Every Cut Of Pork Ranked Worst To Best

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We love pork. Beef and chicken lovers may have their favorite, but pork is hands-down the tastiest of all animal proteins for many. What other food is not just delicious in and of itself but can also make so many other things delicious? A little hunk of pork instantly turns austere foods like black-eyed peas or collard greens into delectable delights. Few other types of meat play better with salt, sugar, or smoke, either. From cured ham and bacon to smokey barbecue, pork easily ranks among the best proteins in the animal kingdom. 

The following list is our ranking of popular pork cuts. Keep in mind that this is hog we're talking about: Every single part of this animal from nose to tail is worth eating. We wouldn't turn down a chance to chow down on any piece of meat we mention here. With that said, some parts of the pig definitely bring us more joy than others. If you're looking for an excellent cut of pork to bring home from the supermarket, this list can guide you towards something exceptionally tasty.

21. Tenderloin

According to AllRecipes, tenderloin is a skinny, cylindrical cut of pork that weighs about 1 pound. Tenderloin is a popular cut that is very easy to find in grocery stores. According to the recipe site, it's boneless and incredibly lean. The fat content of tenderloin is somewhat comparable to that of boneless, skinless chicken breast, writes SF Gate. Per MasterClass, the tenderloin muscle doesn't get a lot of exercise, so instead of being tough, it's super soft, making it a tender cut. 

People tend to like tender, lean meat, so why is tenderloin on the bottom of our list? It's because this cut can be unforgivably dull. Pork is not chicken. We don't reach for pork because we want something lean and mild. We want our pork to have a healthy amount of flavorful fat. The lack of movement that makes tenderloin lean also deprives it of the intense, savory taste pork is known for. It's not that pork tenderloin is bad; it's perfectly palatable, especially if seasoned aggressively. In fact, AllRecipes recommends looking at this cut as a blank page for your next marinating experiment. Still, we'll keep our eyes peeled for more naturally flavorful cuts.

20. Fatback

We're switching gears from the leanest cut of pork to the fattiest: Fatback. Everything you need to know about fatback is contained in its name. As titled, this cut is pure fat carved from a pig's back (via The Spruce Eats). Unlike lard, which is rendered until it becomes spreadable, fatback comes in solid chunks that cooks can slice, grind, or cut into pieces. Most fatback contains little-to-no meat tissue, but you can also buy something called streaky pork, which, as The Spruce Eats suggests, is streaked with a small amount of meat. 

Fatback (being more or less 100% solid fat) isn't particularly delicious on its own. The Spruce Eats notes that lardo, an Italian salt-cured fatback, is a notable exception. The cooking site writes that instead of being eaten independently, this cut of pork is primarily useful for adding fat to leaner meats that need it. For example, fatback is often ground into sausage, inserted into lean cuts, or wrapped around meat before it is cooked. This is a noble purpose, to be sure, but because fatback is better as an ingredient than it is as a food, it ranks slightly lower among other cuts.

19. Baby back ribs

This is sure to be controversial. We can almost hear the complaints from baby back rib-lovers asking where the hate for their favorite part of the hog is coming from. Don't get us wrong — we love ribs. We even have a recipe for barbecued baby back ribs that produces an excellent result. That said, we also think that baby back ribs are the last choice compared to the three kinds of pork ribs you can generally find in a grocery store.

Our complaints about baby backs are similar to our problems with tenderloin. According to Eater, baby backs are the short ribs cut from right next to a pig's spine. What else lies next to the spine? That's right: Tenderloin. Like tenderloin, the meat on baby back ribs is known to be lean and tender. That can be nice for something you're cooking quickly, but when you want to give the slow-cooking treatment, Eater writes that more fat and connective tissue means more flavor. With a long enough preparation, any rib cut will become tender, so it makes more sense to trade some extra time in place of a rib that we think is tastier than baby backs. If you need a quick cook, this pork cut will do.

18. Brain

Pork brain may not be a cut of meat that pleases everyone, but you certainly can say it is interesting. According to My Chinese Recipes, the organ has a soft, creamy texture and a mild flavor. The site notes that pork brain doesn't taste like pork per se, but the flavor does have a certain meaty quality. The brain is very rich and high in fat. According to My Chinese Recipes, Chinese cooks often use pork brain in various ways, including in soup, grilled, fried, and stewed.

