Pork is an affordable protein that can be served in a number of different ways. Whether you want to have slices of tender meat served alongside a side dish or you want pulled pork piled high on a bun, it’s important to know about the different cuts of pork.
The pork loin vs pork butt may be one of the hardest decisions to make. Once you know more about the texture and flavor of each, you can decide on which cut you will want to work with for a particular dish.
Pork Loin Overview
The pork loin is a cut that comes from along the rib cage, on the dorsal side of the pig. It is a boneless cut that will typically weigh about three pounds.
Pork loin is not to be confused with pork tenderloin. A tenderloin is a lot thinner. A pork loin is wide enough that you can cut steak-like pieces from it. The loin is both affordable and lean. You will find the cut to be extremely tender, so you won’t have to spend a lot of time cooking it.
The flavor you can expect from a pork loin is mild, which is why a seasoning or marinade is highly recommended when you cook it. It’s also important to know that the cut features a fat cap on the top, which should be kept intact. It’s what helps to keep the pork moist throughout the cooking process.
Pork loin is commonly cooked as-is. You won’t need to cut it or slice it before it is cooked. Once cooked, you can serve it up by the slice. The meat is versatile, so you can choose to roast it in the oven or grill it. As a way to preserve the juiciness of the loin, you can also use a pressure cooker.
Here is a great overview of How to Smoke a Pork Loin.
Pork Butt Overview
Despite the name, the pork butt is actually cut from the shoulder of the pig. It is known to have a high-fat content and will usually weigh between six and eight pounds. Most butchers will cut the butt above the shoulder blade.
The pork butt is easy to work with and, due to its size, can feed a large number of people. The low and slow process helps to break up the fat so that it’s not chewy.
The butt offers a meaty flavor that can stand up well to high heat as well as long cook times. It is commonly rubbed with seasonings, brined, and even coated in barbecue sauce.
It can be cooked in many ways, though smoking is one of the most popular options because it can produce a strong, developed flavor.
Pork butt is most commonly used for pulled pork, but it can also be used in homemade sausage, braised Hawaiian roasts, and even for Kimchi stew.
Here is how I use pork butt to make Pulled Pork on a Traeger.
Pork Loin vs Pork Butt: Main Differences
There are quite a few differences between pork loin and pork butt, even after you look at what part of the pig they have been cut from.
Loins are long pieces of meat while butts tend to be chunks of meat. Further, loins are extremely lean while butts are marbled with fat.
The flavor is going to be milder with a loin than with a butt, which offers a stronger, meatier flavor. Both, however, should be cooked low and slow to get the most flavor out of them.
What’s Better: Pork Loin or Butt?
The pork loin and the pork butt are both great cuts of pork. You can use them in different ways based on the kind of dish you want to produce. To pick one over another is difficult simply because they offer unique features.
If you are focusing on the healthy aspects of a cut of pork, then the loin is the better option. It has not only less fat but also fewer calories and less sodium. It will also deliver more grams of protein per serving ounce than a pork butt will.
If you are focusing on cost, then the pork butt is going to be one of the cheapest options for you. As long as you have the time to season and cook the butt, it can produce a delicious flavor that will feed a crowd.
It also comes down to the cooking methods that you have available to you. If you have a smoker, a butt will always be your best option. If you only have small appliances available to you, such as a pressure cooker or a slow cooker, a pork loin will be the best option.
With enough time to cook either cut of pork, you can produce all sorts of delicious meals.
Is Pork Loin Good for Pulled Pork?
While pork loin can be used for pulled pork, it’s not the ideal cut. You’ll want something a bit fattier so that it can produce tender and juicy meat when it’s pulled.
If a loin is all you have or you want a leaner form of pulled pork, it should be cooked in more liquid to keep it moist.
What is the Best Cut of Pork for Pulled Pork?
There are quite a few cuts of meat that you can use for pulled pork. The best and most popular option is what is known as the pork shoulder. Depending on where you buy your meat, this can be divided into two cuts: the Boston butt (also known as a roast) and the picnic roast. It may also be one full piece, which consists of the front leg as well as the shoulder of the pig.
One of the reasons why the shoulder is popular is because it has just enough fat to keep the meat moist. The cut is most commonly prepared as boneless, too, so you don’t have to worry about shredding the pork away from the bone.
You can make pulled pork easily enough. Find a good rub for the pork shoulder. Then, get it into a smoker or a crockpot. Low and slow is the best approach for pork that pulls apart with a fork. Ideally, eight hours on low is plenty, but you’ll want to make sure that the internal temperature reads at least 200°F before you serve it.