams and smoked ham steaks come from the leg, as do canned ham and sliced ham sold prepackaged or fresh cut at the deli counter.
The hog's shoulder is cut into less expensive pork roasts. Blade, boneless blade, smoked picnic, boneless arm picnic and smoked rolled shoulder roasts are in this category. Blade steaks come from the shoulder, as well as smoked hocks used to season stews, soups and slow-cooked greens.
The sides of hogs only produce two major cuts but these are often the most favored by consumers. Spareribs and bacon both come from this area, with the former being sold fresh and the latter cured, smoked or both before going to market. Bacon is sold either sliced or in large chunks that are typically cubed and rendered over low heat to crispiness.
Hardly any part of a hog is wasted. After all the aforementioned cuts are made, the leftover parts and pieces are turned into large chunks of stewing pork or smaller pieces for shish kebab, tenderized into cubed steak or churned into ground pork, bulk sausage or sausage links. The sausage may be seasoned with traditional breakfast flavors like sage or flavored with bolder spices and seasonings to create Italian sausage, kielbasa, linguica, chorizo or summer sausage.