If you find the idea of creamy meat a little off-putting, pig brain probably isn't for you. An inherent softness can be offset somewhat by breading it and deep-frying it (of course, this makes most things taste something special). Atlas Obscura writes that fried brain sandwiches are a regional delicacy in parts of the Midwestern U.S. There's nothing else that tastes like pig brain, so if you can get down with the idea of eating a meat product that melts like butter in your mouth, it's worth giving pork brain a try.

17. Liver

Liver is a divisive foodstuff, especially for people who have had the unfortunate experience of eating poorly-cooked liver-and-onions at some point in their life. However, we think that this cut is unfairly maligned. According to Refinery29, pork liver has a slightly milder taste than beef or calf liver. Pork liver still has a strong offal taste, but if that is your type of flavor, it can be delicious. Serious Eats reports that the liver can become unpleasantly grainy and tough if overcooked. When it comes to pork liver, though, Refinery29 counters that it can have a silky tender texture if treated gently. Pork liver is also the foundation of many pâté recipes, like this one from Together Farms. The deep, funky taste of the liver makes for a rich and delicious spread that touches on downright luxury.

No discussion of pork liver could be complete without discussing its nutritional benefits. Per Livestrong, pork liver is incredibly high in various essential nutrients, including copper, B vitamins, vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and zinc. It's so high in vitamin A that you need to be careful not to overeat, as excessive vitamin A can be toxic. In moderation, however, pork liver is a nutritional powerhouse.

16. Jowl

Pork jowl is the meat from a pig's cheek. It is primarily composed of fat but has some meat streaks running through it. Per Italy Bite, the fat in hog jowl is denser, harder, and more flavorful than fatback. The pieces of lean meat in the jowl also give it a complex porcine taste. Some of the most famous pork jowl applications are guanciale and pancetta, as Due' Cochina Italiana reports. The site says that Italian cooks transform the cut by curing the jowl with salt and various spices. Guanciale is similar to pancetta but has a unique flavor that distinguishes it. Italy Bite writes that guanciale is often used to add rich saltiness to pasta dishes like carbonara or in dishes like spaghetti with guanciale and cheese.

The Southern U.S. has its version of cured pork jowl. The American version is usually smoked and tastes very similar to bacon (via About Little Rock). Our source claims it's a traditional component of Southern New Year's feasts, as pork represents prosperity. Smoked hog jowl can be sliced and fried or used to flavor beans and greens. It's a wonderful product, but sometimes we can't say that we like the complexity more than ordinary bacon.

15. Chitterlings

Chitterlings (often written as chitlins) are pigs' intestines. As an often unwanted cut, they have traditionally been eaten by marginalized members of society, reports The Bay State Banners. According to this history, in the U.S., chitterlings owe their place in Southern food culture to the tragedy of slavery. Enslaved people were given the off-cuts of the animal after premium pieces were taken by enslavers. Per MyRecipes, inventive cooks were able to turn this inauspicious ingredient into a downright crave-able dish. Although chitterlings were eaten initially out of necessity, they have survived the modern era because they are delicious.

Chitterlings have a funky, barnyard aroma and a meaty flavor. Even when properly cooked, MyRecipes describes the texture as rubbery, so they require a bit of chewing to get through. Advice says you have to boil these organs for several hours to make them tender enough to eat. Our favorite way to eat chitterlings is to bread and fry them after being boiled. Don't be turned off because you're eating guts; if you've ever snacked on natural-casing sausage before, you've already tasted these intestines.

14. Tail

Pig's tail is a surprisingly versatile cut of pork. You might not think there would be much to it since they look so small, but the tails have a surprising amount of meat, connective tissue, and skin (via Serious Eats). Accordingly, Serious Eats writes that they cook up like a smaller version of oxtail. Like all tough cuts of meat, sources suggest pig's tail benefits from braising for a long time. This preparation transforms the meat and connective tissue into something luscious and soft. If you're a fan of pig skin, pig's tail will also please you, as this pork cut has a high skin-to-meat ratio. They taste best when the skin is crisped up after braising, whether by deep-frying or by roasting in the oven, as in this recipe from AllRecipes.

