What’s The Difference Between Pork Loin and Pork Shoulder?

Pork is one of the most succulent meats around. It has such a distinguished flavor which leaves you wanting more and more.

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Whether you grill, fry, or roast it, the taste will always excite your taste buds. There are so many different cuts of pork and they all serve different purposes. It is so important to choose the right cut of pork for the meal you are making. 

A lot of people do get overwhelmed when trying to figure out what cut of pork they need. We just want to let you know that is completely understandable.

If you want to cook a top-notch pulled pork dish, which cut of pork should you go for? Well, we can use our expertise to advise on this. 

Two of the most popular cuts are the pork loin and the pork shoulder. Both cuts can be used in a wide range of dishes. However, it is frowned upon to substitute one for the other for certain recipes.

So, which one should you pick for your meal? Keep reading to find out more!

What are the main differences?

When defining the differences of each cut, it is important to begin by discussing the tastes and textures of the meat itself. We’d like to begin by taking a look at where each portion comes from on the animal. 

Let’s start with the most obvious cut, the pork shoulder. This is found on the upper part of the shoulder from the front leg.

As you can imagine, this is a hefty chunk of meat. Most butchers will sell it in large packs. When you order, you can expect to choose from cuts which can way up to 18 pounds. We’re sure that most butchers would accommodate smaller cuts on request though. 

On the other hand, the pork loin is located around the backbones of the animal. It is the muscle that protects the bone.

Due to that reason, you may think that this cut is also sold in large portions. However, that would be incorrect. Mostly, pork loin is cut into small portions of one pound a loin. 

An important question for many diners is, but does it have bones? If you aren’t already aware, let us educate you. Pork shoulders are usually attached to the backbone. However, lucky for us, butchers kindly remove this bone before selling.

Therefore, you can enjoy a pork shoulder bone-free! As it is a larger cut of meat, it is usually tied up into a joint before putting on the shelf for sale too.

In contrast to this, pork loin comes completely boneless. It is one of the main muscles at the backbone of the animal, however, you will never encounter this bone.

These loins can be bought in batches of individually cut steaks which are super handy if you are feeding the family or meal prepping. 

Flavor and Texture

Now it’s time to discuss one of the most important factors when it comes to deciding which cut is best for you. Let’s talk about flavor and texture.

You won’t be let down with either of these cuts as they each bring something different to the table. Excuse the pun! 

People love pork shoulder as a cut of meat as it does come with some fat surrounding it. This fat penetrates the meat when cooking and makes it ever so juicy.

You will have tender and flavorful meat. Melt in the mouth definitely comes to mind when this cut is cooked right. This cut of pork is perfect for anyone as it doesn’t have a strong flavor associated with it. Meaning that it can be paired with many marinades and sides.

Pork loins are completely different. Don’t let that put you off though! They still tick a lot of boxes when it comes to putting a great meal together.

Pork loins are a great addition to any healthy meal you have planned for the week. This is because there is very little fat on the cut. Even though fat does have many benefits when cooking a cut of meat, the flavor of a pork loin is not compromised.

When it is cooked perfectly, it is very flavorful and super succulent. 

Average Price

What most people love about pork is that it is a lot cheaper than other flavorful meats like beef.

If you are trying to eat healthily or try to incorporate different flavors into your diet, pork is a great choice.

If you are living on a budget, it can also be a great buy. Cooking up a large pork cut can last you and your family several days too which is another added bonus. 

So, let’s get into the nitty-gritty. Pork shoulder can average for $3 per pound. Make sure you get a decent-sized portion to suit your family. We always advise buying a slightly larger cut as leftovers will never go to waste! 

Pork loins are similarly priced to shoulder cuts. Depending on where you shop, a pork loin that weighs one pound can average between $3-4. Some stores do price them slightly higher and this is due to the lean cut of the meat.

Cooking Time

How long it takes to cook a piece of meat can vary depending on the cut. It can also be the deciding factor on what you plan to cook that night.

If you have a busy lifestyle and need something which can be cooked quickly or if you have time to prepare a decent joint of meat, pork should be considered. 

Let’s kick things off by taking a look at the pork shoulder. This needs time and patience. To get the best result you will want to slow cook this beauty at the perfect temperature.

What’s that temperature? We hear you ask… It’s 400° F. We are going to share one of our best recipes with you all below. You will not be disappointed.

Some people do cut their pork shoulder into small pieces so it cooks faster but you don’t really need to do that.

If you don’t stick to the cooking instructions then you risk losing flavor and texture in the meat. It’s not worth the risk, especially, when you are cooking a larger cut.

When it comes to pork loins, as they’re smaller cuts, they take less time to cook. However, there are still things you need to keep an eye on when cooking your pork loins.

As they are less fatty, you can risk the meat becoming too dry. To avoid doing this, you will want to cook your loins for a short period of time of 10 minutes at 400° F.

If you have a busy lifestyle, we would initially recommend cooking loins. However, if you do fancy the juicier meat of the pork shoulder, then don’t let the long cooking time put you off.

