What Cuts to Get When Butchering a Pig: The Complete Guide

September 21, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton
Edited by John Smits 

The most prized cuts of a pig are the tenderloin, baby back ribs, and bacon. When you buy or butcher a whole hog, you’ll have your pick of the cuts, including pork belly, loin, ham, and head. It’s up to you if you want pork loin or pork chops, for instance. I’ll walk you through every cut of a hog, explain what cooking techniques you should use, and much more.

I’ve purchased a whole hog a few times. I’ve gone “halfsies” with family members, too. It’s a smart move. It’s cheaper than buying individual cuts from the grocery store, and if you’ve got freezer space you’ll be stocked with meal options for months.

In this post, I’ll cover what cuts of pig to look for. I will also provide some guidance on how to butcher a pig. Let’s begin!

What cuts to get when butchering a pig

Primal and Subprimal Cuts

Here are the primal cuts of pig – I will discuss each section in greater detail later on. Depending on who you ask or where you live, there are between 4 and 6 primal cuts. I was always taught that there are 5 primal cuts, so let’s go with that. The 5 primal cuts of hog are:

  • The shoulder
  • The loin
  • The belly
  • The ham or leg
  • The head

What cuts should you look for when butchering a pig? Here is a breakdown of the main cuts as well as the smaller cuts that you can get from them:


The section behind the head from the top of the front leg to the trotter is known as the shoulder. Pig’s shoulder muscles are large and quite tough. That’s because they are well-exercised. Muscles that get a lot of use tend to be tougher.

Don’t shy from the shoulder, though! When cooked using low and slow techniques such as barbecuing (my favorite), braising, and stewing, the connective tissues break down. You’re rewarded with supremely tender, shreddable, delicious pork.

The most common cuts in the shoulder are pork shoulder (aka picnic shoulder) and pork butt. Pork butt is also known as Boston butt.

  • Picnic Shoulder: this is a fatty cut with plenty of flavor. You can have it bone-in or boneless, depending on your preference. It’s a cheap cut when purchased at the grocery store. Shh. Don’t tell other shoppers how divine pulled pork from a picnic shoulder can be.
  • Pork Butt: this is cut from the upper section of the front shoulder. The most common way to prepare Boston butt is to pull it. It may be butchered with or without the shoulder blade still attached. As with the pork shoulder, there is lots of connective tissue in this cut. Pork butt is best cooked slowly, over low heat.
Raw Cut of Pork Shoulder

Slow roasting is another excellent cooking option for this cut. One of the reasons pork butt is so popular is because it is easy to cook. All that fat means that it is very difficult to overcook the meat – when I smoke a pork butt, I cook it to 203°F internal temperature. 9 times out of 10, if pork butt is tough, it’s because it is undercooked or cooked at too high of temperatures.


There are several cuts that come from the loin, including baby back ribs and the tenderloin. Loin meat is quite tender as the muscles don’t get much exercise. These cuts are usually cooked hot and fast.

While it is quite common for the pork loin to be cut up into sections as chops or cutlets, it can be roasted as a whole, too. It can also be added to ground pork and sausage.

Ribs, loin chops, and pork chops are all taken from this area.

  • Baby Back Ribs: these are cut from the part of the ribcage that is closest to the spine. They’re called baby back ribs because they are smaller than spare ribs. They don’t come from baby pigs. Baby backs taste best when grilled or smoked. They are tender enough to cook over higher heat, but I prefer them smoked.
  • Rib Chops: these are taken from the rib portion of the loin. These are sometimes sold as boneless pork chops. These are quite fatty, which means they are loaded with flavor. These can be grilled, pan-fried, or braised.
  • Country Style Ribs: these are removed from the blade end of the loin, close to the shoulder. Don’t let the name fool you – these are boneless and not actually ribs. They also have a significant amount of meat and are quite tender. Grilling, smoking, and braising are some cooking options.
  • Tenderloin: this is a thin and long cut of meat taken from the center of the loin. It is found under the backbone of the pig. It is lean and flavorful. Tenderloin shines when it’s grilled, pan-seared, or cut up small and used in stir-fries. 
Raw Pork Loin with Spices and Herbs


This cut comes from the belly of the hog (no kidding)! If you’ve had bacon, you’ve had pork belly. Bacon is simply pork belly that’s gone through a curing and smoking process. 

However, there is so much more to pork belly than people realize. It can be diced and used for stir-fries or tacos. Pork belly is commonly used in Asian cuisines.

Other cuts that come from the pig’s belly:

  • Spare Ribs: these are taken from the ribcage that is closest to the sternum. They have a portion of the breastbone attached and are less curved than loin back ribs. Barbequing is the best cooking method for spare ribs.
  • St. Louis Style Spare Ribs: these are essentially spare ribs that have been trimmed down. As a result, they have a more handsome and uniform shape. These, too, are ideal when barbecued.
Pork Belly Slices with Rosemary


This is the backmost portion of the pig, from the hips to the knees. The meat here can be sold fresh, but many butchers will cure and smoke the ham for you if you’re buying a half or whole hog.