When you cook pig's tail, you get two usable products. In addition to the meat itself, the fat, bone, and collagen in the tail create a delicious broth during the braising phase of the cooking process. AllRecipes suggests you use this for soup or flavoring Southern produce like turnip greens or black-eyed peas.

13. Ears

You're probably more likely to find pig ears at the local pet store than at the dinner table in the United States. That's a shame, as pig ears are a surprisingly versatile ingredient that people can prepare in several ways. There's not much meat in a pig ear; instead, Los Angeles Times reports that pig ears are made of skin surrounding a thin layer of cartilage. This gives pig ears a distinct, though rich pork flavor, but even better than their flavor is their texture. One traditional Chinese way to prepare pig ears is to boil them briefly, slice them thinly into cross-sections, and serve them as a salad dressed with chile oil (via China Sichuan Food). Recipe notes suggest the brief boiling period will leave the cartilage pleasantly snappy while rendering the skin jelly-like.

According to the Los Angeles Times, pig ears can also be transformed into Chinese charcuterie. When several ears are boiled and then pressed, the natural gelatin in the ears sticks them together like a terrine. Fried pig ears are also delicious. Though, that can be said that for many of the cuts we've talked about. Frying and pork go together like peanut butter and jelly.

12. Pork chops

Per The Kitchn, pork chops aren't one cut of pork exactly. Pork chops are all relatively thin, steak-like pieces of meat cut from the loin, which doesn't narrow things down that much, as the loin runs through almost the whole length of a pig's body. The Kitchn also says that pork chops can have different flavors and textures depending on which part of the loin they're cut from. Chops from the ends of the loin near the shoulder and hip are more flavorful but tougher. It's recommended that they be tenderized before cooking or prepared low-and-slow to melt some of their connective tissue. Chops from the loin center are leaner and more tender, which means they can be cooked hot and fast like steaks.

If you're going to cook loin chops, it's better to choose bone-in ones, like a recipe for pan-seared pork chops. The bone adds flavor and helps keep the chop moist as it cooks, per The Kitchn. Boneless pork chops are popular and convenient, but they're easy to overcook and relatively less flavorful since missing a bone that could provide extra taste.

11. Rib roast

According to Cook the Story, a pork rib roast is a piece of pork loin still attached to the rib bones. Its appearance is analogous to a rack of lamb or beef rib roast (prime rib), and it makes a perfect holiday centerpiece (via Dinner then Dessert). It has one significant advantage over those two cuts of meat: Pork rib roast is an affordable cut, according to a pork rib roast guide from Instacart. You can consider moving on from pricey prime rib for your next special occasion with this cut. 

It may be less costly, but pork rib roast isn't the most straightforward. Pork.org calls pork rib roast a specialty cut that isn't found in the grocery store, so you may have to place an order with your butcher. Cook's Illustrated notes two ways to order your rib roast — either with or without the chine bone. Still, going through any extra steps is worth it to get a hefty cut of meat that is light on the bank.

10. Trotters

Trotters are just another way of saying pig's feet. They're similar to pig's tail because they contain a lot of skin and bones, with just a little bit of meat (via Izzy Cooking). However, they're relatively a bit larger than tails, so in our experience, we find them to make for a more substantial meal. They're high in collagen, and Izzy Cooking writes that they become tender and soft when braised. Since trotters are so rich in connective tissue, they require a long period of slow cooking to become delicious, but the results are well worth it. According to Campbells, they're also an excellent ingredient for making rich pork broth.

We also can't talk about trotters without mentioning pickled pig's feet, which are a Southern food item, if any (per Southern Living). They fall more into the "acquired taste" category, but we think the contrast between the sharp pickle brine and rich pork is pretty yummy. You can buy them in jars, or if you're feeling particularly adventurous, you can make them at home using Soul Food and Southern Cooking's recipe.

