What Good is a Pig: Cuts of Pork, Nose-to-Tail

Walter's Pork Cut Chart of Archimedes Boar
Archimedes Pork Cut Chart
Click to Zoom

We’ll refer to the Pork Cut Chart above time-to-time. You can click on that to zoom in so that you’re able to read the smaller type or print it out if you would like. It is also available as a wall poster and a T-shirt.

Reality of Economics and Social Justice

All of the pig is good, nose-to-tail but some of the pig sells for a lot more than other parts. This is not a social injustice. This is simply an economic reality. There are only two tenderloins on a pig and twenty people want them. There is only so much bacon to a pig and virtually everybody wants that. You can’t buy a pig and ask for it to be all cut into chops and bacon – pigs just don’t work that way although I’m trying to get there through our selective breeding program. :)

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Supply is limited and the rest of the pig must be eaten too in order to avoid waste. The people who are willing to pay the higher prices for the high demand cuts make the rest of the pig available at lower prices to the rest of us. Be thankful that the 1% likes and pays for tenderloin. This is not social injustice – this is just economic reality.

Additionally, not all cultures make use of all of the pig, or not in the same way. We find very little market for heart and tongue – delicious as they both are. A few customers know this secret and buy them up but it took years to develop that market. Nobody buys the balls, at least not here – A feast for our livestock guardian dogs.

There is next to no market for lungs and pig guts. One of the advantages of our forth coming on-farm slaughter facility is the offal, literally the parts that fall off, will be made use in feeding our chickens during the winter and our compost piles to recapture their nutrients for our farm’s soil to grow crops in the future. With on-farm slaughter, nothing goes to waste.

Kickstarter Meat

Selling All of the Pig

We work hard to use or sell every bit of the pig every week. It is a challenge. There is an old saying that it takes a village to eat a pig. We see this in the sales. Everyone wants the high on the hog cuts. The middle-of-the-hog cuts also sell out with ease. But the low-on-the-hog can be a challenge some weeks. We price them accordingly. Sometimes those cuts will build up in the freezer for a few weeks before they sell. We work to sell these parts, through pricing, talking up recipes, trying recipes ourselves so we can talk about them and getting the word about about using the lesser known cuts of the pig.

Chef A has hocks on her menu for the next four months so those are taken care of. All winter Chef B has been making delicious stews that he thickens and flavors with trotters. Chef C takes all the tongues he can get for pickling and smoking and he’s now taking all the ears for a new recipe. Chef D took all the hearts, some tongues and a big load of ribs. Tails have been going to a researcher on fatty acids. Through all of this most of the pig, most weeks gets eaten by our customers. What doesn’t goes to the farmer’s table or the livestock guardian dogs – they work hard and have to eat too. It takes a village, and its dogs, to eat a pig.

When we’re out of one high demand cut some week we’ve had people say, “well just butcher another pig.” But it isn’t that simple. Without a market for enough of the pig we don’t want to take another pig every week. That would be wasteful, take up freezer space which uses energy and fail to encourage people to be more adventurous eaters. So sometimes we have the outtas. Sometimes we have to tell a new chef they’ll need to wait, they’ll need to work with us on this and earn seniority for picking the high demand cuts. The price of the high-on-the-hog cuts goes up and the low-on-the-hog goes down to adjust. This is economics. The process works, each week’s batch of pigs sells and we use the pigs nose-to-tail. For the most part.

Taking it from the Top

Let’s start at the top of the pig and work our way down to way beyond the cuts of the pig – everything is useful. Along the way we’ll discuss what is literally high-on-the-hog, middlin’ low-on-the-hog, sausage, oddments and other things. Refer to the chart above, you can drag it around the screen in its enlarged form or put it into another window by control-clicking it or right-clicking it.

High-on-the-Hog

High-on-the-Hog cuts that are literally high up on the hog, along the back. These start with the sirloin, tenderloin, loin roast, loin chops and the Boston Butt. Refer to the Pork Cut Chart and you’ll see what I mean – these high priced cuts all come from the back of the pig, high on the hog. It is the sale of these cuts of pork that pay for the piglet, for feed, for raising the pig and for slaughter & butchering. It is because folks will pay that extra dollar for these higher priced cuts that pigs are farmable from the economic point of view and thus produce a lot of other good meat for everyone else at a more economical price.

Why are these cuts expensive? Simple: limits of supply and high demand.

Cuts from High-on-the-hog

What are the High-on-the-Hog cuts?

