A Guide to Buying, Identifying, Cooking Pork Roasts, Chops, and Ribs


The majority of pork, roasts, chops, and ribs sold in supermarkets today have little resemblance to the other white meat we eat back when I was growing up as a child; the pork was dry for the most part. New breeding techniques and feeding systems designed to slim down the modern hog have resulted in pork that this about 1/3 less fat than it did 20 years ago.

While the pork available to us today is better for our cholesterol levels and our weight on the scale, it does have its drawbacks. The lack of fat makes the leaner pork less flavorful and more prone to dry out during the cooking process. Today’s pork is more challenging to cook than it was 30 years ago, but you will be up to that challenge if you follow this guide.

Preparing Cooking Pork Roasts, Chops and Ribs

The fact is that both pork cuts-chops and steaks are actually quite similar in how they are cut and made. So here’s a guide to the most common pork cuts.

Reading Labeling in Supermarket

When shopping for pork at your local market, you will encounter terms like “breeds,” “organic,” and “enhanced,” but what do these terms really mean? Understanding these terms will help you know what to look for when purchasing pork.

Enhanced Injected or Not?

Due to modern pork being so lean and therefore somewhat bland and prone to dryness if overcooked, many producers now inject their fresh pork products with a sodium solution. This enhanced version of pork is now the only option at many supermarkets, especially when buying lean cuts like the tenderloin.

If you are unsure if the pork you are considering has been enhanced or not, look for a label: if the pork has an “ingredients” label, it has been enhanced.

Enhanced pork is pork injected with a mixture of water, salt, sodium lactate, sodium phosphates, sodium diacetate, potassium lactate, with different flavoring components, generally adding between 7 to 15% extra weight to the pork product.

Due to being pumped full of water, the enhanced pork does cook up juicier; it has its drawbacks; I find the texture of the enhanced pork to be almost spongy and the flavor to be overly salty unpleasant.

I strongly recommend that you choose natural pork for its superior texture and flavor and then brine (soak in salt water) the leaner cuts to keep them juicy.

It is also important to note that enhanced pork loses six times more moisture when frozen and thawed compared to natural pork, which is yet another reason to avoid enhanced pork. ) the leaner cuts to keep them juicy.

Premium Heritage Breed Naturally Moist Pork

We are all familiar with the pork producers’ commercials touting pork as “the other white meat” and comparing its health benefits to more commonly eaten lean white meat in chicken. They were a staple of television for years, but recently pork producers have been changing their strategy.

With diets like Keto becoming more popular and people also trending towards purchasing foods labeled as “organic,” there is a market for natural pork again.

The fat, flavor, and even a deeper color of meat is making a comeback, with both chefs and consumers paying a premium for specialty breeds of hogs that are marketed as fatter, juicier, and far more flavorful than you standard store-bought pork.

When I first tasted 100% Berkshire pork and compared it to standard supermarket pork, I found the differences astounding. The Berkshire meat had a rich, crimson color and smoky, intensely “porky” flavor.

I found the Berkshire meat to be very tender and juicy, creating an enjoyable eating experience.

In contrast, I found the supermarket pork to be bland and chewy. Not all heritage breeds are worth the extra expense as some, including Duroc, failed to impress me, but I recommend Berkshire pork if you can find it at your local supermarket or butcher shop.

Higher PH % in Pork Results Juicer Cook Meat

Studies at the NSR National Barrow Show reveal the best quality pork meat was confirmed to be the 100% pure Berkshire pork. Tests go back to 1990 – 1999 for quality among the eight major swine breeds.

AttributeBenefit Berkshire Rank
High pH Score It doesn’t lose its moisture during the cooking process, stays tender.1st. in 6 0f 7 grades
Loin Drip – Moisture Loss Much Improved quality, tenderness 1st. in 6 0f 7 grades
Color Of MeatShoppers want darker pork meat1st. in 5 0f 7 grades
After Cooking Quality High percent scoring for tenderness and juiciness and better consumer satisfaction 1st. in 4 of 5 grades

Pork Primal Cuts

In wholesale, there are four distinct cuts in the supermarket. The industry’s terminology is known as the primal cuts, that a butcher will turn them into cuts that you see at your local retail supermarket.

