How to Select the Best Cuts of Pork for Family Meals

Last Updated on August 24, 2023 by Kimberly Crawford

Pork, with its delightful versatility, can take center stage in various dishes ranging from Sunday roasts to weekday stir-fries. 

However, with numerous cuts available, each boasting distinct textures and flavors, selecting the right cut can sometimes be a culinary puzzle. 

Delving Deeper into Pork’s Primary Cuts

family meals

Pork, hailed as the “other white meat”, showcases a variety of cuts, each emanating unique flavors and textures. 

These primary cuts, derived from specific sections of the pig, are the cornerstone of countless beloved dishes around the world. 

Gaining insight into these primary sections, their characteristics, and best culinary uses can elevate your pork dishes from good to gourmet.

The Shoulder (or Pork Butt)


A misnomer in the world of pork cuts, the “pork butt” doesn’t come from the back end of the pig but rather its shoulder. 

This cut is replete with marbling, making it juicy and flavorful. The presence of connective tissues means it benefits from longer cooking times, allowing it to break down and tenderize. Perfect for a family meal

Best Cooking Methods

  • Slow roasting: This method renders the fat and breaks down the meat over several hours, ensuring succulence.
  • Braising: Immersing the pork butt in a flavorful liquid and slow-cooking it melds the flavors and produces a fork-tender result.
  • Smoking: The prolonged exposure to smoke infuses the meat with a distinctive woody aroma, enhancing its natural flavors.

Popular Dishes

  • Pulled Pork: This dish is a testament to the shoulder’s qualities. Slow-cooked to perfection, the pulled pork is shredded and often mixed with a sauce, making it a favorite for sandwiches and tacos.
  • Stews: The inherent fats and collagen within the shoulder dissolve into soups and stews, bestowing them with depth and richness.



Located along the top of the pig’s back, the loin is one of the tenderest pork cuts. Unlike the fatty shoulder, the loin is lean, making it suitable for quicker cooking methods. It’s versatile, available as whole roasts, sliced into chops, or even cut into ribs.

Best Cooking Methods

  • Grilling: Quick and high heat preserves the loin’s tenderness. Marinating before grilling can add an extra layer of flavor.
  • Roasting: Cooking a loin roast in an oven, especially with herbs and seasonings, makes for a delightful centerpiece at family dinners.
  • Pan-frying: Especially for chops, a quick sear on a hot pan locks in juices and ensures a golden crust.

Popular Dishes

  • Pork chops: These are the steak equivalents in the pork world. Whether grilled with a simple rub or pan-fried with apples, they’re a versatile and quick dinner option.
  • Roast loin of pork: A roast loin, especially with a fat cap on top, self-bastes as it cooks. This results in moist meat underneath a crispy layer of fat. Serving it with applesauce or a mustard glaze further accentuates its flavors.

Pork’s Midsection Delights

This middle portion of the pig offers some of the most popular and versatile cuts.


Overview: The belly is a rich, fatty section that provides a wonderful contrast of meat and fat, ensuring a flavorful outcome.

Best Cooking Methods

  • Slow roasting
  • Braising
  • Grilling

Popular Dishes

  • Bacon: Cured and sliced belly is what gives us this breakfast staple.
  • Pork belly roast: When roasted, the fat crisps up, providing a delightful crunch.


Overview: Ribs can be both tender and flavorful, offering a great canvas for various marinades and seasonings.

Best Cooking Methods

  • Grilling
  • Smoking
  • Oven-baking

Popular Dishes

  • BBQ ribs: Slathered in BBQ sauce and grilled to perfection, they’re a crowd-pleaser.
  • Riblets: These are smaller sections of the rib, great for quick grills.

Exploring the Delicacies of Pork’s Lower Sections

Pork’s versatility shines through not just in its prime cuts but also in its lesser-celebrated sections. 

The pig’s lower regions, encompassing the rear leg down to the trotters, bring a delightful array of textures and flavors, ripe for culinary experimentation. 

These sections, though sometimes overlooked, can be the showstoppers of many memorable family feasts.

Ham (or Hind Leg)


Emerging from the rear of the pig, the ham is a substantial cut that’s rich in muscle fibers. Often associated with curing and aging processes, fresh ham is a delightful canvas, absorbing marinades and seasonings with gusto.

Best Cooking Methods

  • Roasting: A slow roast brings out the inherent juiciness of the ham. Pairing it with herbs, spices, or a glaze accentuates its flavors.
  • Braising: Immersing the ham in a flavorful broth or sauce and slow-cooking it ensures it remains succulent and tender.
  • Grilling (for steaks): Thinly sliced ham steaks, marinated or seasoned, can be quickly grilled for a charred finish.

Popular Dishes

  • Holiday ham: An icon of festive feasts, this dish often features a glaze — be it honey, maple, or brown sugar. Paired with cloves, fruits, or mustard, it’s a centerpiece that guarantees second helpings.
  • Ham steaks: Offering quicker cooking times than a full ham, these steaks, especially when paired with pineapple rings or a spicy sauce, can elevate a weekday dinner.

Trotters and Hocks


Trotters (feet) and hocks (lower leg) are treasures for those who appreciate textures in dishes. Laden with collagen, they offer a gelatinous mouthfeel, which not only enhances the dish’s body but also provides numerous health benefits.

Best Cooking Methods

  • Slow cooking: The extended cooking time melts the collagen, rendering a rich, sticky texture to broths and stews.
  • Braising: Combining the benefits of searing with slow-cooked immersion in liquids, braising is a method that truly honors the trotters and hocks.

Popular Dishes

  • Pork knuckle stew: Enriched with vegetables, herbs, and sometimes beans, this stew, with its hearty nature, is particularly cherished during chilly seasons. The hock, with its meat and collagen, makes the stew thick and sumptuous.
  • Trotter jelly: An elegant dish in many Asian cuisines, the collagen from the trotters sets into a jelly or aspic. Infused with seasonings, spices, and sometimes vegetables, it’s a cold dish that’s both flavorful and refreshing.


From the hearty, flavor-packed shoulder perfect for pulled pork, to the tender, lean loin chops, pork offers a smorgasbord of options to delight every palate. 

By understanding the nuances of each cut and its best cooking method, you can confidently create meals that are both delicious and tailored to your family’s preferences.