  • Sirloin – At the base of the spine between the ham and the loin. Typically sliced thin to cutlets. A lean meat.
  • Tenderloin – One of the leanest meats on the pig and perhaps the highest demand meat of all. Each pig has two and there are never enough. Often sliced to medallions.
  • Loin – Roasts and pork chops. This meat is probably the most commonly associated with pigs along with ham and bacon. These are the primary muscles of the back of the pig along the spine. Chine out for easy cut roasts, bone out or in at your preference. Some people like the flavor added by the marrow.
  • Boston Butt – Also known as shoulder, not to be confused with picnic shoulder which comes from the front leg just below the Boston Butt. In my opinion, this is one of best pieces of meat on a pig due to the marbling and the way the three muscles of the back come together. For roasts get it bone out so you don’t have to deal with carving around the shoulder blade. The Boston Butt can be kept whole or divided into roasts. This is prime meat to be used for pulled pork, followed by picnic shoulder and ham. It can also be cut to delicious steaks, often called country ribs by some butchers.

Having Your Pork Chop and Eating Tenderloin
Note that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. That is to say, in some cases, making a particular cut precludes making others.

For example, Bone-in lower loin chops contain the tenderloin the way it is normally cut at the butcher. You could get a whole loin, preferably chine-off to make cutting easier, and then strip the tenderloin and have tenderloin as well as semi-bone in chops. But with normal pork chops the tenderloin is that little eye of meat so that makes it no longer available as a whole piece.

Likewise if you get bone-in pork chops from the loin then you miss out on baby-back ribs because they are the bone in the chops.

With meaty spare ribs you lose the chest bacon. Meaty spare ribs are wonderful, especially smoked, but if you cut your pig that way then it leaves just belly bacon.

Another example is Boston Butt roast vs shoulder steaks. These are both cut from the same meat where three muscles at the top of the back come together layered with delicious fat. Some people want this for making pulled pork. Others for a roast. I love it for steaks. My absolute favorite cut of pork is the giant, flavorful, highly marbled Boston Butt steaks off of an old sow or boar. A single steak may be two to four pounds. Enough to feed a family.

Middle-of-the-Hog

Middle-of-the-Hog cuts are next down in the economic tier and they literally come from the middle of the pig. Many of these are made into delicious, and very high priced, products through additional curing, brining, smoking, drying and other processing. Think bacon, hams, proscuitto, sausages, hot dogs, salami, etc.

Each of these requires some additional work to produce the final product. These steps result in loss of water and trim (shrinkage), cost time and money all of which drives the price up and concentrates the flavor. This uses portions of the pig that aren’t in high demand as cuts and turns them into delectable dining. Everyone loves bacon – vegans speak of it in fearful whispers, calling it “the gate way meat that tempts people back to the traditional, sustainable, omnivore diet.” Understandable.

Cuts from the Middle-of-the-Hog

What are the Middle-of-the-Hog cuts?

  • Ham – Hams are typically brined and smoked to get their distinctive flavor. I’ve always been a big fan of big hams, the rear leg of the pig. I grew up with ham being a special meal and love the left overs. It’s a long slow cook. I like to glaze ours with maple sugar. Brown sugar or honey are two other common glazes. If you’re intimidated by such a huge hunk of meat consider slicing it to steaks or just cutting it in half. The ham can be done boneless, semi-boneless where the hip is removed or bone-in. The first is the easiest to carve but the bone adds flavor and can be saved for making soup. We also offer ham cubes which are great for stir fry and other dishes. Lastly, when in doubt, grind the ham to make ground for sausage, meat balls, kielbasa or hot dogs. No discussion of ham is done without mentioning the highest priced hams, the prosciutto which is salted and dry aged.
  • Picnic Shoulder – Roast bone-in or bone-out or made into pulled pork. It can also be treated much like the ham, ground for a variety of uses.
  • Belly – Pork bellies are most often made into bacon through a brining or dry curing process and then smoking. Smoked protein, fat, sugar and salt – What’s not to like! Pork bellies can also be made into sausage, panchetta, pork sides as is popular here in Vermont, salt pork and many other things. It is a versatile mix of meat and fat. One of the most delicious things is to leave the bacon on the spare ribs, soak them in a tomato based sauce and then smoke them for BBQ meaty ribs.
  • Ribs – There are three main different types of ribs: Spare Ribs which come two racks to a side of pork and baby back ribs which are in the pork chops when bone-in. For the ultimate ribs, try smoked BBQ meaty ribs mentioned above in the bacon.
  • Sausage – The sausage tends to come from the middle of the hog. Sometimes as high as the butt, rarely higher. Mostly the sausage consists of meat from the hams, picnic shoulder and belly. If the demand for hock’s is low then the meat from them is available as well as jowl occasionally. We make Hot Italian, Sweet Italian, Breakfast Sage, Kielbasa and our famous all natural smoked hot dogs. In the future I would like to start making a breakfast maple sausage. Use high quality ingredients and keep the list short. We use real Vermont maple syrup from a farmer down the road for our hot dogs – delicious! For more about our sausages see this article.
  • Ground – Ground is essentially sausage before spicing and linking. It is one of the most versatile meats. You can make your own sausage, spaghetti sauce, meat balls, shepherd’s pie, lasagna, tacos, enchiladas and so many other wonderful dishes.

