Pork Loin Cuts


     Pork Loin Center Cut Chop (Bone In)

      You could say the pork loin center cut chop is the best known name in pork.. the poster cut of the species!  Cuts from this part of the pork loin, with their relative leanness, help to defend the image of this sometimes maligned consumer animal.  Wow, that was a mouthful!  Now let’s dig a bit deeper and then work our way around to some great ideas for enjoying a mouthful of this classic and tasty cut of pork!

Meat cutters in training are usually happy and reassured to notice some similarities in how the hog and steer are put together.  I think it leaves them with a feeling, when learning one after the other, of “Wow, I already know this!”  The pork loin and beef short loin are a great example (see illustration at right).  Over the years as a butcher, I have found this to be a great and effective way to introduce shoppers to the very popular cuts of the bone-in pork loin.  For example, take the ‘Porterhouse’ beef steak and the bone-in Center Loin Pork Chop.. same cut, different animals.  I’m sure many of you have noticed the visual similarities in these cuts in your butcher’s meat counter. 

The pork loin runs roughly from the animal’s hip to shoulder (see chart at top of page).  When we speak of the oh-so-famous pork chop – regardless of what kind of chop – this was its home before the butcher cut it out.  Popularly, there are three major chops that are ‘merchandised’ from the whole pork loin: 1) rib or ‘blade’ chops, 2) loin chops (often sorted into loin and center loin, depending on how much of the tenderloin is present on the chop), and 3) sirloin chops.  There are a number of different sub-chops, if you will, that are labeled in all kinds of different ways, and one can get very specific about a given chop’s ‘official’ name, depending on the exact location of the pork loin it was produced from (see illustration at left).. I have worked with butchers who are darn near ready to fight if you call a rib chop a center chop; butchers tend to be a proud sort who well defend the work they have done to learn their trade.  But my goal here is to provide mainly a consumer-level understanding of the various cuts, so I want to be careful not to confuse anyone with too much name dropping, in a manner of speaking.  For those interested, refer again to the image just above at left for a general breakdown of the pork loin and its chop sections.

Although many pork choppers may not think so often of marinating these cuts, it is not a bad idea.  Because of the relatively lean quality of chops such as those of our current discussion – from the middle area of the pork loin – there is always a risk of the meat drying out if cooked too long or over heat that is too intense.  Marinating will add moisture and flavor that might just be the difference between a chewy, dry chop and a tasty treat!  Additionally, pan frying and oven baking are probably the most common preparation methods for the user-friendly pork chop, but I would have nothing bad to say about anyone who chooses to toss a few on the grill alongside the bratwursts and burgers!

*Important!  As with any pork products, I strongly recommend being sure during cooking and before eating,  that the meat reaches an internal temperature – at its thickest area – of at least 145 degrees fahrenheit and does not come below that temperature for a continuous period of at least 15 seconds.  Any juices visible in or around the meat should be clear and never reddish or pink!  These safeguards will ensure that any harmful parasites or bacteria that might have been in the meat have been destroyed.

meatshop101 Shoppers’ Tip:

When shopping for Pork Loin Center Cut Chops at your supermarket meat shop, the signature characteristic you should look for is the presence of tenderloin meat.  This really is what defines the center cut chop and makes it worth the price being charged for it.  As a butcher, some facts of the meat world are almost taken for granted to the point that I almost forget sometimes that not everyone is familiar with them, however simple they may seem to me.  So for those who are not familiar with the tenderloin or why it earns such a lofty reputation, consider this:  it is the softest, easiest to chew and commonly the most flavorful part of the meat.  Perhaps you have a taste for filet mignon beef steaks?  Well, the pork tenderloin is pork’s equivalent!  If you buy chops labeled as “Bone-In Center Cut Chops”, and they don’t have a significant portion of tenderloin meat attached, you are really missing out, not to mention getting cheated!  I mention all this because it is not at all uncommon for some meat cutters to process chops from the part of the pork loin where very little or no tenderloin meat is present.. and price them as center loin chops because they rely on many shoppers who may not know the difference so well, and in fact.. many of you understandably don’t, but that’s where I come in!  Refer to the illustration at right to help you understand the difference.  When you are shopping for pork chops, and only the elite qualities of center cut chops will do, then please demand, if a package is labeled as center cut pork chops, that all of the chops in the package appear to have a full and round portion of tenderloin meat present!  If they don’t – and especially if they have none at all – I recommend looking for a package that does, or asking the butcher to change the price for you to reflect what is actually in the package.  And one more thing.. when possible, avoid buying chops that are layered or ‘shingled’ in the package, for the same reasons I have mentioned here.  The one chop in the package that is completely visible may look wonderful!  But the rest of the chops that are partially covered up may have something to hide, such as a lack of tenderloin meat or other undesireable qualities.  Not to oversimplify this, but I ask you.. would you buy a car if you could only see the back end?!  I realize many of you are reluctant to take issue with a butcher over something you may feel you don’t know so much about, but it is really only a matter of fair business.  The bottom line is this:  Using the illustration I have included here, it is a very simple matter to recognize a chop that is not a center loin bone-in pork chop.. please don’t pay the significantly higher price for center cut chops unless it’s the real mccoy!