Shoulder

The pork shoulder cut is from the top part of the front leg of the pig. The terms for pork shoulder cut can differ extensively depending on the area of the country. The bottom ‘arm’ part of the shoulder cut is most unusually known as the arm pork roast.

The top cut of the shoulder, frequently referred to as the blade roast cut, derives from the part near the loin part and has the shoulder blade bone-in.

Picnic Shoulder

The cuts that come from the hog’s arm area or called picnic shoulder are much less expensive than the part from the shoulder blade but are very similar to each other.

Loin

The whole boneless pork loin is a primal cut of meat between the back legs and shoulder area. The cuts produce from this area of the lion are ribs, loin chops, and 2 types of roasts pork loin and tenderloin.

This area has the most tenderness cuts and has very little fat. Because the meat is very lean, it is prone to being dry when overcooked.

Leg

The back part of the pig is often called the ham. The primal cut you see at the supermarket is usually a big roast, and you can buy it fresh or cured like ham. This is very popular for a lot of people for Easter Sunday dinner.

Pork Side Belly

The belly area is the fattiest part of the hog; that’s where your bacon comes from as well as spare ribs; pork belly has become very popular in the past few years.

Types of Pork Roasts

While there are many types of pork roasts, I have narrowed them down to my six favorites below:

Boston Butt Roast

This is a big, tasty cut often called pork shoulder or Boston butt at your local supermarkets that can be as heavy as 8 lb. when purchased with a bone-in.

Many supermarkets remove the bone from pork butt to be sold in smaller pieces; normally, the roast is netted but can be hand-tied to hold the 2 pieces of roast together.

The pork butt is ideal for slow roasting cooking, barbecuing, braising, or stewing. I like using it for pulled pork and other shredded pork recipes, such as carnitas. Try substituting your traditional beef or chicken tacos or burritos with a carnitas version; you won’t be disappointed!

Shoulder Arm Picnic

This is a very inexpensive cut (often called “shoulder picnic roast” at supermarkets) you could buy it with both bone-in and bone out and has good amounts of heavy with fat with connective tissue muscle. This is the cut I like to use when I’m slow cooking, like brazing and pulled pork.

Boneless Blade Roast

The boneless blade roast is cut from the shoulder part of the loin and contains much more fat than other cuts from (fat adds flavor) a boneless center-cut loin roast; this is my favorite boneless roast. The blade roast is not always sold in all supermarkets.

You may need to speak with your local store butcher and ask if he can special order for you or if you have a local butcher shop you can buy from there.

Center-Cut Loin Roast

Even though I like using the more flavorful boneless blade roast, the center-cut loin roast is more widely available in all supermarkets and a great roasting choice. Make sure to buy a center-cut loin roast with a good size fat cap a dece on top to make it has the best flavor and prevent it from drying out during cooking.

Center Rib Roast

The center rib roast is often called the pork, the same as beef prime rib or rack of lamb. This little mild, practically lean roast contains alone muscle with a large fat cap for protection and is cut from between 5th and 8th ribs due to the bones (and nearby fat) still being attached.

A better option roast I find to be is the center cut loin roast from the same muscle area, but the bones and fat are removed clean.

Tenderloin Roast

This is the leanest and delicate of all roast, and It cooks very fast because it is a small size, usually weighing about one pound. Similar to beef tenderloin, you must take care not to overcook a tenderloin roast due to its lack of marbling as doing so will ruin its texture.

Pork tenderloins are usually sold in two-piece packaging; unfortunately, those that you find in the supermarket will often be enhanced injected. Make sure to purchase tenderloins that list no sodium solution in the ingredients and read nothing more than just pork on the label.

Pork-Chop Cuts

Now that we’ve discussed my six favorite pork roasts, it’s time I share with you my three favorite pork chop cuts.

Blade Chop

Blade Chop comes from the shoulder area toward the end of the pork loin. The blade chop may not be easy to find at your local supermarket. They can be fatty and or tough, but they have great flavor and keep their juiciness. These chops are best suited to low and slow cooking methods that break down connective tissue, such as braising or barbecuing.