Low-on-the-Hog

The cuts in the high and medium areas of the pig are what are familiar to most American shoppers. But there is a lot more to the pig. Rural folk often cook some parts which urbanites may raise an eyebrow at. It is all good eating so keep going down the pig.

Cuts from Low-on-the-Hog

What are the Low-on-the-Hog cuts?

  • Hocks – There is a surprising amount of meat on the hock which can go to sausage or be served roasted. They’re very good smoked. Excellent for soup and stew making.
  • Jowl – The cheek of the pig is much like bacon. Smoke it. Many chefs use this slightly lower cost jowl bacon for flavoring chili and stews. Slightly different texture than belly. Jowl is also excellent in sausage both fresh and smoked.
  • Neck Bones – Interestingly, different butchers call these by different names. Depending on the deboning skill of the meat cutter there may be more or less meat on these. I’ve known some butchers who call it “neck bones” all the way down into the base of Boston Butt. We call it neck bones for just the neck. Delicious eating stewed, souped, low roasted or in a tomato sauce long cooked and the meat can be put to ground too.

Oddments

Where low-on-the-pig ends and oddments begins is all a matter of personal point of view. Generally the organs are considered fairly low on the hog. Feet are at the bottom so let’s start there.

What are the Oddments?

  • Trotters – Pig’s Feet – Pickled, smoked, stewed or roasted. Sliced and sauced is also nice. There is a lot of great cartilage in the foot which makes an excellent thickener for soups and stews. Smoked they add flavor. Try roasting them and then slow simmering in the soup or stew pot. I’m told that eating this cartilage is good for my own joints. They put it in pills so perhaps it is better to get it direct. I eat a lot of soups and stews all winter – warms the belly and the body.
  • Caul Fat – Lacy fat found around the intestines. Rarely available. Use to moisten roasts.
  • Leaf Fat – A high quality harder fat found around the kidney used for pies and pasteries.
  • Back Fat – Render to lard for cooking or soap. Cut to strips for use on top of roasts. Make cracklin’s and chicharones.
  • Heart – Heart is the leanest of meat and very heart healthy. It is delicious stir fried with onions, peppers, mushrooms and strips of back fat.
  • Liver – Paté! I also like liver wrapped in bacon. Ah…
  • Tongue – A delicacy smoked or pickled and then thin sliced for hor-de-vores.
  • Bones – Soup and stew stock. Roast or smoke for the best flavor. Also great for carving. Try throwing knuckle bones for the original game of dice.
  • Ears – Fry crisp as chips or thin slice for salads
  • Head – Soup, stew, head cheese or roasted as a buffet center piece. Think of head cheese, also known as brawn, as solid stew that can be sliced and made into a sandwich.
  • Brains – There are people who eat them. Personally, I wouldn’t as there is some question of viral, prion or other issues associated with brain tissue.
  • Cartilage – The connective tissue, particularly in the feet, is an excellent stock thickener. This is also recoverable from the skin.
  • Skin – The skin is edible and it is also made into non-food items. There are three ways of cleaning a pig of the bristles: skinning, burning or scald & scrape. The first is faster if you’re just doing one pig and don’t have the specialized equipment. The second works but is my least favorite. Scald and scrape is the best method if you have the time, hot water and equipment. This last method preserves the skin on the pig so that it protects the meat, you keep more of the fat, the bristles are recoverable and you can then make pork rinds, chicharones, jelly or leather. Scald and scrape is rather essential if you plan to do a pig roast.

Offal

These are things that you typically can not get from a USDA inspected slaughter facility. They are in such low demand in our country that it is typically not worth the time, expense and effort for meat processors to do the necessary USDA HACCP/PR†† requirements. If you want these look to custom slaughter at home.

