The Best Cuts of Pork

by Roger DelVenado

From pork butts to applewood smoked bacon, pork can be prepared and enjoyed in myriad ways.

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Pork is one of America's favorite meats. It is versatile and ubiquitous. Choosing the best cut of pork for you depends on how many people you will be cooking for and your preferred method of cooking.

The (Tender) Loin

American hogs are bred to produce long, succulent loins. This is where the best (and most expensive) meat is found on the hog. The loin runs along either side of the hog's spine and is made up, mostly, of a single, tender eye muscle. Tenderloins and pork chops come from this part of the pig--both are excellent for grilling or pan-frying, and the tenderloin, due to its thickness, is also great for braising or roasting.

Bacon

This breakfast table staple is cut from the belly and sides of the hog and contains long, luxurious strips of fat hugging the meaty bits. Once the cut is cured or smoked, it can properly be called bacon. Generally, bacon is sold sliced and may come in different thicknesses, from razor-thin shavings to hearty, thick-cut slabs. Either way, once it is sizzling in a frying pan--you can bake it, too--the fat and the curing processes release the sweet/salty taste combo that make bacon a favorite with many pork fans.

Spare Ribs and Baby Back Ribs

Arguments can get pretty heated (and delicious) when it comes to which cut of pork ribs are the best. Hogs have 14 ribs and each cut represents a unique mix of meat, bone and fat. Baby back ribs are smaller bones with a slightly leaner meat than spare ribs. On baby back ribs, the meat sits mostly on top of the curved bone. Spare ribs are longer than baby backs, with a mixture of meat and fat mostly found in between the bones. Due to their size and fat content, spare ribs may take a little more time to cook. Either cut of ribs are great for a party.

Hams

Generally either cured or prepared as a roast, hams are a large cut of meat packed with flavor. A ham is the hog's hind leg containing several bones, several pounds of meat and very little connective tissue. The ham's popularity can be seen in the variety of cured, smoked, canned or fresh hams available in supermarkets. Of course, thinly sliced ham piled high on a sandwich with cheese and mustard is a go-to comfort food for many Americans. A whole ham, bought already cured or home-roasted, will fill the plates of a large number of guests.

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