If you have a day free, take it to prep and cook the meat. Once it is cooked, you can use it for two to three days afterward. 

Sometimes, it is worth prepping a larger piece of meat to save you more time in the week. Especially if you have back-to-back meetings or if you have to take your kids to after school activities. Take some time to evaluate what would suit you best.

By going through the benefits of each meat, you may already have an idea of which cut would work best for the meal you have in mind.

Each cut can be made into a delicious dish, we don’t doubt that at all. However, we have to clarify what you should use to get the tastiest final results. 

Which cut should you use?

If you’re still confused over what cut is best for your meal, we are here for you. Three of the most popular dishes made with pork include pulled pork, pork steaks, and roasted pork.

All equally as delicious in their own right. Each is prepped differently which allows you to explore the unique flavors which pork can give. 

Pulled Pork

One of the most popular pork dishes to come out of the USA is pulled pork. To achieve the best pulled pork, you need to have the right cut.

The right cut of pork will let you get that succulent taste and soft texture that just falls apart when forked. You may feel intimidated by the thought of cooking pulled pork, but you shouldn’t be!

A lot of people do tend to shy away from making pulled pork at home as they think it is hard to perfect.

We say that pulled pork is only hard to perfect when the cook chooses the wrong cut of pork. So what cut of pork should be used for pulled pork? It has to be the pork shoulder. 

We always advise people to use pork shoulder for pulled pork due to its marbling. When cooking, the marbling of fat throughout the cut secures moisture and makes the taste even more intense.

To really bring out the famous flavors of the pork, we love to smoke the pork shoulder. This does take a long time, but you will not regret smoking the meat once you serve it up. 

Once your pork shoulder has finished smoking, let the meat rest and then gently begin forking it apart. If cooked correctly, you will instantly see how the meat easily falls apart.

Then add your sauce and ensure it is thoroughly distributed before serving. 

Pork Steak

To get the best pork steak you will want your steak to end up juicy. Knowing this, you may run straight to the pork shoulder but this wouldn’t be your best bet.

The pork loin is the top choice when it comes to preparing the most perfect pork steak. 

This is due to the fact that it is sold in steak cuts so you can easily remove them from the packaging and pop them straight into your pan.

Pan frying is probably the quickest way to cook your pork steaks. You can, of course, also grill your pork steak but if you need to prepare a quick dish, you can’t go wrong in the pan!

Perfect steaks begin with a splash of oil in a pan. Once the pan is heated, you can add the steaks and fry them on a high heat until they have browned on each side. This usually takes ten to fifteen minutes. They go great paired with roasted potatoes too!

This dish is ideal for any person who has a busier schedule or is looking for a different source of protein to add to their diet.

It is also a great idea to fry multiple steaks at once as they can be kept in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Roasted Pork

A well-loved dish is roasted pork. It is a firm favorite with many families due to the size of the meat joint.

The best cut of pork for this meal would be the pork shoulder. With this cut, you can get a tender and juicy end result that will keep people wanting more and more! 

Another great thing about using pork shoulder is that you can try your hand at pork crackling. For any pork lover, crackling is a delicious way to make a pork joint a lot more interesting.

Imagine that melt in the mouth meat with the tasty crunch of the crackling. Top that with some apple sauce and you really do have yourself a top class dish. 

You will need to have some spare time to be able to cook this cut of meat. To get the most delicious outcome, you will need to cook it for at least two hours on low-medium heat.

As pork shoulder is usually sold in larger cuts, you can keep this safely in the refrigerator for three to four days. Great if you are a meal prepper or have a larger family!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Best Cut of Pork for Pulled Pork?

Pulled pork is one of the most flavorful, tender, and juicy dishes that every meat lover will have heard of. If you’re interested in making your own pulled pork the first thing you’ll need to do is find the right cut of meat.

One of the very best cuts for pulling is pork shoulder, due to its fat content. While not being grisly the shoulders have enough fat to create a very tender and soft piece of meat.

As the fat in this meat melts it almost self bastes the meat as it cooks, allowing the meat to remain juicy and moist even while it continues cooking.

This is ideal for low and slow roasts that allow the meat to mingle and baste in its own fat for longer, moistening until it’s almost ready to fall apart on its own.

Cooking shoulder low and slowly over a long period is critical to ensure the proper texture, and the reward for your patience is well worth it.

After the right amount of time pork shoulder can be very easily pulled using two forks and tastes amazing due to the fat that will have permeated the joint as it cooked.

Summary

Pork loin and pork shoulder are both fantastic cuts of meat. The main differences are the way that they are cut and sold.

Both have the advantage of being a lot cheaper than other meats available to buy. This makes them a great choice for anyone on a budget! 

Just because they are cheaper than other meats like beef, doesn’t make them any less tasty! Pork loin and shoulder meat can be used in a wide variety of popular dishes such as pulled pork, pork steak, and roasted pork.

Each dish brings with it a distinguished taste which will leave you and your dinner guests helping yourselves to more.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community.
She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
Cassie Marshall
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