9. Loin

As we mentioned previously, pork loin is just the boneless version of a rib roast. Bone-in cuts of meat often resist overcooking because bones tend to preserve flavor and juiciness per The Kitchn. However, boneless pork loin's unmatched versatility gives it an edge on the bone-in variety. The loin is a piece of flesh that extends from the pig's should to its hip. As The Kitchn writes, it runs pretty close to the spine, making it reasonably lean but less so than tenderloin. Per Taste of Home, pork loin roast has a fat cap that ensures the meat stays juicy.

Pork loin is a chameleon that responds well to many different cooking methods. We recommend low-and-slow recipes for braised pork loin, and a slow-cooker pork loin as well. Taste of Home also recommends cooking this cut on the grill or in the oven and says the leftovers are great for sandwiches. According to The Kitchn, pork loin can also be cured to make Canadian bacon.

8. Tongue

For some, eating another animal's tongue might seem uncomfortably meta. After all, you're putting a tongue on your tongue. If you can move past this, however, the tongue is one of the finest types of organ meat. According to Serious Eats, the tongue has a texture similar to a goose or duck confit, turning silky soft meat when prepared in its fat. Unlike poultry, the site says that pork tongue has no bones to eat around.

Tongue cooks up like any other tough cut of pork, in that it needs a long time at low heat to become tender, writes Serious Eats. Per a recipe from Great British Chefs, you'll want to peel off the skin (where the taste buds are) once it's cooked. You'll be hard-pressed to find another part of the pig with as much depth of flavor as the tongue. It's not as versatile as other cuts, so it's doesn't make the top five, but if you've never had it, we heartily recommend checking it out.

7. Country ribs

Sometimes the names of pieces of meat can be kind of deceptive. Case in point: Country ribs. These long, thin pork strips are cut to resemble ribs, and the flesh has a similar flavor and texture to rib meat, according to The Spruce Eats. We think they taste fantastic when smoked or slow-cooked and are beloved when slathered with barbecue sauce. In short, country ribs have all of the attributes of pork ribs, with two exceptions: They're often boneless and not truly ribs. According to The Spruce Eats, country ribs come from a section of the pig's shoulder. 

ButcherBox writes that if they have this cut has a bone, it's a piece of the shoulder blade rather than a rib. Typically, these are often sold sans bones. They also mention that country ribs have the great flavor and texture of a baby back or spare rib with the convenience of not knawing around hard pieces. However, we've ranked country ribs below spare ribs on this list since they're not true ribs (and because we think bones add flavor).

6. Picnic shoulder

Picnic roast is another shoulder cut. It comes from above a pig's front leg. There's a fair amount of regional variation in pork butchery. Depending on where you live, butchers may cut the shoulder in different ways, with the specific cuts being called varying names (via The Spruce Eats). In general, anything labeled a picnic roast comes from the skinnier end of a pig's shoulder. It is leaner than other cuts from that area of the animal. This part of the pig does a lot of movement, developing a lot of collagen, fat, and tissue which turns into an intense flavor, says Serious Eats. The flip side is that the cut is less naturally tender. But, as with all tough cuts of pork, long, slow cooking can make it melt-in-your-mouth delicate.

Since the picnic has a higher skin ratio than other shoulder cuts, Serious Eats reports that it's more prone to flaky skin after cooking. This makes it perfect for when you want a tender pork roast with a crusty edge. Any part of a pig's legs or shoulders will fit the bill if you look for intense porcine flavor. However, since the picnic is slightly lean, we prefer a different shoulder cut for pulling and shredding.

5. Skin

The skin is one of the most desirable parts on several of the cuts we've already mentioned, so it makes sense that pork skin alone would rank near the top of this list. Anybody who's ever hoovered their way through a bag of gas station pork rinds knows how amazing crispy-fried pork skin is. Chicharrones are even better when you make them at home, in all the puffy, crispy, porky glory the dish is known for (via Food52). For another take on flaky pig skin, one that's a little bit denser and chewier, the Serious Eats calls for some pork scratchings that will please any snacker.