What are the Offal?

  • Blood – Used in many sausage recipes as well as plant fertilizer. An excellent source of iron.
  • Casings – Traditionally sausages were packed in natural casings made from the cleaned intestines. Many sausage today are done with artificial casings. Look on the sausage package to find out what type of casing was used. We use natural casings.
  • Chitlins – Intestines of a pig.
  • Stomach – Traditionally used like casings or for children’s balloons.
  • Bladder – Used like stomaches.
  • BallsRocky Mountain Oysters
  • Lungs – Fried up in some parts of the world. Rarely available in the USA.

Other Parts & Pieces

Well that’s not all of the pig! There’s more to be used even if you’re not planning to eat it.

What are the uses of a pig?

  • Tusks – Domestic pigs have four continuously growing tusks. These are found in both boars and sows but the boars have much larger and faster growing tusks. Younger pigs have thinner smaller tusks. These make excellent jewelry and are a good substitute for money. Good luck, fortune, fertility and strength are some of the special attributes of tusks in many cultures.
  • Hooves – The pig’s don’t actually have hooves like a horse, they’re more like nails. I’ve wondered if one might make guitar picks out of them. Someday I’ll try that. I know of no other use for them. Do you?
  • Manure – Pig manure is better than gold. Age it a bit in a compost pile and grow the most wonderful vegetables. Ideally have the animals spread their manure out over the pastures – saves you the labor. Our livestock have been turning our poor mountain soils into rich pastures and gardens. The manure is why I originally got livestock, I needed an organic source of nutrients for my gardens.
  • Compost – You can compost the manure, which means collecting it. I don’t generally do that as for the most part the animals spread it on the pastures. What I do compost is the dead bodies of livestock that die on the farm as well as the offal. This cycles the nutrients back to our land. Again, wonderful gardening.
  • Bush Hogging – Pigs are renown for their bush hogging ability. So much so that a mechanical tractor implement is named for them – the bush hog. Don’t over estimate them though. Three little pigs aren’t going to bush hog a large field. It takes large numbers to do a lot of work. But if you’re patient and use managed rotational grazing techniques they’ll gradually turn poor land into good land.
  • Tilling – If you want to have the pigs dig up the soil then mob graze them. See Rootless in Vermont.
  • Nutrient Recovery – Pigs are great at using what would otherwise be waste materials. Old produce, field gleanings, waste dairy, whey are all good feeds for pigs. It is only now in modern times that the pig has become the primary consumer of cheap subsidized grains. Except, those grains are no longer cheap now that there is demand for the ethanol.
  • Nutrient Retrieval – Pigs and other animals are able to graze on pasture, turning what is not edible for us into high quality protein and lipids in a sustainable, environmentally friendly manner that creates habitat variety by maintaining margins of forest and field where the bio-diversity is greatest.
  • Caloric Storage – Livestock store calories. In the summer we graze them on pastures. They carry that energy over to the winter when we have no pastures or fresh foods available. In a northern climate this storage of summer into winter is essential to life. Herbivores die off in large numbers due to starvation during harsh winters because they lack this storage mechanism other than their own body fat. Omnivores and carnivores are able to get through the winter through hunting and ranching, by culling their herds of herbivores.
  • Oink – The soft grunts of a sow calling her piglets to eat can lull you to sleep at night.

Every bit the pig is useful, during life and beyond. Pigs were traditionally known as the mortgage lifters back before modern factory farming. In the past they were kept on dairy farms and known as the mortgage lifters because the sale of the pork saved the farm in hard times. The pigs ate any excess milk as well as the whey from butter and cheese making. These pigs would then get made into hams, bacon and cuts which helped make the dairy profitable. This was back before the head of the USDA told farmers to specialize, “to get big or get out.”

With the advent of the large scale grain farming in the mid-western states the problem became how to ship the calories to the cities efficiently. The grains were fed to pigs and cattle which were then shipped alive or processed into meats including hams and bacon. Thus the “pork belly” commodities market.

Having our own on-farm butcher shop will let us more easily do unusual specialty cuts. Check out our Order Form and Cut Sheet for a list of cuts the we do standard on the Literature Page. On the By-The-Cuts order form you’ll notice how the pricing changes as you work your way down from the High-on-the-Hog cuts to the oddments. The most cost effective way to buy pork is to buy a whole pig all at once, and even cut it yourself as shown in the By-the-Pig section at the bottom of the order form which is where the cut sheet comes into play.