     Pork Loin ‘Baby’ Backribs.   

          Would not ‘baby backs’ by any other name be as tasty?  You may know this cut by a variety of names, including ‘loin backribs’, ‘Canadian’ style backribs, or simply ‘loin ribs’, but the name you likely know best, the one that is a nearly household name just about everywhere – one of the real giants of the meat world – is ‘Baby Backribs!’  But right up front, let’s dispel a common myth about pork loin backribs so that we can learn about this gem of a pork item in its proper context.. as easy and tempting as it is to believe that ‘baby’ backribs are so named and are smaller because they are taken from a young or baby pig, it’s just not true!  It is true however that the ‘baby’ part of the name is given because they are indeed smaller than full-rack or even partial-rack spareribs.  But in fact, you can think of this section of the hog’s ribs that yields loin baby back ribs, as being a part of the full rib cage because really.. it is!  I mean, there’s a reason they call them ribs, right?  Getting a bit more specific now for those who like to know, uh, what part of the ribs their ribs come from.. well, they are simply the top portion of the rib cage where it connects to the spine of the animal.  A slab of baby backs will contain anywhere from 8 to 14 rib bones and can weigh up to 2 lbs.  The meat on the bones of these backribs is relatively lean, coming from the loin area, where again, this side of the ribcage meets the animal’s spine.  Going one step further, the full rib cage is popularly cut into 2 main sections by butchers.. these are the loin backribs (baby backs) and spareribs.  It is common however for meat cutters to go a couple steps further, taking first a thin strip off the bottom portion of the rib cage and ‘merchandising’ these as rib tips.. then often splitting the large sparerib section in half, selling the lower and somewhat meatier half as St. Louis Style ribs, and the other half as a smaller, more manageable rack of spareribs.  It has been said that ‘Variety is the spice of life’, and the retail meat world is full of inventions born with this sentiment in mind.

The backyard grill or smoker is by far the most common method of cooking loin backribs.  Because of its very handleable and uniform qualities, a rack of these pork pop stars, if you will, are absolutely perfect for tossing, again, on the grill or smoker and letting the charcoal or wood chips work their sizzling magic!  But I will tell you also that I myself have many times thrown a couple racks into the oven, cooked them about half to three-quarters done, sauced them, slid them back in to finish off cooking, and then.. well, I think you know the rest of the story.  The point is that, whatever cooking method you choose, it’s hard to go wrong with pork loin ‘baby’ backribs, and that’s the truth of it. 

*Important!  As with any pork products, I strongly recommend being sure during cooking and before eating,  that the meat reaches an internal temperature – at its thickest area – of at least 145 degrees fahrenheit and does not come below that temperature for a continuous period of at least 15 seconds.  Any juices visible in or around the meat should be clear and never reddish or pink!  These safeguards will ensure that any harmful parasites or bacteria that might have been in the meat have been destroyed.

meatshop101 Shoppers’ Tip:

Frequent or ‘experienced’ baby backrib eaters are likely already familiar with the subject of this tip, but many are not, and I realize too that many will at some point try these excellent ribs for the first time.. or at least engage in the cooking aspect of it.  For those of you in especially the latter category, I feel this is well worth presenting to you before you head off to the supermarket to search out your showpiece rack of baby backs.  So here goes!  Almost without exception, even after processors have already prepped and packaged these ribs for shipment to the supermarket, there is a pesky layer of membrane covering the bones of the bottom or underside of the rack, opposite the meaty side.  Depending on cooking method and duration, this membrane can sometimes soften up nicely, but usually it remains and ends up being something you really don’t want to mix with the good meat as you eat your way from bone to bone.  So my recommendation – even though nowadays baby backribs arrive already vacuum sealed for longer keeping at the supermarket – is to ask your butcher to open the package and remove this membrane for you.  It will save you some trouble at home if, as I said, you are not already practiced at removing it.  Truthfully, it is not terribly hard to do it yourself.. if you can get a couple fingers underneath at one end of it, the whole membrane will peel off in one fell swoop.  But I understand there are many of you who love to eat meat but really want to touch it as little as humanly possible, and this advice is especially for you.  A trained butcher will know what you are asking when you make this request, and it is perfectly reasonable to do so.  One thing, though.. since the meat cutter will be removing the ribs from their air tight packaging, I further recommend asking that, once ready, it be double wrapped for the freezer if you do not plan on using it within a couple days.  So good luck ‘baby’!..so to speak, and I hope your next rack is right on the money!

One thought on “Pork Loin Cuts

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