Filling out a cut sheet doesn’t need to be hard, in fact, it should be a fun part of the process. We raise and sell hogs by the whole or half from our farm. Our customers often ask us how to fill out the pork cut sheet from the butcher (the form the butcher uses to determine how you want your half processed). Our first time filling out a pork cut sheet also overwhelmed us. It is hard to understand what that cut of meat you see on the grocery store shelf actually is in butchering jargon. This article will help you determine what you need out of your whole animal purchase, whether you are ordering from us, another local farmer, or raising your own animals.
The very first thing you need to determine before even touching a pork cut sheet is how many people you want to feed. Smaller households have more options because larger cuts can be divided and used in different ways. Larger families have less of that luxury and must choose which cuts are important to them. You also may be a smaller family, but you may want to use your meat more for entertaining and less for everyday meals, in which case you would choose large cuts.
Today, I am focusing on pork cuts because that is what we are raising. Soon we will have cows and I will get into sides of beef when needed. Pork is confusing because some cuts are named after regions they aren’t even in, like the butt. Many don’t know bacon comes from the belly, which is actually the lower side of the hog. All animals are processed into primal cuts. The primal is the main muscle region that the butcher will cut the animal into before processing it further. You always have the option to have your meat cut into primals and leave it at that, although they will be exceptionally large and untrimmed. Pork primals are shoulder, leg, loin, and belly.
- The Shoulder – The shoulder is my favorite part of the whole hog; it has the highest marbling and is always juicy and tender. Pork shoulder is cut into two pieces: the butt (Boston butt, shoulder, etc.), and the picnic shoulder. The upper shoulder portion is the butt, and is cut into steaks, whole shoulder roasts, or country ribs. Pork steaks are my favorite!!! They are cut just like a regular beef steak with the bone in and can be cooked the same way, the downfall to pork steaks is you lose a portion of your shoulder roast. The roast can be sliced into steaks or kept for roasts; some butchers give the option for 50/50. Country ribs are cut from the area where the shoulder meets the loin. The shoulder roasts are traditionally used for BBQ pulled pork, although you can cook almost any cut this way, these would be your traditional pork butt. The picnic shoulder is sometimes called a picnic ham and is cut from the lower part of the shoulder. A picnic ham will often include the attached leg or shank and can be cured or smoked to be just like a ham. If you really like ham, consider having one of these cured in addition to your leg.
- Smoking – A smoked pork butt is also known as cottage bacon. If you have never had cottage bacon you are missing out. It contains wonderful marbling and delicious tender meat but is leaner than traditional bacon. It is more popular in the UK and is more common there instead of our traditional bacon.
- The Leg – The leg is the back leg of the hog and known as the ham. Although technically it’s not a ham until it is cured or cooked like a ham. Our butcher allows you to get the leg smoked or fresh and gives the option of cutting it into halves or thirds. The shank or leg is still attached to the leg when they smoke it and then after smoking, they are cut into the pieces you request. The hock can be removed and is wonderful for simmering in soups, cooking baked beans, or making stock. If you wish to smoke the ham yourself, have it cut into the sizes you want by the butcher and do it at home.
- The Loin – The loin is the most well-known cut of pork. This is where pork chops, loin roasts, tenderloin, ribs, and spareribs come from. These are all popular easily recognized cuts. The chops and loin roast are cut from the same meat so you can choose to have one or the other or 50/50. The loin is part of the upper back of the hog, so it contains a lot of bone. The eye of the loin is a wonderful cut of meat that we are used to seeing in loin roasts or boneless pork chops. If you choose to have boneless meat you will lose some meat and therefore weight in your final cuts. Ribs and spareribs are self-explanatory, but they also come from this region, you can decide how large of a rib package you want.
- Smoking – A smoked pork loin roast eye is what is known as Canadian bacon. Canadian bacon originated from Canada, but they call it back bacon. It has a similar taste to ham, due to a lack of fat, and can be used sliced on things like eggs benedict, pizza, sandwiches, omelets, etc.
- The Belly – Traditional U.S. bacon is made from cured and smoked pork belly. If you want bacon then this whole cut will be smoked, sliced, and then packaged into the sizes you indicate. There are many ways to use pork belly so if you are not a huge bacon fan or are adventurous, I encourage you to explore other uses as well. Our family really enjoys Asian cooking, and they have taught us so many different uses for pork belly.
These are going to be your main cuts of pork. All remaining meat is trimmed off the bone, separated from fat and sinew, and then ground. You always have the option to grind all the hog or any of the cuts if you do not desire them. Ground pork is packaged fresh or used for sausage. Our butcher will grind, mix in the perfect fat ratio, season, encase, and smoke sausage links for the perfect ready-to-eat sausage.
We are not big fans of breakfast sausage, so we pick up our ground pork fresh immediately after processing and mix it with our own seasonings. We have made chorizo and bangers and will continue to experiment more in the future.
Here is the big important note: farmers charge a price per pound based on hanging weight, this is the weight of the animal just before being cut into primals with no internal organs and often skinned. That is the amount of meat the farmer is selling to you, so you can make the decision on how it is cut. The butcher then charges you for a standard cut and wrap fee (per pound x hanging weight) which includes all the “normal cuts” and wrapping the meat, so it is freezer ready. Additional charges are made if you choose alternative cuts, wrapping, or curing. If you merely had the animal cut into primals you would get back exactly what hanging weight was, possibly minus a little fat trimming so they can properly find the cuts.
Every cut that is made on the animal includes some form of “waste” or trimming. In the example above of the boneless pork loin, this would mean there will be some pork left on the bones that you usually see in a bone-in pork chop, the butcher would trim away that meat and add it to your grinding meat. So, every time a cut is made around these bones there is always a little bit of waste. Think about stripping the leftovers off your Thanksgiving turkey, there will always be something left on the bones, no matter how hard you try. In addition, every cut is trimmed so that it is neat and square which makes it best for cooking evenly. All trimmings get added to the grinder with the appropriate fat ratio. In the end, there is an expected weight loss of 25-30% off hanging weight consisting of bone, unusable fat, and some trimmings that are difficult to strip. So, remember this while filling out your pork cut sheet.
Enjoy The Process
Most importantly enjoy the process! Learn to use new cuts of meat or learn to use the old ones in new ways. Home-raised meat is the best you can get so honor that with your best effort in the kitchen. Have you ever been confused about pork cut sheets? Do you have more questions that weren’t answered? Comment below.