If you are interested in the cutting your own meat, check out master butcher Cole Ward’s DVDs about meat cutting. We apprenticed with him for 18 months to learn the art of meat cutting. He is a delight to work with. Check out the trailer on YouTube.

Fresh vs Frozen vs Cured vs Smoked

One thing that causes some confusion is the term ‘Fresh’. Consumers tend to think of the dichotomy being ‘Fresh’ vs ‘Frozen’ but in pork it is ‘Fresh’ vs ‘Cured’. Curing is the application of salts and spices to the meat, typically in preparation for smoking.

As to fresh vs frozen, realize that most restaurants buy their pork, fish and other meats in frozen or immediately freeze it. This maintains quality when done properly. The best is the special blast freezers that butchers often have which will very rapidly cool and freeze the meat so that tiny micro ice crystals are formed rather than the longer ice crystals produced during a slow freeze. The longer crystals puncture the cell walls and release cellular fluid degrading the meat. Thus for the best results, have the butcher blast freeze the meat and then keep it at the lowest temperature possible.

Speaking of freezers, colder is better, chest freezers are better than upright freezers and automatic defrost is a no-no since it periodically thaws and melts the contents of the freezer damaging the food.

When thawing meat, do it slowly. Thawing in the refrigerator the night before is ideal. Never thaw in the microwave – unless you like to eat shoe leather.

Challenge Yourself

Challenge yourself to eat a new part of the pig. Try the ultra-lean high protein heart thin sliced and fried with onions. Fry up some ears into crispy treats. Learn to make chicharones. There’s a lot more to a pig than tenderloin and pork chops. Learn to be an adventurous chef and eat like the farmer’s family.

You may also like the article:
Smoked Pork Products,
Our Sausages and
What is a Half Pig Share.

Our family apprenticed for 18 months with a master butcher Cole Ward to learn the art of meat cutting. Cole has now retired after 45 years behind the meat counter and he travels farm to farm doing butchering for small groups as well as workshops to spread his knowledge of the craft. Cole has brought out a wonderful set of DVDs. You can get Cole’s video direct from him and autographed:
Cole Ward colethebutcher@yahoo.com

If you like smoked pork you may be interested in the topic of nitrates on NoWeirdStuff.org near the bottom.

Outdoors: 62°F/60°F Sunny, Breezy
Tiny Cottage: 68°F/65°F

Daily Spark: Oink if you like bacon.

A live pig typically weighs about 250 lbs. Hanging weight after slaughter is about 180 lbs. Typically the cuts come out to about 120 to 150 lbs depending on how their cut (e.g., bone-in vs bone-out) and additional processing like hams and bacon might be about 20 lbs to 40 lbs depending on what’s smoked. Sausage might be 15 to 25 lbs or about 10% to 14% of a pig. On average hot dogs and kielbasa, both of which are smoked sausages, represent about 2% to 5% of the pig the average pig over the year for us.

HACCP/PR is the USDA’s protocol requirements that must be in place detailing every step of the process to ensure safe food. They stand for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points / Pathogen Reduction. This program was put in place in the late 1990’s to protect the public’s health. Some say that in the process they have made it difficult to have innovative solutions and limited creative products. Is it worth it? Certainly at some levels. The further you are away from the source the more controls you need.

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor…

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47 Responses to What Good is a Pig: Cuts of Pork, Nose-to-Tail

  1. Bryant Patten says:

    So if buys ‘pork butt’ for making pulled pork – is it Boston Butt or Butt End?

    • Usually people use the Boston Butt or Picnic Shoulder for pulled pork but the ham can also be used and all three can be mixed if one is not enough. The ham tends to be leaner than the shoulder.

  2. irene says:

    do you have a use for the brain? other than the dogs?
    for reasons best not gone into i have a whole skinned pig head in my freezer……

    • Yes, brains, good point. There are people who eat them. Personally, I wouldn’t as there is some question of viral, prion or other issues associated with brain tissue. I’ll add that to the list.

      • Kristin says:

        Traditionally, the pig brain was removed at butchering and immediately fried up with eggs.

        For Irene: I just put the whole head in the pot, brains and all, for head cheese (tastes & smells much like a pot roast). I figure the brain is full of minerals that come out in the gelatinous broth. We don’t actually eat the brain though. That goes to the dogs. I’m not that much of a traditionalist.

