April 19, 2019
Variety types of processed food(ham, sausage), Full Frame, high angle view, close up

Types of Pork

by Berkeley Wellness  

Like beef, pork is divided into primal, or wholesale, cuts that refer to the part of the animal they come from. Pork is further subdivided into retail cuts, which are the ones found in the supermarket. For fresh pork, the cut determines the fat content and cooking method.

Only one-third of the pork produced each year is sold fresh. The rest is cured, smoked, or processed. Curing was once a method of preserving meat so that it would be available throughout the winter. Today, pork is cured for flavor, and though the method lengthens cured pork’s storage life, most cured pork must be kept refrigerated.

Fresh and cured pork are very different, therefore they are discussed separately below.

Fresh pork

Pork leg: Fresh hams come from the leg of the hog. The whole leg can be sold as a ham that weighs 10 to 14 pounds. More often, it is divided into butt half and shank half, the butt half of which is much meatier. These cuts are sold with or without the bone. You may also find top leg (inside roast). Sometimes slices are cut from the leg and sold as pork cutlets. The leg can be roasted or braised, and leg cutlets can be broiled, braised, or sautéed.

Pork loin: This part of the pig supplies the largest number of fresh cuts and also the leanest, with meat that is tender and flavorful. The loin is divided into three parts: blade loin, nearest the shoulder; center loin; and sirloin, nearest the leg. You may also find top loin chops and center loin cutlets. The cuts from either end are not as tender as the center loin, and thus the center loin is the most expensive. You’ll find both roasts and chops with or without the bone. Thick chops—an inch or more in thickness—can be broiled, sautéed, or braised. Roasts can be roasted or braised.

Pork tenderloin: The tenderloin comes from the center loin. It is often sold on its own as a roast, and is included as part of loin or sirloin chops. It is about a foot long and 2 inches in diameter at its thickest point. It’s well worth the price—the meat is exceptionally tender, and the tenderloin is the leanest cut of fresh pork. Roast or braise the whole tenderloin. It cooks rapidly. Or slice it into medallions and sauté the slices.

Pork crown roast: The loin is also the source of the impressive crown roast, which is two center rib roasts fastened together in a circle to form a hollow that can be stuffed and then roasted. Crown roasts are usually ordered from a butcher, since the backbone must be removed or cracked and the rib ends must be trimmed. The shoulder end of the loin produces country-style ribs, which are not true spareribs (spareribs come from the side). Meatier and leaner than spareribs, they can be braised, broiled, or roasted.

Pork shoulder: From this section come two large pork roasts, Boston (or shoulder) butt and picnic shoulder, which is really the foreleg of the pig. A Boston butt roast is flavorful, but contains a lot of sinew. It is best braised to dissolve this connective tissue. Picnic shoulder can be roasted or braised. You can also cut these roasts into chunks—or have the butcher do so—then marinate them, and grill or broil them.

Pork side: The only fresh cut from this section is spareribs. These are extremely fatty. They are best roasted, broiled, or braised. You can reduce the fat in spareribs if you parboil them before cooking.

Cured pork: bacon

Unlike fresh pork, cured ham will retain its rosy color even when fully cooked. This is because the nitrites used in curing the pork react chemically with the meat’s myoglobin (the type of hemoglobin found in muscle fibers) to form nitroso-myoglobin, which stays pinkish-red even at high temperatures.

Bacon: Pork belly, which comes from the side of the hog, is called bacon once it has been cured and smoked. A solution of brine and water is injected into the pork belly. A smoked flavor may also be injected, or the bacon may be smoked after it is cured. Bacon is very high in fat, saturated fat, and sodium.

Canadian bacon: A leaner alternative to regular bacon, Canadian bacon is smoked and cured pork loin. (In Canada and Great Britain, it is called back bacon.) It’s used in much the same way as bacon, though it resembles ham in appearance and taste.

Pancetta: Pancetta is an Italian-style bacon made with pork belly meat that is salt cured and spiced. It’s often cut into small cubes and used to flavor other foods. It’s also sometime sliced paper-thin and served as a cold cut.

Cured pork: ham

True ham is pork leg that has been cured and sometimes smoked. There are many types of ham on the market. Most hams are brine (or wet) cured, whereby the pork leg is injected with a solution of water, salt, sodium nitrite, and sugar. Some hams are dry-cured in which the meat is rubbed with salt, sugar, sodium nitrate, sodium nitrite, and seasonings. These may also be called country hams. The dry-curing process draws out moisture and intensifies the color and flavor of the meat. Most hams are sold “fully cooked,” that is, they have been cooked to a high enough internal temperature to make them safe to eat. Hams that require cooking will be marked as such on the label.

