Written by Andrew Akhaphong, MS, RD, LD Mackenthun’s Fine Foods Registered Dietitian
According to the National Hog Farmer, October has been historically the month when hog farmers marketed their hogs to butchers and consumers.1 This month often marks when hogs are ready for market. Professor Kinsman of the UCONN Department of Animal Science, and Professor Kephart of PSU Department of Animal Science, reports hogs take about six months to meet market weight of 200-250 pounds.2 Additionally, sows (female hogs) are pregnant for approximately 115 days.3 When timed right, this is when the hogs are ready for October marking October annually as National Pork Month!
Pork Cuts (4,5)
There are approximately 12 common meat cuts from pork we consume; however, many cultures will eat everything the animal offers including the offal cuts and feet for example.
Flesh that runs on the underside of the hog belly and surrounds the stomach. High in fat which is prized for products including bacon, pancetta, pork rinds (the fat and skin), and making delicious meals like pork adobo and char siu. Best pan-fried, slow cooked, broiled, or roasted.
There are a variety of pork chops depending on where from the hog it comes from. These include pork loin chops, pork rib chops, pork sirloin chops, and pork top loin chops. Pork chops tend to be leaner and less fatty which makes it prone to drying out and being tough when overcooked. Pork chops that have their bone intact take longer to cook, but is known to have a juicier and tender quality than pork chops without the bone. Best grilled, broiled, or pan-fried.
Also known as pork butt or Boston butt. The name was given by butchers during the New England Colony times and it was considered an inexpensive cut that did not need much attention to care. The butchers packed pork shoulder cuts into barrels, called butts, for storage and transportation; hence, giving the name pork butt to pork shoulder.6 Chops known as pork shoulder chops (sometimes called pork shoulder steaks, blade chops, or blade roast) can also be obtained from this cut. This cut is known for its equal parts meatiness and fattiness making this food a super juicy and tender meat. This makes it ideal for grilling, slow cooking, and roasting.
Also known as boneless chops, these are often leaner and meatier steaks compared to other chops.
Pork cutlets are pounded thinner to make it more tender due to the lower fat content, increasing its risk to be dry and tough when cooking. Pork cutlets are easiest for recipes that call pork cuts to be breaded and pan-fried. Due to its thinness, it quickly bakes, sears on a pan, and grills well.
Comes from the top portion of the hog’s leg. Are often sold smoked or cured in the United States market. This cut becomes easily tough when reheated as a roast for meals like those served around Easter or Thanksgiving. Due to this, cultures like the Black-American diaspora would boil ham, either whole or cuts, with other ingredients such as black eyed peas and greens, to reintroduce moisture into this meat.
Cuts from the pork loin are the leanest and tender of all pork cuts. Even though pork cuts like pork chops and cutlets have detrimental effects when overcooked, pork loin cuts are the most concerning for overcooking and ruining its quality. Cuts from the pork loin will have the word “loin” associated with its label when purchasing from the market. Examples include tenderloin and loin chop. There are three sections of pork loin.
- Blade end which is closest to the shoulder and is the fattiest
- Sirloin end which is closest to the rump and can be boney
- Center which is where the lean cuts come from and the most expensive
There are four types of rib cuts that often confuse consumers
- Back ribs are meatier than spare ribs, but not as much compared to country-style ribs; these are curved and shorter
- Country-style ribs are the fattiest and meatiest of the rib cuts and often come without bone
- Spare ribs are the least meaty of the ribs; however, are popular in many cultures for its tender, chewy texture. Spare ribs take the most benefit from being slow cooked very long
- Louis-style ribs are often flatter and easier to brown on the grill; additionally, these often come with a membrane that can give these ribs a chewy-tender texture that can be removed
Roasts are chunks of pork meat that are not cut into their smaller parts like into a pork chop or cutlet and instead, sold whole as is.
- Pork blade roasts are the fattiest of the roasts but the least expensive while still packing flavor
- Pork tenderloin are the most popular for roasting as they are lean, moist, flavorful, and easiest to cook
- Pork rib roasts, also known as pork center loin roasts, are fattier than pork tenderloin while still lean; are juicier than pork tenderloin
- Pork sirloin roasts are the leanest of all and also less expensive than pork tenderloin
- Pork butt (or pork shoulder), also known as Boston butt (see above)
Pork Hocks and Shanks
These cuts are the shins of the hog and are often smoked; however, it is the shank that is often sold raw compared to the hocks. Hocks have the skin intact but when it is removed it is marketed as shanks. These cuts are often used to make broths or stocks, are slow cooked, or add flavor to beans and greens.
Pork Knuckles and Trotters
Knuckles and trotters (also known as feet) are often slow cooked due to its high connective tissue and collagen content. They are also higher in fat and connective tissue which requires long, slow cooking or braising. Do not throw away that liquid and fat as it makes great stocks, broth, and gravies. If one is seeking the meatiest flavor of all pork cuts then knuckles and trotters are the way to go!
Based on a 3-ounce serving of pork per the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Selenium is a mineral that is necessary for thyroid health. What selenium does is it acts as a starter for the pituitary gland to produce thyroid stimulating hormone, or TSH. Thyroid stimulating hormone then communicates to the thyroid to produce the hormones triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). A serving provides approximately 40 micrograms of selenium, or 75% of the recommended intake per the USDA. For women the recommendation it is 65 micrograms daily while for men it is 55 micrograms daily!
Tryptophan is an amino acid, or protein, that supports sleep health. It is an ingredient to support the body in producing natural melatonin. For those who ever ate a large serving of turkey during Thanksgiving and feels tired after awhile that means they have been exposed to a large amount of tryptophan! A serving of pork provides approximately 313 milligrams of tryptophan while turkey of that same serving provides approximately 200 milligrams of tryptophan. The recommend daily intake of tryptophan is 250 – 425 milligrams per day.7
Thiamin, also known as Vitamin B1, is considered an essential nutrient. Essential nutrient means it is only obtained through food and the body is not able to naturally make it. In human metabolism, thiamin is required to breakdown carbohydrates into its simple forms to produce energy for the brain. This energy is called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. When a person’s intake of thiamin is low, a condition called beriberi may occur. Beriberi is a disorder that is common in alcoholism. Symptoms include loss of appetite, weakness, pain, shortness of breath, and swelling.
- Day, C. Great facts about pork. National Hog Farmer. October 1, 2017. Retrieved September 27, 2023.
- McWilliam, G. Raising pigs at home. The Pig Site. July 18, 2004. Retrieved September 27, 2023.
- Developmental milestones during pig gestation. PennState Extension. June 25, 2021. Retrieved September 27, 2023.
- Pork cuts. National Pork Board. n.d. Retrieved September 27, 2023.
- Watson, M. A complete guide to pork cuts. September 2, 2023. Retrieved September 27, 2023.
- Sontag, E. Pork shoulder demystified: Boston butt versus picnic shoulder. Serious Eats. June 5, 2023. Retrieved September 27, 2023.
- Richard, DM, et al. L-tryptophan: Basic metabolic functions, behavioral research, and therapeutic indications. International Journal of Tryptophan Research. 2009.