    • Erina says:

      At some shops you can buy the heads, in my family we roast them and have no scraps left. In reteraunts they sell pork cheeks expencively.. I love the brain, tonge and cheeks best on the head. :D

  3. Kristin says:

    Great info, as always, Walter! The jowls are my favorite…..made into Guanciale, Italian Jowl Bacon. Better than belly bacon, imho. Amazing it is considered “low on the hog”!

  4. becky3086 says:

    This was really good and I enjoyed reading the whole thing. We plan on butchering our pigs ourselves and I want to use as much as possible so am glad for the extra ideas. I plan to smoke the jowls, possibly save the skin for dog treats since my dog loves cooked pigs ears but there are only two ears per pig, I will definitely save the trotters for soup, i am not real sure about the feet yet, I have to learn a bit more about pickling them. Thanks for the info on the brain, we’ll skip that one but will definitely be using the heart and liver and I may clean some intestines for casings if I can find out enough about how to do it.

  5. Mel V. says:

    In your operation, how much of the skeleton goes out with the associated cuts of meat and how much has to get disposed of separately? Do you sell bones for soup? Pitch it out with the offal? Have a pile of pig skulls behind the house?

    • Yes, yes, yes and yes. :)

      Yes, we have several piles of skulls that are being cleaned by insects. They’re quite beautiful. We get tusks from these and in some cases people have asked for complete skulls with tusks or top skulls with upper tusks. They are a rather unique decoration.

      Yes, we sell soup bones. There isn’t a lot of demand. Unfortunately, soup and stew making from scratch is a bit of a lost art. I was raise on it and have taught our kids. We eat a lot of bone based soup broths. Delicious. I will publish some of our family recipes in the cooking section. Maybe we can provoke a revival.

      Yes, some of the skeleton goes out in hocks, trotters, heads, bone-in chops and other bone-in cuts. We also sell a lot of bone-out as that is in high demand. Thus the availability of soup bones.

      Yes, we dispose of left over bones that don’t sell in cuts, don’t sell as soup bones, we don’t eat or aren’t saved for the skulls or dice. We have a large pack of large livestock guardian herding dogs and they get first pick at that point. They’ll devour even the largest bones. It is quite something to hear them snap right through a thigh bone – it makes one realize the extraordinary power of their jaws and teeth. When there is too much for them the rest goes to the compost piles. There the bones completely disintegrate, breaking down into wonderful soil amendment which we use on our gardens and fruit tree orchards.

      • Ken in NH says:

        About how long does it take for entire bones to disintegrate in the compost pile?

        This spring I was spreading two year old compost and found every chicken bone that was in there – whole. Other than a weathered look, they did not appear to have broken down much at all. Perhaps adding lime would help…?

        • It sounds like your pile isn’t getting hot enough. I find that after six months I find nearly nothing recognizable. Even big boar bones, leg bones, whole skulls even, are gone. I don’t add lime. Just a mix of carbon, nitrogen, moisture and a bit of dirt. I rarely flip piles, tending more towards the static form. Perhaps one flip after a few months. Most piles sit longer than six months. The bones that I do find tend to be ones that were somehow out too close to an edge and didn’t heat up enough. The pile should feel quite warm. See these composting posts.

  6. Jim Challenger says:

    Hi,

    I’ve read this article and the one on smoked products. Sooo good. Thanks for the education. I am, however, still confused about bacon because I want to try curing my own ala Ruhlman (who pointed me to you for a donation btw). What’s the difference between chest bacon and belly bacon? I have yet to buy pork belly here in Chicago because I am trying to get educated first. I might have to go back to school haha.

    Thanks!
    Jim

    • The chest bacon comes from the area over the ribs. The belly bacon comes from the area over the abdomen. Generally they are considered together and just called fresh pork belly which can then get made into bacon or many other fine treats. In the case of the meaty spare ribs one leaves the chest bacon on the ribs, cuts it square and then proceeds to the BBQ sauce and smoking stage. You can, of course, treat the belly the same way and it is some very fine eating. The meaty ribs are in very high demand at some restaurants. Just two or three individual ribs are a satisfying meal.

  7. CarolG. says:

    In my own opinion, both pork hearts and tongues are tasty fresh when properly cooked. Of course, if you are a little strange, you might chop vegetable and herbs into rice and cook it and then serve with the pork tongues arranged around it like a flower petal. ..

  8. Ursella says:

    Thank you for this excellent explination of the cuts!

  9. Roger Elkain says:

    A fantastic article. Another I should say. Keep em coming! I love your writing.

