Ham comes from the hind leg and has usually either been cured or smoked prior to purchase. Fresh, uncured ham is a melt-in-your-mouth treat when it’s cooked low and slow. There’s a slew of other bone-in and boneless options, from specialty cuts like prosciutto and serrano to both the popular city ham and its saltier, chewier cousin, country ham. No matter how you slice it, ham makes a tasty meal.
One of the most tender and lean cuts of pork, the loin is cut right from the back. At the meat counter, you will find it sliced wide and flat, and sold both as boneless and bone-in. Best grilled or roasted, pork loin is an easy way to get a juicy, tasty cut of meat for dinner any night of the week. Try it in chops, as a roast or tenderloin, or as country style ribs.
Pork butt, also called the Boston butt or the shoulder butt, actually comes from the front shoulder. Often thicker and marbled with fat throughout, this cut is a little more substantial than the pork picnic, which it’s often confused with. Try pulled pork with the butt because it holds up well when slow cooked and delivers meat that falls off the bone. Other cuts you’ll find from the pork butt include the boneless blade roast, bone-in blade roast, blade steak, and country-style ribs.
Pork picnic goes by several names: shoulder picnic, pork shoulder, picnic shoulder, picnic ham, even picnic hocks. They are all variations on basically the same cut. The picnic is not to be confused with the pork butt, a thicker cut that is higher up the shoulder. Whatever you call it, pork picnic is great roasted, slow cooked, or smoked, and sliced like ham.
The side consists of two basic parts: the belly and the ribs. If you are going for great taste, bet on pork belly. This nostalgic and versatile cut is packed with flavor-adding fat. This is where bacon comes from after it has been cured and salted, but it can also be cooked fresh, either braised or roasted. Whether it’s the centerpiece of your dish, or used a key ingredient or decadent appetizer, bellies are extremely versatile and flavorful, making any occasion special.
Pork Ribs come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and each is tasty in their own way. Backribs come from the blade section of the loin and are the smallest and most tender of the rib cuts. Spareribs, to include St Louis style spareribs, come from the belly section, with larger bones surrounded by more fat and flavor. A little less meaty than other cuts, their bigger size helps bring bigger taste. Whichever kind you go for, cook with a dry or wet rub to enhance the flavor.
Pork butt, counterintuitively, lays at the front shoulder. Often thicker and marbled with fat throughout, this cut is a little more substantial than pork picnic, which it’s often confused with.
With its strong flavor, the pork butt is a great vehicle for all the bold flavors you may want to test out. Give pulled pork a try with this cut, since it holds up well when slow cooked and delivers meat that falls off the bone.
When cooking a pork shoulder butt, place the meat in the center of your oven rack. The fattier side of the cut should be pointed towards the heat to help protect the rest of the meat from overcooking.
To retain fat and moisture while smoking, wrap your cut in aluminum foil when it hits an internal temperature of 160 degrees F, typically around the five-hour mark. This requires gloves, tongs and a little maneuvering, but the juicy, tender result is well worth the extra effort.
Once you’ve fully cooked your pork shoulder butt, don’t throw out the juice or pan drippings. The natural juices of your pork add moisture and flavor when poured over your cooked meat, or can be saved for a later use, like sauce for a Cuban sandwich or a pork French dip. For an easy way to transport the juices, try using a fat separator to keep the fat and other bits out of the juice.