While pig skin's most popular applications essentially turn it into a potato chip made out of meat, this ingredient is equally at home in soft, braised contexts. It retains the lovely umami flavor you expect from pig skin but with an exciting, slightly slippery texture. Grit defines it as having a bouncy bite that commonly appears across Vietnamese cuisine. In Italy, pork skin is wrapped around a simple herb-and-cheese stuffing, then slow-cooked in tomato sauce to make cotenne. We also like the Mexican version of braised pork skin, in which crispy fried chicharrones are simmered in salsa.

4. Ham

The word ham might make you immediately think of the spiral-sliced roast you eat around the holidays or the thin-sliced meat you buy from the supermarket deli counter. However, it refers to a specific part of the pig: The rear leg (via Fcine Cooking). Although Fine Cooking writes that ham is most commonly cured or processed somehow, this cut also makes a beautiful pork roast if you can find someone to sell you a fresh ham. Ham has a perfect balance between fat and lean meat (per BBC GoodFood), and since it's a bone-in cut with muscles that get a lot of movement, it's pretty flavorful.

Fresh ham is excellent, but the multitude of delicious cured meats made with this cut is what pushes ham into the top tier of all the parts of a pig. Italian prosciutto is one, a simple, fresh ham that has been cured in salt until dry, funky, and delicious. The same goes for Spanish jamón. We also can't forget America's contributions to the art of ham, which according to Britannica, usually involve smoking after curing to add another layer of flavor. No matter what part of the world you're in, there's probably a butcher turning ham into something delicious.

3. Spare ribs

We've come to the ultimate kind of pork ribs: Spare ribs. Unlike baby back, which derives from near the pig's spine, spare ribs come from the sides of the animal (per Eater). The site reports that a full rack of spare ribs includes the rib tips, parts filled with cartilage, and small bones. A popular way to sell spare ribs is as St. Louis-style ribs, which have this part trimmed off. According to Eater, spare ribs have more bones and fat than baby back ribs, with meat in between the straight ribs. In our professional opinion, this makes them significantly more flavorful than their smaller cousins.

Spare ribs' more prominent size and higher concentration of connective tissue mean they take longer to become tender, similar to baby backs (via The Kitchn). However, no other type of rib will give you the same depth of pork flavor or make you want to tear the meat off the bones like a hungry animal. Even better, The Kitchn writes that spare ribs are often more affordable than baby back. Unless you hate eating meat off the bone (in which case, go with country style ribs), there's no reason to buy any rib other than spare ribs — especially during backyard barbecuing season.

2. Belly

Like ham, pork belly's most famous application is as a cured meat, in this case, bacon (via Delish). If that were the only reasonable way to use pork belly, it would probably still earn the number two spot on this list. We know it's something of a cliché, but bacon is awesome. It's an irreplaceable best breakfast item, but bacon also adds flavor to many other recipes.

Pork belly is often processed into bacon, but it is suitable for so much more than just curing and smoking. A generous amount of fat lends it a vibrant pork flavor, and when cooked slowly, the meat makes a confit of fat, producing a smooth, rich, soft texture. Delish writes that if you get it with the skin attached, cooking can turn the top layer into a crispy crackling that might be even better than the meat itself. Pork belly loves a sugary marinade, like in this recipe for kalua pork belly. This is meat candy. The only reason pork belly is not in the top spot is that it's so rich that overeating all at once can feel like an unpleasing experience.

1. Butt

We have arrived at the king of deceptively-named pork cuts: Pork butt. No, it's not the butt you're thinking about. It doesn't even come from the rear end of a pig. According to Serious Eats, pork butt is the fattiest, thickest part of a pork shoulder. Like all shoulder cuts, it's tough but flavorful and rewards slow and patient cooking.

Because the butt is the part of the shoulder with the most fat and connective tissue (also called marbling), Serious Eats writes that it is an intensely soft and flavorful cut when cooked properly. It can be sliced into thin, melt-in-your-mouth pieces, like this recipe for Philadelphia-style roast pork sandwiches. However, it is also the superior cut for pulled or shredded pork, like the filling in this pork tortas recipe. We can't forget to mention how perfect it is on the smoker as well. If you want intense pork flavor with a deliciously soft texture, pork butt is a prime choice. It's super inexpensive too, running about $3 a pound, per The Spruce Eats. What more could you ask for out of a piece of meat? Pork butt will make you go hog-wild.