PORK SHOULDER, or PORK BUTT
Starting from the front of the pig: Pork shoulder (also called pork butt or “Boston butt”) is generally sold as a 5 to 10 pound boneless roast at the grocery store. (Pork shoulder chops are sold with bones, but those are less common.)
How to Cook: “It’s a really great thing to roast,” says Mylan. It’s a relatively tough cut, well layered with fat, and is good for braising, slow and low roasting or barbecue. “Shoulders are good for when you’re going to cook for a long period of time and want it to stay moist,” he says. A typical preparation? Pulled pork.
Side note: Why is this cut sometimes called “pork butt” when it doesn’t come from the actual rear end? “The word butt has its roots in old English, which is a quasi Germanic language, and butt means ‘the widest part,’” says Mylan. “On a pig, the widest part is the shoulder, not its actual ass. And that’s why it’s called the butt.”
Immediately below the shoulder is the next cut you’re likely to find: the Picnic Ham (occasionally called the picnic shoulder). “Another total misnomer,” says Mylan. “When you hear “ham” you think of the rear leg. But the picnic ham is the lower part of shoulder.” This is another relatively tough and fatty cut, though it is often sold bone-in.
Cook: Braise or smoke – two good long, slow cooking methods to render the fat and make the meat tender and juicy. The sizeable fat cap on the picnic ham is great for making cracklings.
COUNTRY STYLE SPARERIBS
These come directly off the picnic ham. “Basically, it’s from the brisket area of the pig, if pigs had brisket — it’s basically a bone-in brisket,” says Mylan. “You get the front part of the spareribs with a lot of meat.” The country-style spareribs contain a combination of dark and light meat.
Cook: Braise or stew.
The pork loin comes from the pig’s back and is large, lean and tender.
Cook: “The whole loin roast is more of a slow roast,” says Mylan. But don’t cook it too much, or on too high of a heat – because it is so lean, it will get pretty dry.
Thick or thin, bone-in or bone-less pork chops are cut from meat perpendicular to the spine, often from the loin.
Cook: “These are a high heat, fry or grill kind of thing,” says Mylan. Pork chops from the shoulder end are fattier than from the loin end. If you have chops from the shoulder end, they’re great for slow roasting or lower, longer grill cooking. This way, says Mylan, you render all the fat. “Pork fat is super delicious, but if its not rendered all the way through, it doesn’t have a good texture and the flavor isn’t as good.”
The rear hock is just like the shank of the front leg. It usually comes cured and smoked.
Cook: If cured and smoked, use for beans or collard greens. If raw, braise it.