  • Shank: the leg of the pig is divided into the shank end and the rounded sirloin end. The shank is the lower portion of the ham. Spiral ham comes from the shank. The shank is best enjoyed after roasting.
  • Sirloin: this is a bony section but it’s packed with flavor. It comes from higher up on the hog and is usually more expensive than shank.
Honey Glazed Baked Ham


I left this for last because not everyone considers the head to be a cut of the pig. Cultural taboos might mean you want nothing to do with eating the pig’s head.

If you’ve got the stomach for it, pork head has a lot to offer. Pork jowl, which is cured and smoked pork cheeks, comes from the head. Ears can be fried or baked. Many cultures eat the snout and tongue. It might sound strange if you’re Western, but there are tasty cuts of meat on the boar’s head waiting for you to discover.

Related Reading

Grilled Pork Jowl

Other Cuts

Most people tend to focus on the primal and sub-primal cuts when they think of a butchered pig. However, there are other parts of the hog that can be eaten.

One of these is the ham hock, which is also known as pork knuckles. The Ham hock is the forearm of the pig. It’s best cooked using low and slow methods. They are often added to stews to thicken them up and add taste. Hocks are also frequently added to add flavor to soul food sides such as baked beans and collard greens.

Many people also consider organ meats to be a certain type of “cut.” When cooking, organ meats are known as “offal.” The heart, brain, liver, tripe, and kidneys are offal meats. The thymus and pancreas are considered “sweetbreads,” a subcategory of offal meat. 

Organs such as kidneys can be mixed with ground pork and seasonings to make sausage.

Trotters, which are the pig’s feet, are another edible cut that many in the West overlook. They can be served on their own, and they are often added to stock for additional fat and flavor.

What Cuts Are in Half a Pig?

Your butcher will typically allow you to pick from several cuts when buying half a pig. For a half hog that weighs around 100 pounds, a sample of the cuts you’d get might look like this:

  • 14 – 18 pounds of ham
  • 8 – 10 pounds of bacon
  • 18 – 22 pounds of loin cuts (chops or roasts) 
  • 8 – 12 pounds of shoulder cuts (steaks or roasts)
  • 4 – 5 pounds of hocks and organ meats
  • 3-5 pounds of ground pork, sausage, or brats
Pig Body Categorization

\Again, you’ll have some independence when ordering. If you prefer pork belly to bacon, let your butcher know. If you want more ground pork, your butcher will most likely be happy to make some from the loin or shoulder.

If you’re looking for an online butcher, I’ve had good luck with pork from All Grass Farms. They will let you choose what cuts you want smoked or cured.

What Do You Get When You Butcher a Whole Hog?

You get every cut of pig when you butcher a whole hog. Your butcher will generally give you a list of options of how you’d like the pig broken down. You’ll be able to pick between a whole pork loin and pork chops, for example. Other cuts of the pig can be ground into sausage for you if desired. A 200-pound pig would yield the following cuts:

  • 28 – 36 pounds of ham 
  • 16 – 20 pounds of bacon
  • 36 – 44 pounds of loin cuts (chops or roasts)
  • 16 – 24 pounds of shoulder cuts (steaks or roasts)
  • 8 – 10 pounds of hocks and organ meats
  • 6 – 10 pounds of ground pork, sausage, or brats

People buy an entire hog for a couple of reasons. First, you get a ton of meat. It’s also often cheaper to buy a whole hog versus a half. 

So, should you go ahead and get an entire pig?

It depends on the amount of meat you can prepare, eat, and store. 

If you have a large, pork-loving family or entertain frequently, a whole hog can also make sense. Depending on the size of the pig, you could end up with 100 pounds of meat or more. You better have a spare freezer to store all that pork.

If you don’t have any big cookouts on the horizon or don’t have the space to store so much meat, then buying a whole hog probably isn’t the right decision for you.

Related Reading

Should You Butcher a Pig By Yourself?

Butchering a pig is probably beyond the scope of the average home chef. I am usually all about DIY, and I encourage others to get their hands dirty when it comes to prepping, cooking, etc.

Butchering, however, is another story entirely. Butchering animals takes a great deal of skill. Most butchers have spent years mastering this art. Try butchering without a clear understanding of where to make the proper cuts, and you could lose a lot of valuable meat.

If you are determined to give it a try, though, the below guide should help you to get started. Personally, I would recommend a lesson or two from your butcher first.

Slicing Fresh Meat

A Guide to Butchering a Hog

If this is your first try, I would suggest starting with half a pig as a whole animal will be too much to handle right now.

Note: This guide assumes that your hog is already slaughtered, gutted, skinned, and fully exsanguinated (bled). 

What You Will Need

Remember: always use a sharp knife. Sharp knives are far safer to use than dull knives – they’re less likely to slip when making a cut. They also require less effort when cutting through tough meat and tissue.

