This Is The Worst Cut Of Pork You Can Buy

When it comes to pork, the terms and parts can be confusing. Where does that pork butt actually come from? (Hint: it's not the rear — it's actually from right behind the head, via Serious Eats). What is bacon, really? And what's the difference between every cut labeled "chop"? 

It comes down to this: every pork cut comes from one of four main areas: shoulder, belly or side, leg, and loin (via Cook's Illustrated) — and every cut can go by a few different names. But to simplify, shoulder cuts, like pork butt or pork shoulder, are good for slow cooking, like barbecue or roasting. Leg cuts are where we get ham: ham shank, spiral-cut ham, country ham — which you can pull off making yourself. Bacon, that fatty, crispy, gift from the pig gods, is from the belly or side. So are "spare ribs" and, duh, pork belly, which is more or less a term for fattier, uncured bacon that had spiked in popularity with foodie-types but apparently lost traction during the pandemic (via Salon and Bloomberg).

Loin cuts are the leanest and maybe the most varied. Many prefer them for their tenderness, and a lot of the "chop" varieties we see in the store come from the loin: blade chop, rip chop, center-cut chop. Many "roast" and "rib" varieties are also from the loin — like the pork loin roast or baby back ribs — yes, the very same, before you spontaneously break out into song. But not just any chop will do.

Why you should avoid this one cut of pork

Several considerations must go into choosing the centerpiece of your pork dinner: flavor, texture, price, and how easy it is to prepare. Rib chops, for example, have a high fat content which keeps them juicy, and a good flavor. In fact, most boneless pork chops you come across at the store are likely to come from this part right near the ribs (via Cook's Illustrated). Other delicious and versatile cuts that won't break the bank are pork shoulder or pork butt, which are good for roasting, barbecuing, or grilling.

Most home cooks might steer away from piggy parts like feet, jowls, ears, and skin – the parts that may not even grace the refrigerator of your local grocery store. Even if they did, these less-than-appetizing bits would be cheap (although, hello? Chicharrones! Any trendy restaurant in the late 2000s!). But what part of the pig is not only widely available, sometimes expensive, and terrible? Look no further, casual pork eater. This is the worst cut of pork for your money. It's bony, tough, and easy to mess up.

If you remember anything, remember this: Sirloin chops come from the hip — and they are bad. Cooks Illustrated, known for their rigorous testing, rated every cut of pork-based on flavor and cost. What they said about sirloin chops: "These chops, cut from the sirloin, or hip, end of the pig, are tough, dry, and tasteless" and "We do not recommend this cut." Epic burn. 

Pork pitfalls

Cooks Illustrated even went so far as to give sirloin chop, which has no cooking method listed, "no stars." Strong words from a magazine that only just added color photography to their pages in 2018 (via The Oregonian). The Spruce Eats says, "Sirloin end is closest to the rump and tends to be bony." Sirloin chops are, "by comparison, a tougher cut," says Allrecipes, which generously suggests braising them. If you do end up with a lot of sirloin chops somehow, like this Reddit user, and need to figure out (in their words) "wtf to do with them," braising is a good bet.

To be fair, any cut of pork can turn out bad without kitchen chops (yup). A mistake most rookies make is overcooking and ending up with a tough, dry slab of meat. According to The Kitchn, this is likely due to carry-over cooking, which is the bit of heat that continues cooking a pork chop after it's off the stove. Many cuts of pork are quite lean, so it doesn't take much to sear them into hockey-puck oblivion. You can avoid this with a probe thermometer, which should measure 145 degrees Fahrenheit in the center. A little bit of pink is — get ready for it — fine — even for pork.

So there you have it. Pork butt doesn't come from the butt, but it is delicious. Sirloin chops actually do come from the butt (via Sugar Mountain Farm), but perhaps they'd be better off left there.