Everything You Ever Needed to Know About Pork Cuts

PigLoin Chump Hock Trotters Ribs Belly Hand Hock Trotters Shoulder Neck Head Cheeks Tenderloin Leg
Learn more about different cuts by clicking the parts of the pig!

HEAD

Organic Pig Head

The head of a pig might seem somewhat gruesome and repulsive, especially when detached from the animal and sitting as the centrepiece on a buffet. As a cut though, you might be surprised at the amount of meat available from a pig's head, including its tongue and ears.

You can boil a whole head and pick the cooked meat. It is usually a roasted head that finds its way on to a buffet, but the meat can also be used in soups and stews. Brawn, or head cheese, is a traditional recipe of pig's head set in its own jelly. The idea of preparing and cooking a pig's head might put a lot of people off, but it tends to win in a flavour competition against pork loin and chops.

Head meat makes terrine, paté and burgers. The ears make pork scratchings and the snout makes soup. The tongue is a real delicacy, but slow cooked it is tender and has intense flavour.

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NECK

Neck

“Glorious” and “the best cut of pork you have never seen for sale” is how pig neck meat has been described. This is a muscled cut, with more fat than the shoulder and sometimes referred to as the collar.

Neck is a convenient and economical ingredient for making stocks, soups and stews. Slow cooking allows the intramuscular fat to melt, producing delicious meat that is moist and tender. It is ideal for grilling, braising and slow, smokey barbecuing.

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SHOULDER

Pig Shoulder

The nearer the head, the sweeter and more succulent the meat. Shoulder is one of the best roasting joints and, if you love crackling, the dry skin and layer of fat is one of the best for this crispy delight.

Pork shoulder is a complex combination of muscles, connective tissues, sinew and fat that extends from the spine to the elbow of the front leg. It is full of flavour, inexpensive and ideal not only for roasting, but also slow cooking and barbecuing. 

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LOIN

Pig Loin

It is not possible to discuss pig and not indulge in the mouth-watering prospect of a traditional English breakfast. Not to forget the role of hens, but immense gratitude goes to the animal that contributes the most to this one of the greatest of pleasures – the Fry Up. It is loin meat that is cured to make back bacon.

Bone-in racks of meat look impressive and that is certainly true of a pork loin roast. Two racks tied together in a circle are a “crown” roast. Loin cuts are high up on the back and are the primary muscles along the spine.

It is a moderately tough cut of pork with a good deal of connective tissue, but roasted properly it is satisfyingly tender and juicy – the prime rib of pork.

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TENDERLOIN

Pig Tenderloin

What is the cure for vegetarianism? A bacon sandwich. It doesn't really come as a surprise that in a recent poll of Britain's best-loved foods, bacon was number one. It is the reason why weak-willed vegetarians give up. So why are we talking about bacon in the tenderloin section? Because although Britain loves bacon, as the name suggests, tenderloin is the most tender, leanest and perhaps the highest demand pork meat of all.

Each pig has two and there are never enough. Loin and tenderloin look different and are not cut from the same part of the animal. It is boneless, delicately flavoured and should be cooked quickly on a grill, seared, roasted or stir fried. In essence, it is the fillet of pork.

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CHUMP

Pig Chump Cut

As with lamb, chump means rump and is positioned at the rear of the loin. Chump steak should be cooked either fast and furious by pan frying or grilling, or alternatively, slowly in a hotpot. Chump chops are more generous than those from the loin. Thinly sliced, they make fantastic escalopes, pork cordon bleu or cubed and marinated can find their way onto a BBQ skewer.

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LEG

Pig Leg

“He that but looketh on a plate of ham and eggs to lust after it hath already committed breakfast with it in his heart.” C.S Lewis

The hind leg is one of the four primal cuts of pork, with the other three being loin, shoulder and belly. You can have leg joints, steaks, escallops and diced meat for kebabs, but the vast majority of legs of pork go for curing to make hams. Mmm...ham and mustard sandwiches. Cooked ham is incredibly versatile, is eaten cold frequently and at its highest price is called Prosciutto.

Before the modern phenomenon of electronic junk mail, ham had found its way into a processed meat called Spam. No one really knows if it is a contraction of spiced ham, an acronym for 'shoulders of pork and ham' or 'special processed American meat.' Whatever the case, there is a funny Monty Python sketch...

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BELLY

Pig Belly

You don't often hear of a Stanley knife in the context of kitchen implements. However, if you love pork belly with good crackling, the Stanley knife is the best tool for scoring the tough skin with deep, closely spaced cuts – this is vital to allow the heat to penetrate the fat, which then bubbles up through the cuts to baste the top.

Pork belly is often made into bacon by dry curing or brining and then smoking. It can also be made into sausage and panchetta. Chefs view pork belly as superior to bacon. The juicy layers of fat make this cut meltingly tender and similar in texture to pork loin. 

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RIBS

Pig Ribs

Spare ribs come from the belly side of the pig's rib cage, but there is nothing spare about spare ribs. They are a staple of American diners and Chinese cuisine, because properly prepared they are succulently tasty.

The term “spare ribs” is a Middle English corruption (via “sparrib”) of “rippspeer”, a Low German term that referred to a rack of meat being turned on a spit roast. 

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HAND

Pig Hand

You could be forgiven for some confusion here - we know pigs have four legs, but a hand? Well, the hand, also known as the hand and spring, is the upper part of the pig's foreleg. It is usually sold boned and rolled as a joint.

The hand is a somewhat unusual looking, triangular cut. Braising ensures a deliciously tender meat. It is a part of the animal that has done some work as it roams around, so it’s difficult to carve. It is recommended that the hand of pork is cooked until it just falls off the bone in succulent lumps.

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CHEEKS

Pig Cheeks

Pork cheeks are exactly what the name implies -  the slip of meat in the hollow of the cheek, underneath the animal's eyes. This is a cut of meat that is more unknown than underused. The cheek is relatively lean and very moist.

Why eat facial muscle, made tough from a life spent chewing swill, you might be asking. As is the case with cheaper cuts of meat, fast cooking is not suitable, but slow cooked on a low heat for a long time and the meat breaks down into nuggets of fork tender flesh.

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HOCK

Ham Hock

The hock is the lower shank of the leg above the foot. With much more meat and fat than in the foot, the meat is tough with a lot of connective tissue. As is generally true of tough meats, long, slow cooking renders tender, rich, smokey meat that is perfect for soups, stews and vegetables. Hocks are best enjoyed when the meat becomes so tender that it nearly falls away from the bone.

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TROTTERS

Pig Trotters

The name of a well known family from Peckham and also the term for pig's feet. Trotters may not seem to be that appetizing, but broken down they are finger licking good finger food! Grilled, deep fried, roasted, poached or braised and the skin becomes crispy with soft, flavourful meat.

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