Be mindful of where the hand not holding the knife is at all times. This is especially important when pushing the knife down with force or tugging it upward through the muscle. Make sure that your non-dominant hand is well out of the way. 

You’ll also need a bone saw or a reciprocating saw to cut through the bones.

How to Butcher a Pig?

  1. Remove the organs if they haven’t been removed for you. You can choose to discard them or keep them to use in sausage or as a sweetbread. Score the kidneys lightly, peel back the membrane, and pop the kidneys free.
  2. Remove the leaf lard. When you are ready, the first thing that you should do is remove the leaf lard (also called the leaf fat). This is found in the abdominal cavities. Discard the leaf fat or reserve it to make lard. You should be able to pull it out with your hands. Use a sharp knife if you’re stuck.
  3. Remove the spinal cord. Use a sharp knife to trim out the spinal cord. The carcass should now be cut in half: duplicate all the remaining steps for both sides of the carcass.
  4. Use a hacksaw to cut through the pelvic bone, which that attaches the sirloin to the back of the carcass.
  5. Now, cut through the sirloin (ham) with a knife. The ham is now detached from the pig carcass.
  6. Remove the tailbone from the ham. Discard the tailbone or use it in a stew. Excess fat can be trimmed from the ham at this time, too.  Use the fat for sausage. Your ham is good to go!
  7. Cut through the shoulder section with a saw. This involves cutting through the ribs. Typically, most butchers cut between the third or fourth rib. 
  8. Remove the loin from the rib. You’ll have to cut the slab lengthwise to do this. The ribs you’re left with are baby backs. Look at you, you’re making good progress!
  9. Remove the excess fat from the loin. Again, use a knife. Make large, swiping, pulling motions toward you with the knife. Reserve the fat for lard. 
  10. You can now cut the loin up into pork chops or leave it intact as a roast.
  11. Time to remove the spare ribs from the belly. Make a cut 1” below the chine bones. These run lengthwise at an angle on the carcass and are more like cartilage than bones. The cut doesn’t need to be all the way through the meat – just deep enough to remove the ribs.

Now, cut the ribs away from the belly. You’ve got spare ribs!

  1. Square off the pork belly. Reserve any scraps or trimmings for sausage. The pork belly is all set – you can cure it and smoke it to make bacon, or leave it fresh and cook it as pork belly.
  2. Remove the neck bone from the pork shoulder. Use a knife. Save the bone for broth, add it to beans, or whatever you like it for. Keep the knife close to the bone.
  3. Remove the jowl from the shoulder. The jowl can be smoked or used for bacon.
  4. Remove the gland from the shoulder. It’s located near the neck of the carcass. You don’t want to serve your guests a gland in their pulled pork, believe me.
  5. Trim as much fat off the pork shoulder as you desire. I shoot for around ¼”. That fat cap won’t render, but it will protect the pork from heat in the smoker.
  6. Cut the pork shoulder in half. You’re looking to separate the pork butt from the picnic cut. Use a saw. Now’s a good time to cut the ham hock off of the picnic roast with a saw, as well. Remove the bone from the pork butt, if desired. Boom! You’ve got your pork butt and picnic cut, as well as the hock.
  7. Trim the spare ribs into St. Louis cut, if desired. Use a knife to remove the membrane from the bones. The membrane looks like a thin white sheet of fat, and it is rubbery if cooked. Cut through the soft cartilage at the bottom of the ribs – this cut can be saved for rib tips.
  8. That’s it! You’ve successfully butchered a hog. Your mom would be so proud of you!

Explaining how to butcher a hog without pictures or a video is tricky. Here’s a handy video if you’re stuck. Warning: Butchery is a grisly process. If watching a pig carcass get cut up isn’t for you, don’t watch it. (But then, what are you doing reading this guide?)

What is the Most Valuable Cut of Meat From a Pig?

Pork tenderloin, baby back ribs, and pork belly are generally the most expensive cuts per pound at the supermarket. If the pork belly has been made into bacon, it’s been cured, sliced, and smoked, which makes it even more expensive.

How Much Meat Do You Get From a 250-Pound Pig?

A 250-pounder should yield around 144 pounds of meat. 

That weight estimate is based on retail cuts. If you are butchering the hog yourself, then you may be a bit more careful with what you cut away, resulting in greater final weight. You may also be a clumsy butcher and yield less meat.

You’ll lose some of the weight from bones, moisture loss, and trimming excess fat. Again, the 144 pounds is a rough estimate. 

Wrapping It Up

Now that you are all caught up you can choose to butcher your own meat. Butchering isn’t for everyone. But now that you’re familiar with the process, you know a ton more about what cuts are on a pig, and what cuts you should get.

There are 5 primal cuts on a pig, each of which is butchered further into smaller portions of meat. Knowing where each cut comes from gets you a better understanding of how to cook it.

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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