Ranking Cuts Of Pork To Roast From Worst To Best

Pork may be unmatched within the realm of popular meats. It's easy to understand why, of course: The flavor profile and versatility of pork are almost too good to be true. 

Quite frankly, unless you're a vegetarian or a strict adherent to the dietary guidelines of Judaism or Islam (all personal choices that we greatly respect), you've likely encountered many of the seemingly limitless options of products that contain pork. 

There are countless ways of consuming this pig-derived protein, from juicy pan-seared chops to the thinly-sliced piles of the signature meats found on an Italian sub or plump-and-charred bratwurst on a fresh roll. There's virtually no end to the mouth-watering possibilities provided by this meat. The wide variety of ways to serve and eat pork can be downright daunting at times.

Yet, if you're looking for a cooking method that works for just about every cut of pork imaginable and is guaranteed to produce a delicious meal that delights diners' taste buds, you can always turn to oven-roasting. The ease and consistency offered by baking makes it a robustly popular choice for pork preparation.  

Of course, while virtually any type of pork product will produce a quality meal in the oven, some cuts rise above the competition. If you're working up a pork-based meal, it's essential to decide which cut of meat is best for your needs and preferences. 

12. Spiral ham

To be clear, there's no such thing as a bad piece of pork. Potentially spoiled? Sure. But unsafe-for-consumption aside, pork is so delicious that there isn't really a cut of this meat that is inedible or unworthy of ingestion. Yet, some cuts are better than others, and frankly, no piece of pork is more likely to put us to sleep than the oft-uninspiring spiral ham.

Apologies to Easter and Christmas meals and recipes throughout the nation; however, we've never really been especially excited by spiral ham: On any occasion. This smoked and cured pig's hind leg can certainly be delicious, like when it's sliced paper-thin and served cold between pieces of bread. But a thick, warm slice of spiral ham just doesn't provide the same melt-in-your-mouth tenderness and feel when roasted as compared to other cuts of pork  

While we clearly don't hold the same affection for spiral ham as some other people, we can appreciate it has its fans. Additionally, given the fact that the spiral ham comes pre-cooked, it's hard to fault a busy chef who prioritizes the simplicity offered by the classic pork product during holiday meal preparations. 

Still, we can't argue with our own tastebuds. And the fact that store-bought hams may contain some quantity of added water only bolsters our belief that spiral ham is extremely overrated among cuts of pork. 

11. Trotters (pig's feet)

One consistent theme you're likely to notice when it comes to roasting pork is that taking things low and slow is generally the key to success. If you're willing to be patient, then you can create an alluring product from any cut you desire. That being said, the ratio of edible meat obtained to the amount of work required makes it difficult to consider trotters or pig's feet as one of the superior cuts of meat.

While trotters are undeniably exotic, they're also a lot of work. According to Campbells, it can take up to eight hours to properly slow roast trotters, though you'll likely be satisfied with th results. However, six hours is a significant amount of time. Trotters simply aren't ideal for a convenient meal. Additionally, according to Izzy's Cooking, pig's feet require a significant amount of cleaning before they can be cooked. 

Pig's feet can be braised in a light sauce or grilled and served with an accompanying condiment, although the meal is unlikely to be satisfying. Since pig's feet offer very little meat, you'll probably find yourself craving a meal that's truly generous in its meat portions. Given the lack of ease and the overall disappointing results, trotters are certainly not one of the better cuts.

10. Ham hocks (pork knuckle)

Honestly, it's a bit of a toss-up between trotters and ham hocks in terms of the less satisfying cuts of pork. But ham hocks or pork knuckles rank slightly ahead of trotters, and, of course, the world's most boring product: Spiral ham. Similar to lamb shanks, ham hocks consist of the joint between a pig's leg and its foot (via Southern Living). Ham hocks contain a lot of bone and cartilage alongside any edible pork.

According to The Pioneer Woman, the average cut has far less meat than bone, fat, and gristle. Not only that, but it isn't generally used as the main protein in a meal: It's more likely to act as a flavorful component in soups or stews, as apparent in chef Steven Musolf's split pea and ham soup recipe

We're not saying ham hocks can't be the star of a dish when roasted low and slow (as you may have expected). However, like trotters, the amount of effort, the measly amount of meat, and the low bang-for-your-buck payoff make this cut one that you should probably steer clear of in favor of other parts of the pig. 

