Understanding Primal Cuts of Pork for Perfect BBQ


If you’re a cooking enthusiast or chef, shopping for pork can be overwhelming due to the variety of cuts and confusing labeling. To help you navigate this meaty challenge, we’ll provide you with an overview of primal cuts and their corresponding retail cuts. With this knowledge in hand, you’ll be equipped to choose the right cuts for your barbecuing adventures.

Primal Cuts of Pork

Pork is initially divided into four primal cuts, which then go through further butchering to create the retail cuts you find at the market. Let’s dive into each primal cut:



Shoulder cuts, known as the blade shoulder or arm shoulder, are marbled with fat and contain connective tissue. These cuts are perfect for slow-cooking methods like stewing, braising, or barbecuing. They offer rich flavors and luscious textures.



Situated between the shoulder and back legs, the loin is the leanest and most tender part of the pig. This area yields cuts such as rib and loin chops, pork loin roasts, and tenderloin roasts. It’s crucial to avoid overcooking these cuts to maintain their juiciness.



The rear legs, often referred to as “ham,” are sold as large roasts. They can be purchased fresh or cured, and their versatility allows for a wide range of cooking methods.

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The side/belly of the pig is the fattiest part and serves as the source of bacon and spareribs. This area offers succulent and flavorful cuts that are perfect for grilling or roasting.

Shopping for Pork—Cut by Cut

Now that you have a general understanding of the primal cuts, let’s explore the retail cuts you’ll encounter when shopping for pork. We’ve provided a guide below, rating each cut based on flavor and cost:

Shoulder Cuts

Pork Butt Roast


This large and flavorful cut is often labeled as Boston butt or pork shoulder. It’s ideal for slow-roasting, barbecuing, stewing, or braising. With its well-marbled fat and rich flavors, it’s a fantastic choice for tender and juicy results.

Pork Shoulder


The pork shoulder, available bone-in or boneless, is an affordable cut that offers richness from its fat and connective tissue. It’s recommended for grill roasting, barbecuing, roasting, or braising.

Loin Cuts

Blade Chop


These chops, cut from the shoulder end of the loin, provide great flavor and juiciness. Although fatty and tough, they are perfect for braising and barbecuing.

Rib Chop


From the rib section of the loin, rib chops are known for their flavorful and tender meat. With a relatively high fat content, they retain moisture during cooking and are a favorite in many kitchens.

Center-Cut Chop


Center-cut chops offer a combination of lean tenderloin and loin meat. They cook quickly, making them a delightful challenge. Although not as moist as rib chops, they still provide excellent flavor.

Sirloin Chops


Tough, dry, and tasteless, sirloin chops are not recommended due to their challenging texture. They contain tenderloin and loin meat, but their overall quality does not meet our standards.

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Side/Belly Cuts

Baby Back Ribs


Cut from the rib cage closest to the backbone, baby back ribs are leaner and more expensive than spareribs. Their delicate texture requires extra attention to prevent drying out during grilling.

Country-Style Ribs


These boneless ribs from the upper side of the rib cage are tender and meaty. They can be braised and shredded for pasta sauce or grilled as cutlets after pounding them flat.



St. Louis-Style Spareribs are a more manageable cut compared to regular spareribs. The trimming process removes the brisket bone and surrounding meat, resulting in a rectangular rack ideal for roasting or barbecuing.

Leg Cuts

Fresh Ham, Shank End


The shank end of the leg provides a flavorful option with a thick layer of fat and skin. To enhance its taste, consider brining this cut before roasting or grill roasting.

Fresh Ham, Sirloin Half


The rounded sirloin half offers good flavor but can be more difficult to carve due to its bone structure. Despite the carving challenge, it remains a viable option for roasting.

Spiral-Sliced Bone-In Half Ham


This wet-cured ham presents ease of carving and a delightful absence of water pumping. Look for a bone-in ham, preferably from the shank end, as it offers superior flavor. Perfect for roasting!

Country Ham


Similar to prosciutto or serrano ham, this Southern favorite consists of the whole leg and delivers a complex, meaty, and nutty flavor. It requires soaking due to its saltiness and pairs well with biscuits, greens, rice, or pasta.

Crown Roast


A true showstopper, the crown roast is created by tying two bone-in center-cut rib or loin roasts together. For even cooking, we recommend a 16- to 20-rib roast. Take care not to overcook this beauty!

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The Rowdy Hog Smokin BBQ Experience

Now armed with knowledge about the primal cuts and retail cuts of pork, you’re ready to embark on a culinary adventure with Rowdy Hog Smokin BBQ. Our brand offers top-notch resources, expertise, and guidance to elevate your barbecuing game. Visit Rowdy Hog Smokin BBQ to explore our range of recipes, guides, and products that will help you become a master of the grill.

So fire up that smoker and get ready to savor the mouthwatering flavors of your perfectly cooked pork, courtesy of Rowdy Hog Smokin BBQ!