Pork Loin Vs. Pork Shoulder Explained

Pork Loin

Pork is so succulent and delicious! One slice of pork is literally never enough to satisfy your cravings since you’ll be wanting more and more pork.

But there are so many different cuts of pork to choose from. All of these cuts have different purposes. This is why choosing the right cut of pork for the job is so important.

Most people experience stress when trying to select the right cut of pork. They also experience stress when choosing between pork loin and pork shoulder, which is normal since they are both excellent cuts of meat. But let’s explore both cuts in-depth to make an informed decision when it comes to pork loin vs. pork shoulder.

What Is Pork Loin?

Pork loin is the leanest cut of the animal. Usually, lean cuts of meat are tough and chewy, but pork loin is actually the most tender cut of the animal. Typically, pork loin is fabricated into pork chops, but it can also be sold as a roast.

The bone is normally left in the pork chop creating a T bone shape. Bone-in pork chops are thicker than boneless pork chops since they have had the bone removed.

In contrast, pork loin may be sold as a large cut of meat labeled pork roast. It can be sold as bone-in, which is perfect for roasting. However, it can also be sold boneless.

Pork chops and pork loins can be prepared using different methods. Nevertheless, pork loin is the most tender part of the pig, but if it is overcooked, it can easily become the driest and toughest cut.

Pork chops are relatively easy to prepare. You can cook them in the oven, pan-sear them on the stovetop, or even fire up your natural gas grill and make grilled pork chops.

As for pork loin, the easiest way to prepare it is by roasting it in the oven at 350°F. It takes about 25 minutes per pound of meat. It does not matter how you prepare it, make sure your infrared thermometer registers a temperature of 145°F when cooking pork chops or pork loin.

What Is Pork Shoulder?

As the name implies, pork shoulder refers to pork that comes from the shoulder of the animal. Pork shoulder contains a rich amount of fat and connective tissues, which means it should be roasted or smoked low and slow in the oven or an offset smoker.

Pork shoulder is confusing for most people because it may also be called or labeled pork butt or Boston butt. However, Boston butt is a different cut of pork.

Pork shoulder is usually fabricated with the shoulder blade bone and called a blade pork roast. In contrast, if the shoulder includes the lower portion of the arm, it is called an arm roast.

Pork shoulder is loaded with intramuscular fat. That’s why it is the preferred cut for pulled pork. The fat and cartilage prevent the meat from drying out as it cooks in a slow cooker or electric smoker. Pork shoulder may also be ground in a meat grinder to produce ground pork.

Pork Loin Vs. Pork Shoulder

People often lump pork loin and pork shoulder in the same category because they are pork. However, just like every cut of beef is different, every cut of pork is different.

Nutrition

When it comes to nutrition, pork loin is the healthier cut. Pork loin not only has fewer calories but it also has less cholesterol, sodium, and fat. In addition, pork loin also contains more protein than pork shoulder.

Price 

Pork shoulder has a leg up on pork loin in the price department since it is cheaper. Pork loin ranges between $3 and $5, while pork shoulder ranges between $1 and $3. 

Although this may not seem like a drastic difference, remember both cuts are large pieces of meat which mean the price can add up. For example, if you buy a 6-pound pork loin at $5 a pound, that’s a $30 piece of pork.

In contrast, if you buy a 6-pound pork shoulder at $3 a pound, you will pay $16, which is significantly lower than $30 for pork loin. Therefore, you should keep your budget in mind when choosing between pork shoulder and pork loin.

Flavor And Texture

Flavor and texture are the most important considerations when it comes to pork shoulder vs. pork loin. Melt in your mouth is probably the best way to describe the texture of pork shoulder. However, this only applies to pork shoulder that is cooked the right way.

Pork shoulder is coveted due to the layer of fat encasing it. The fat infiltrates the meat while it is cooking and creates the juiciest cut of meat. In regard to flavor, pork shoulder doesn’t have a strong flavor like lamb or duck.This is why pork shoulder is usually paired with marinades and sides such as BBQ baked beans.

In contrast, pork loin also has a milk layer. It also has a strip of fat that helps keep it moist as it cooks.

Cooking Time

Like brisket, pork shoulder requires time and patience. Depending on the cooking method, pork shoulder can take up to 6 hours to cook. The trick to the best pork shoulder is to slow cook the pork shoulder at a low temperature.

Some people recommend cutting the pork shoulder into smaller pieces to speed up the cooking process. I advise against it because you will be butchering the pork shoulder in the worst way possible.

Not only will you alter the texture of the meat by cutting it into smaller pieces, but you will also change the meat’s texture. It really isn’t worth the trouble, so cook your pork shoulder whole.

On the other hand, pork loin is a different ball game. Pork loin is much smaller than pork shoulder, so it cooks in less time. Nevertheless, you still need to keep a watchful eye on your pork loin when cooking it.

Pork loin contains less fat than its counterparts which means it is at greater risk of becoming dry. This is why you should cook the pork loin hot and fast to prevent it from drying out too much.

Ultimately, pork loin is the best cut if you are as busy as a bee. In contrast, pork shoulder may be the better option if you’re as free as a kite.

Can You Substitute Pork Loin For Pork Shoulder?

Unfortunately, there are too many differences between pork loin and pork shoulder, so they can’t be used interchangeably. If you roast a pork shoulder in the same way you would roast pork loin, you will be met with an overly fatty cut of meat.

If you try to smoke pork loin or use it to make pulled pork with it, the loin will dry out rather quickly, leaving you with tough, unpleasant meat.

If you are looking for a substitute for pork loin, it’s best to go with pork tenderloin. Pork tenderloin is a narrow cut of pork located close to the backbone.

Pork tenderloin is known for its tenderness, and it is also lean, which makes it the best substitute for pork loin. However, pork tenderloin is in high demand, so it runs out of stock in no time.

Beef loin is also an excellent substitute for pork loin. However, it is more expensive than pork loin. Nevertheless, it is very tender and has the signature beef flavor we all know and love.

When it comes to pork shoulder, pork butt is hands down the best substitute. They come from the same region of the animal and have similar levels of intramuscular fat.

In addition to this, both pork shoulder and pork butt can be used interchangeably, so you won’t end up with a pile of dry meat if you use pork butt in place of the shoulder.

Center cut pork loin is also an excellent substitute for pork shoulder since their structure is similar in nature.

This cut of pork is carved from the region between the rear leg and the shoulder. Although it contains less fat, the center-cut pork loin roast is tender and transforms into a juicy, delicious meal when it is cooked correctly.

Boneless pork leg, also known as ham, can also be used as a stand-in for pork shoulder. However, you must carefully watch the meat’s moisture levels to make sure most of its juices are maintained. Pork leg can dry out when it is cooked, so you need to be careful, or else you will end up with dry pork leg.

Final Thoughts

Which one is better: pork loin or shoulder loin? The truth is, I don’t know; I like both cuts of pork.

However, what I will say is if you are looking for a healthy cut of pork to incorporate into a healthy meal, pork loin is best. So, if time is important or you have a busy lifestyle and need to get something on the table quickly, pork loin might be better.

On the other hand, if you want are looking for a delicious, inexpensive cut of pork to smoke or you are making pulled pork, pork shoulder is better.

Nevertheless, you won’t be disappointed with either cut of pork, so try both!

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