The types of ham found in the market include:

Bone-in hams: Bone-in hams contain the shank bone and are available whole or in sections.

Semi-boneless hams: Semi-boneless hams have had the shank bone removed, leaving the round leg bone.

Boneless hams: Boneless hams have been rolled or molded and packed in a casing.

Canned hams: Canned hams are brine-cured ham pieces that have been molded, vacuum-sealed, and fully cooked.

Picnic ham: Picnic ham is a cured-pork product. However, it’s not a true ham because it comes from the shoulder, not the leg.

There are many ways of curing and smoking hams, each producing different flavors. Here are some of the different types of cured ham:

Black Forest ham: This is a German ham that is smoked over pinewood. It is often dipped in beef blood to produce its black surface. Some Black Forest hams are produced in the United States. But beware, they may have brine or water added.

Jamon Serrano: Many consider this Spanish dry-cured ham, which is produced using methods similar to those used in Italy for making Parma prosciutto, to be the finest in the world. Compared to prosciutto, it has a sweet, earthy, and less-salty flavor, and a texture that is a bit drier and smoother. Like prosciutto, serrano ham should be eaten in wafer-thin slices.

Smithfield ham: State law specifies that these country hams must originate within the city limits of Smithfield, Virginia. Until 1966, they had to come from pigs fed nothing but peanuts, but that regulation was dropped because of the cost of raising peanut-fed hogs.

Prosciutto: This golden-pink Italian-style ham is dry-cured and air-dried, but not smoked. It is usually eaten uncooked, often thinly sliced and served with figs or melon. When added to cooked dishes, it’s added at the last minute. The most famous, called Parma, is made in Parma, Italy, and has had growing popular in this country. Prosciutto is also made in the United States and some is imported from Switzerland and Canada.

Southampton ham: This refers to hams produced in Southampton County, Virginia, just a few miles from Smithfield. Southamptons are traditionally short shanked and a bit milder than Smithfields.

Westphalian ham: From Germany’s Westphalian forest, this ham is smoked with juniper berries and beechwood. It has very dark flesh and is similar to Black Forest ham.

Ham is further divided by the percentage of protein it contains by weight. Because the curing solution can add greatly to the weight of the ham, the USDA has categorized ham in the following way: Products labeled “ham” have no added water and are at least 20.5 percent protein. “Ham with natural juices” is at least 18.5 percent protein. “Ham–added water” is at least 17 percent protein. “Ham and water product” can contain any amount of water, but must state the percentage of added ingredients on the label.

You’ll also find some hams labeled lean or extra-lean. Lean hams must contain no more than 10 percent fat by weight. Extra-lean hams, on the other hand, contain no more than 5 percent.


Technically, sausage can be made from any kind of chopped or ground meat—including poultry, fish, and even some plant proteins—but most of the familiar varieties are pork-based. Sausage may be stuffed into a casing or sold in bulk like ground beef.

There are four types of sausage. It is important that you know which type of sausage you are buying so you can prepare it correctly.

  • Fresh sausage is made from raw meat and sometimes contains grains (such as rice) or bread crumbs. Fresh sausage must be thoroughly cooked before eating. Fresh sausage will keep for only a day or two in the refrigerator.
  • Semi-dry sausage is a smoked and partially dried sausage. Semi-dry sausages will keep for two to three weeks.
  • Dry sausage is fully dried and may be smoked or not. Dry sausages will keep for four to six weeks.
  • Cooked sausageis ready to eat, but may be served hot. Cooked sausages will keep for a week.

For all types of sausage, the meat is highly seasoned and sometimes smoked. It’s the seasoning that gives each variety of sausage its individual flavor. For example, fresh Mexican chorizo sausage is seasoned with vinegar, garlic, cumin, and hot peppers. Another fresh sausage, Italian link, is seasoned with garlic, wine, fennel, and for the hot variety, red pepper. Polish kielbasa, a semi-dry sausage, is usually smoked and contains garlic, pepper, paprika, and other herbs.

Sausage is very high in fat, calories, and sodium. Dry and semi-dry sausages may have been cured with sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite. When you eat sausage, do so in moderation. Use it as a flavoring in dishes, rather than as the main course.

Every scrap of federally inspected meat from the animal carcass can be used in making sausage, and sometimes animal fat is added. Blood sausage is made from blood, pork fat, and seasonings. Liverwurst is made from pork liver. Mortadella, which can be made from pork or beef, is larded with fat.