9. Pork belly

Although bacon is often made from cuts of the pig's stomach, pork belly is a  delightful cut of pork on all its own. Pork belly typically consists of a single piece of boneless meat that is, indeed, taken from a pig's stomach (via Pork Checkoff). 

But therein lies the problem with pork belly: Frankly, the sheer fact you can find a better cut of pork to roast within the pork stomach (as in bacon), which, well can't help but take points away. Additionally, since the best method for preparing pork belly might be using a pressure cooker (not roasting), we're inclined not to regard pork belly as one of the best cuts to roast.

Of course, pork belly is still an amazingly flavorful and luscious cut of pork when properly prepared. And, like every other cut of pork, it's still worth enjoying when the opportunity arises. It's simply a matter of other parts of the pig being better to roast from our vantage point.  

8. Pork shoulder

While it may not be quite as enjoyable as pork butt or picnic shoulder, pork shoulder isn't a hopeless piece of pork by any stretch. But, as the more-utilized and muscled half of the pig's shoulder cuts, it simply can't measure up to the superior tenderness offered by some other pork cuts, even when properly roasted. 

Pork shoulder is often sold with the bone intact and skin still on, and offers far less intermuscular fat disbursement than its close cousin, pork butt, the other half of the pig's shoulder cut (via Cook's Illustrated). Naturally, like any other tough cut of meat, the best way to roast a pork shoulder is to (say it with us now) cook it low and slow. 

The remaining skin can create an unmatched crisp and crackling exterior when roasted, which makes the pork shoulder a fairly decent option; that, and the fact that it typically yields far more actual meat than trotters or ham hocks. 

7. Pork chops

When it comes to pork chops, the best path to a perfectly roasted outcome doesn't start in the oven: It starts with pan-searing on the stove. Frankly, the process of first utilizing the Maillard reaction to sear and brown a pork chop over direct heat and then oven-roasting it to finish can produce a fantastically juicy and flavorful piece of pork (via Coleman Natural Foods).

But this is also the reason why pork chops are not the optimal option for roasting: Only half of the culinary process of cooking pork chops entails roasting. Without the intense piquancy that is generated from the initial pan-searing process, a pork chop cooked in the oven is nothing more than a sullen, boring affair. 

Pan-searing and then oven-roasting a pork chop is guaranteed to deliver, as long as it doesn't dry out during the cooking process. According to chef and author Sami Nosrat, you can easily ensure your pork chops prevent pork chops from becoming too dry by making a brine for the pork ahead of time (via Today). Additionally, according to Nosrat, you can "set yourself up for success" by buying the fattiest pork chop possible. 

6. Ribs (all varieties)

You might think we're crazy for not asserting that ribs (all pork ribs, which we're lumping together for simplicity's sake) are the absolute best cut of pork. How could we not declare ribs as being the most delicious part of the pig? Look, we get it because we do love oven-roasted pork ribs. And, with five varieties of pork ribs to choose from, including spareribs and baby back (baby back, baby back) ribs, it's not difficult to cook a rack of ribs to perfection (via Pork). 

But while we don't necessarily mind the messy circumstances dictated by rib consumption, the fact that they are such an endeavor to eat (with so much inedible byproduct to gnaw around) does impact their overall status in the world of roast-worthy cuts of pork.

Additionally, while Ina Garten once told Food Network that her method for "foolproof ribs" involves roasting them "in the oven until they're falling off the bone," the fact that she, like many others, finishes ribs on the grill after roasting them just slightly diminishes their roasting credibility.

There's no doubt a rack of oven-roasted pork ribs is all but guaranteed to leave a bounty of happy, BBQ-sauced faces. But from our perspective, other cuts of pork are far more ideal for roasting. 

5. Loin

While some may confuse pork loin with the similarly-named tenderloin, there are several crucial differences between the two (via Taste of Home). Loin cuts are much larger than the tenderloin on average (via  Pork Checkoff). Additionally, pork loin doesn't come from the same underutilized muscle area, so it's not nearly as tender. Still, few cuts of pork lend themselves to roasting quite as well as the loin. 

