If there is one cut of meat that I consistently buy to freeze, it's the pork loin. Without fail, it's one of the most economical cuts on the entire pig.
Not to mention - if you're looking to feed a family for cheap, you'd be pretty hard pressed to find a better option.
Something that not many people realize is that you can buy a whole boneless pork loin and divide it into various cuts for a variety of meals; Whether you're looking for a roast, pork chops, stew meat, etc. The pork loin has you covered.
A whole boneless pork loin is typically divided into four parts (to see these four parts, scroll down to the cutting section).
Here's the meat side of the boneless pork loin:
Here's the fat side of the boneless pork loin:
Starting from the front of the pig and working our way back:
It should be noted, some people divide the whole pork loin into three main parts: The blade end, the center loin, and then a sirloin end.
Personally, I find four parts more appropriate as I'd rather use one of the center portions as a smaller roast. The other half can then be cut into something like loin chops or in my case pork stew meat.
Whenever I buy a whole pork loin I'll cut up the muscle into these four parts and then vacuum seal them individually. That way if I'm after a specific meal like a pork ribeye chop, I only have to defrost the blade end rather than the entire pork loin.
Before slicing, it's best to determine what you want to use these cuts for; This is entirely personal preference but I've outlined below some of my favorite ways to further slice these parts.
Before we jump into cutting the pork loin, let's discuss these "parts" first and see what we can do with them and more importantly, why we're using them that way.
On every pork loin, the blade end is my favorite part - mainly because it's in close proximity to the shoulder and it has qualities similar to that of a pork butt.
Due to these qualities it can be used for any number of meals.
Some of my favorite ways to use it are:
On a pork loin, this end is a darker hue of pink.
The size of the center rib will depend on how big you cut the blade end.
Like I said above, typically in a grocery store you'll find pork loin sold as whole or halved. When they're sold halved, the center rib is attached to the blade end.
This is especially useful if you aren't a fan of the sirloin half.
In my opinion, the blade half is "better" simply because of the fat content.
Some of my favorite ways to use the center rib are:
Previously, I mentioned that some folks like to leave the Center loin and the Center Rib attached to form one large roast. The main reason for this is because lots of people tend to just cut them up into boneless pork chops.
The reason I opt to cut them up into two distinct sections is because if you left them in tact, it would make a roast that could feed a family for an entire week.
Rather, when both are separated, you get two roasts that are roughly 2-3 pounds each.
If you feel like a slow cooked pork loin roast, you can grab one of these sections. If instead you want boneless pork chops, you can grab one of these sections and slice them up accordingly.
As you start getting closer to the sirloin end, the meat will sort of transition into being more fibrous with connective tissue.
The center sections are turned into chops because they have better marbling distribution.
When the sirloin is cut into chops, you'll notice the meat is leaner and they have distinct pieces of connective tissue running through the muscle. These tend to be less appetizing, especially when cooked as chops.
Rather, what I like to do is first cut these up into smaller chops, and then check which chops have the most connective tissue. The chops with more connective tissue can be cubed up into stew meat.
Some of my favorite ways to use the Sirloin end are:
Now that the above is out of the way, you have a better idea of why we're sectioning these pieces the way we are.
Here are the various sections separated:
To make this easier on yourself, I'd suggest the following:
*Something I like to do is use the width of my pointer figure as a means of measurement. For instance, my thin cut chops are roughly 1 finger width. My thick cut ribeye chops are two fingers thick. Keep in mind, thickness is personal preference.
If you bought the meat vacuum sealed, put it in the freezer for 30 minutes to an hour; This makes the meat easier to work with and creates cleaner slices.
Of the different parts of the loin, this is the easiest one to separate because the fat striations are readily apparent. Typically the fat cap of this end will also be scalped due to the butchering process.
To determine which end is the blade end, you can look at the color of the meat. The blade end will usually be darker than the sirloin end.
Another way to determine the ends is by the muscle structure. The blade end will sort of look "relaxed" where-as the sirloin end will look "contracted."
You can make this end as long as you want.
Typically I find where the fat striations stop and slice there, just because I love pork ribeye chops. By making the center rib longer, you get less pork loin chops but the "ribeye" chops from this section are so much better.
I personally use this entire section as pork ribeye chops.
Here's the cross section of the pork ribeye chops:
These look super reminiscent of beef ribeye steaks with a pronounced spinalis muscle or ribeye cap (the darker portion pictured above).
If you're making a roast, most people will measure 5-6 inches from the end of the pork loin and slice. This results in a small 2-3 lb blade roast.
To make country style ribs, measure 5-6 inches, and slice. Then cut this roast in half. Then slice these individual pieces into strips that are 1.25 - 1.5 inches thick.
If you're someone who wants to make pulled pork with the loin meat, use this section and cut the roast to include the ribeye chops. The added intramuscular fat will help to keep the roast moist, which other loin roasts tend to lack.
The entire center loin resides between the sirloin end and the blade end.
These sections I typically halve so I can use one as a 2-3 roast and the other as either stir fry or stew meat.
In this case I used the end closer to the blade as stew meat and the other I left whole as a 2-3 lb roast.
In a grocery store when the whole loin is halved, the center rib section is usually attached to the blade-end (above).
If you're making pulled pork, use the blade half.
Here's the center loin as a whole roast:
The center rib I opted to turn into stew meat.
To do this, all I did was removed all the exterior fat and silver skin; I then cubed the meat up into traditional stew meat.
The reason I used the center rib for this is because it tends to have better intramuscular fat than the other.
The sirloin end I decided to turn into a super small roast (for myself) and I also made thin cut chops (roughly the width of my pointer finger).
Here's the whole sirloin roast:
I then cut from the right side of the sirloin end into thin cut chops:
The thin cut chops are the total opposite of ribeye chops. They have very little fat content and depending on where you cut them from, they can have connective tissue (gristle) running through them which can be less appetizing.
This is also another reason I made a smaller roast is because the gristle tends to trail towards the sirloin end. You could also opt to turn this sirloin end into stew meat.
There are a number of ways you can choose to cut up a pork loin; I've honestly only scratched the surface of the number of cuts there are.
The above pork loin was 7.84 lbs and $1.89/lb or $14.82. For that amount of money I made roughly 5 meals.
With the way meat prices are, you'd be hard pressed to find a better cut of meat to feed your family with on a budget. Not to mention the amount of variety you can extract from it.