  10. David lloyd sutton says:

    I used to use pureed pig liver and carrots fried in butter to make liverwurst. For headcheese we would painstakingly de-hair the heads and, after removing the ears and “coring” them, scalding/rinsing the head with boiling water, pressure cook them in a vinegar solution. After cooling, everything but the skin of the tongue and the brains and eyes got scraped and shredded off, diced small, and then boiled with more vinegar and put into loaf pans to chill in the refrigerator. Head cheese is labor intensive, but worth it in my opinion. Always gave the brains to the dogs or chickens. Think I got that method from my parents.

  11. Bridget says:

    Thanks for such an informative article! I just bought 4 feeder pigs and this has been a tremendous help for me!

  12. Ann Cummings says:

    What an excellent article. We just bought a pig from a local farmer and found this and your what a half pig is articles to be really helpful. I would love to see some cooking articles about what to do with the more unusual parts.

  13. Phillip says:

    Walter,

    A question about the fatty acid profile in my lard:

    I’ve been raising ten-twenty pigs a year for several years, and thanks to you we do pretty well! One of my goals, in complete opposition to conventional wisdom, is for a fattier pig. (The other white meat? No thanks! I want it dark, juicy and tasty). I switched over to raising a heritage breed known for its higher fat content. I have adjusted their diet accordingly and get satisfactory results, but I want to refine my pursuit further. I want to raise the ratio of total saturated fat while lowering their polyunsaturated fat in their lipid profile. I can’t find a place to test my lard. I have several years of samples where I know the variations in their diet, but I don’t know of lab or test to objectively evaluate my efforts. Doing my own tests would be the best, but I’ll send them to a lab if I have to. Any ideas?

  14. Ulma says:

    I was googling around looking for info on pork cuts and found your wonderful cut chart and this fabulous article! Thank you for taking the time to put this all together. You are one amazing pig farmer! You have also wasted my entire evening. I read this and then couldn’t tear myself away from your web site! I love all the great pictures and so many wonderful articles that are both useful and tell stories about your family farm life. You just have to write a book! Now I’ve got to go tell a friend of mine who is a chef here in LA about your beautiful farm and web site. …

  15. Brie Sievert says:

    I also wanted to write to say Thank you for all the information you post on your website – we have raised 2 sets of pigs and I can’t tell you how many times I have gone to your website for information. I enjoy reading!
    Brie

  16. Robyn says:

    Hi Walter. This was very informative, thank you. I have a sow that I kept back for breeding but won’t take, so we are going to put her in the freezer. She has a scent to her, like curry powder, and I would like to know if that scent will transfer to the meat? She is currently in a pen but has the smell all the time, even when freely free ranging over our whole property. It is not an unpleasant smell, though she is still alive, and I don’t think the smell will be as pleasant on a carcass. Thanks very much!

  17. Robyn says:

    Hi Walter. Thanks for this brilliant breakdown of all the cuts and their uses. We sent our first pig to the butcher a year ago and retained his sister for breeding as she is a nice sort. Unfortunately she didn’t breed back so we are sending her to the butcher as well. My concern is that she has a “spicy” smell to her, our friends refer to her as the curry pig. The smell is there whether she is in a pen or free ranging on our whole property. It’s not unpleasant while she is alive, in fact it is quite nice, but I worry that her carcass will have the same smell which wouldn’t be nice. Have you come across this before? She is a crossbred pig, probably large white crossed with something with spots, and her diet consists of horse food (grains ie lucerne, oats, corn, molasses, etc – she gets a cup of the mix twice a day), hay, milk from our cows and the odd kitchen scrap. She’s just under 2 years old now and weighs about 100kgs. She is well covered but not fat by any means, nor is she thin. We will mainly be making sausages and some bacon, possibly a gammon on the bone as well. Thanks in advance.

    • Interesting. I’ve not heard of “curry” or “spicy” smell like that before. Is it perhaps her heat smell? If so then in a week she may smell differently. Let me know how she tastes and cooks up.

  18. Annie (Mulegirl) says:

    I know it’s a long ways out, but thank you for posting this, Walter. I hopped to this page after reading another one you’d linked on HT, and it is just what we needed since we’re sending our first two pigs to the processor in about two weeks. The comments thread is pretty useful as well–I hadn’t thought of essentially using the head as pot roast.

  19. Patrick says:

    Just wow. Great post that we will share.

    I have two failed sows going to the processor at the end of the month, and so I called friends to see who might want some older pork. The list of desired cuts almost exactly matches the order you have here. So from my perspective, you nailed it.