Frankly, there's very little to dislike about an oven-roasted pork loin. Whether you opt for boneless or the less-common bone-in version, loin provides a bounty of mouth-wateringly moist meat when roasted. Though it isn't quite as desirable as some other cuts of pork, partially due to the fat cap or layer of fat that rests atop it's still a highly satisfying option for anyone who is eager for a lean, meaty piece of pork (via Master Class).

While the loin is a pretty great cut, it is sort of bland, even though we would never ever turn down a slice of roasted pork loin smothered in herbs and spices.

4. Rib roast

If aesthetic value and visual presentation were all that mattered, then there's a good chance that the pork rib roast would win with flying colors. After all, how can any cut of pork compete with a set of perfectly-frenched rib bones (similar to a tomahawk steak) jutting skyward from a plump, luscious rib roast? Even when the flavor and enjoyability of this cut are considered, they don't do much to undermine the overall quality of this cut. 

The rib roast, sometimes called a rack of pork, is essentially a pork loin with the ribs left intact (via Fine Cooking). The remaining bones obviously enhance the eye-candy appeal of rib roast while keeping the meat juicy and potentially imparting a richer flavor when roasting.

While we can't deny that pork rib roast is on par with its beef counterpart, we also can't say we consistently enjoy it more than some other cuts of pork. Hence, while rib roast is quite good, it's not quite excellent. 

3. Bacon

If you've been beholden to the frying pan for the entirety of your bacon-eating life, then prepare to start a new phase of living. Because when it comes to the best cuts of pork to roast, bacon tops the charts by offering a splatter-free, easy-to-clean cooking option (via Cook's Illustrated).

We'll presume you don't need us to elaborate on the utterly incomparable deliciousness of bacon. Seriously: Everything's better with bacon, and few things taste quite as good as bacon. According to The New York Times, oven-roasting has rightly become all the rage since it's the best way to prepare a massive amount of bacon in a simple and quick manner. 

You may question whether we're biased towards the salted-and-cured meat, but what can we say? The proof is in the oven-roasted bacon. Roasting bacon offers a more evenly-cooked final product, drastically reduces the risk of burning the protein, and helps reduce the chance of bacon shrinkage during the cooking process. In short, oven-baked bacon is the epitome of the meat itself. 

2. Tenderloin

If you're incredulous about the power of the tenderloin, then you've clearly never experienced a  properly-prepared, oven-roasted pork tenderloin. Though the ultra-lean make-up of pork tenderloin makes it highly susceptible to overcooking, if you take the time and care to ensure it remains succulent when served, you'll quickly see why it's one of the best cuts of meat to roast (via Kitchn). 

The tenderness of this long and thin cut is unbeatable, largely because it's taken from a rarely-used muscle along the pig's spine (via MasterClass). The lack of marbling or external fat found in tenderloin can increase the chances of it drying out when roasting. But, as with other lean cuts of pork, this risk can be mitigated by brining or marinating it before cooking, a task made even easier by the meat's inherent malleability to additional flavors, according to All Recipes.

Additionally, the very reason it's easy to overcook can work in its favor: Tenderloin is one of the quickest-cooking cuts of pork, so you'll be able to enjoy a perfectly-roasted meal in no time at all. It may not be the absolute best cut of pork to roast, but there's no doubt that it is one of the best.

1. Pork butt

Honestly, pulled pork might just be the most delicious, toothsome, top-of-the-list of all meats and proteins. It's likely to be the desert island food choice for many different people. Given that, it makes sense that the cut used to make pulled pork is also one of the best in existence. Therefore, in our esteemed estimation, the undisputed champion of roast-worthy pork cuts is the one and only pork butt.

Now, don't be confused by the misleading name. After all, pork butt (AKA Boston butt) isn't actually the butchered remains of a pig's rear end (via Smoked BBQ Source). Rather, it's the top half of the primal shoulder cut, with the lower half being known as the pork shoulder. 

While pork butt is technically a pork "shoulder," as well, according to Cook's Illustrated the greater marbling and consistent shape of the butt (versus the shoulder) allows it to produce a much more tender final product. When cooked properly, pork butt results in an irresistible meaty-yet-silky texture that tops all other pork options.

There is no shortage of pork cuts ideally suited for roasting. But let's face it: if you throw a nicely-seasoned and rubbed pork butt in the oven and then let it roast for hours, you'll see precisely what we're talking about with regard to the sheer deliciousness of pork butt.