Rib Chop

Rib Chops are cut from the rib area of the pork loin. The rib chops are moderately higher in fat content, making them one of the most flavorful cuts and will not dry out throughout the cooking process. The Rib chop is recognizable by the bone that extends lengthways on one side and the one larger eye on the loin side muscle.

Because of their resistance to drying out, these chops are a good choice for higher heat cooking techniques like grilling and searing. The rib chop is my favorite pork chop to purchase.

Center-Cut Chop

The Center-Cut Pork Chop can be recognized by the bone that separates the loin meat from the tenderloin muscle. Cooking a center-cut chop is challenging because the lion’s lean tenderloin part cooks much faster than the loin area. I love center-cut chops; they have a great flavor, but they are lower in fat, making them not as juicy as the other rib chops.

Since the tenderloin and loin muscles area of these pork chops are divided by a large bone and or cartilage, they don’t lie flat, which makes them not a good poor for searing in a skillet. Instead, use the center cut chop for grilling but make sure to position the chop so that the tenderloin is not directly over the flame; this will help keep them from drying out.

Pork Ribs

Baby Back Ribs

Pork Baby Back Ribs, also called loin back ribs coming from the rib section, is close to the primal’s backbone. Pork loin-center roasts, along with chops, are from the same area of the hog; that’s the reason why baby back ribs are quite pricey but delicious!

The baby back ribs’ location also explains why they are much leaner than spare ribs and are more prone to drying out. Make sure to give your baby back ribs extra attention when they are on the grill to avoid them becoming overly dry.

St. Louis Pork Spareribs

St. Louis Spare Ribs are cut from the underside belly of the hog after the belly is removed. That’s the reason why they are a meaty rib. They are commonly trimmed, squared off by removing the hard breastbone and tough cartilage, so the rib slab is rectangular in shape. You’ll see them sold in the supermarket as St. Louis style spareribs.

I prefer the St. Louis spare ribs to their regular counterparts because the brisket bone and surrounding meat are trimmed off, making for a more manageable cut that usually weighs in at about three pounds. The resulting narrower, rectangular rack of ribs is easier to prepare on a traditional home grill.

Country-Style Pork Ribs

Country-Style Pork Ribs are extremely tender boneless ribs cut from the top side on the rib part that is much fatter blade meat from the hog’s pork loin. Usually, the butcher cuts them into individual ribs, and he then packs several of the ribs together.

Country-Style Pork Ribs can be braised and shredded can be added pasta sauce adding richness and flavor to the dish. You can pound them flat, grilled, and or pan-sear them as pork cutlets.

Fresh Pork Ham, Shank Side

The leg is split into two pieces, the shank end and the sirloin end. I prefer the shank end because the sirloin end contains many bones, making it very difficult when carving. The shank end is covered in a thick layer of fat and skin that you will need to score before roasting.

To score the ham, use your chef’s knife and make a crisscross pattern in the ham’s fat that forms diamonds along the outside. This will allow your glaze to penetrate that thick layer and flavor the meat, not just the outside. My favorite way to prepare shank is brining, then roasting.

How to Remove Skin From Back of Ribs

Step 1: Meat-side down, place your ribs onto the cutting board and insert a knife’s tip underneath the membrane’s corner. Make certain that the blade tip is not put into the meat.

Use gentle, saw-like motions to cut right under the membrane about one or two inches, then out of the meat’s side. This will create a small membrane flap.

Step 2: With either paper towels or your hands, use one motion to pull the slippery piece of membrane away. Take as much of it as you’re able to, and repeat the process until the whole membrane is off of the meat.

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Gordon Ramsay Beef Guide Buying, Preparing Roasts and Steak

A Guide to Basic Meat Butchering Techniques for Home Cooking

John Siracusa

Cooking for me has always been an "art" infused in traditions. My career inspired by Hell’s Kitchen, the West Side of Manhattan which boasts one of N.Y. City’s best independent restaurant communities along with Gordon Ramsay no-nonsense approach towards always being your best.

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