    The wife and I still don’t understand the lure of center-cut loin chops. When we cut the shoulder into steaks and share them at dinner parties, everyone is blown away at how much better they are. The irony is some of those same friends are the ones who are primarily asking for CC loin chops!

    I think it’s an education thing. People are so far from the source these days that they just cannot envision what that steak looked like when it walked. The term “sirloin” confuses everyone I talk to. They might recognize it by sight in the store (cut and on a shelf), but if you asked them to swat it on a pig they’d have no clue where to hit.

  20. Peter says:

    Must be spring if “best of” posts are up for the whole week. :-)

    • Actually, it’s all the fault of a massive giant company named after a number with 100 zeros. A lot of people have suggested I do ads on my blog to help pay for the server. Last week I applied and their robot rejected my site as having “Insufficient Content”. I spoke with their humans who said I should do what I’ve done and voila, after several attempts which took about a week the robot at the company that shall not be named decided my web site was acceptable. Now I have to do the next step in their process and then I can put things back in order. Watch this space… :)

  21. Michelle says:

    Wow, perfect information! I was last-minute looking up “best cuts of pork” so that I can use the right language when explaining to our butcher which cuts we’d prefer, thanks for this in-depth page. Last time we used all the wrong terminology and she used all cutting terminology and we were speaking Greek to each other! I think your information will help make it easier for us to “speak pork” to each other! Thanks!

  22. danielle says:

    yes I would like to contact somebody about pig feet but I do not see your phone number if you could email me I would like to place an order

  23. Chrissy says:

    This is a great resource. I have it book marked for later. A friend helped me butcher a small hog a year ago. I mostly made steaks and roasts since I didn’t really know what I was doing. It was a feeder I raised and I am new to farming. It was tough to use all parts. I have two or three more feeders. Not sure if one will be a breeder or feeder. Anyway, I am determined to use the whole hog of the next one butchered. I have a few butchering books, and other helpful books. I will use this web page as well. But what I really need is some more detail on harverting those not so common items. I have trouble getting the tongue out of my goats. Is there a trick with hogs? I plan to bring two halves to a friend 1000 miles away. I might want to bring other parts like the head. If I skin the hog, and remove the head, what do I need to do next? I just can’t seem to figure it out. I will remove the brain for my leather work with the hide. But there are other useful parts to the head, right? What would be the right steps to get the most use out of it? Is there a book out there that can help me with these finder details besides the biggies of the roasts, ribs, etc. thanks for any help.

    • I’m not sure how to describe it other than reaching in to cut the attachment and then pulling out the tongue. This is done typically before the head is removed although I you could do it after too. We make brawn, onion soup and other bone based broth soups from the head bones, trotters and other bones. There are several books about using the pig “nose-to-tail”. Here’s a search pattern.

  24. Monja says:

    Fantastic read. I could sit here all night.

  25. Louise says:

    Hi Walter,

    I really appreciate the information you provide on your website. It’s helped me out on more than on occasion. My question is whether you think sausage made from the shoulder is any different (better or worse) than sausage made from the fresh ham, assuming the fat ratio used is the same for both?
    Thank you!

  26. doc suess says:

    Thank you, I live in ct and am picking up my first butchered pig today, found this page very good advice, also the page on half pigs helped

  27. Caroline says:

    I am searching for help with how to cook our 2 + year old pork. We bought two sows and a boar for the purposes of ground clearance and killed one for the pot. Fine. However we are struggling with the flavour and tough texture of the meat. For instance you could not roast a typical roasting joint for the usual amount of time one would a joint bought at the local butchers. The upshot is we have a freezer full of pork and ham that I would love to know how to cook. In days of yore this kind of meat must have been the norm and indeed I am doing my research. Your website is extremely good reading and informative. Could I smoke/cure this lot do you think? Regards Caroline Drake Cornwall UK

    • My first thought is that two years old is not very old for a pig and I would not expect it to be tough meat in the slightest. If the meat was not hung, aged or chilled appropriately but instead was hot cut it could be tough and that maybe the cause of the problem. How the animal was slaughtered, if it was stressed, can also cause tough meat.

      But the question is how to deal with tough meat now that you have it… The general rule of tough meat is to either tenderize it such as with an enzyme or by a long slow cook, or both. The trick is to get the meat fibers to break down, but not dry and toughen. You might try looking through this.

  28. karen says:

    Thank you so much for this. I always get flustered when calling in cuts to my butcher for our annual whole hog!

  29. Troy says:

    You mentioned not knowing what to do with the hooves? I have seen pickled pigs feet the use the whole hoof.

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