Here in Kentucky, it’s not very difficult to find a grocery store that sells whole pork loins… and I do mean whole–I can usually find about 3-foot-long sections of pork loin for less than $30 somewhere. If you’re smart about it, you can make quite a few meals from one loin. Alright, let’s get started.
Okay, so I’m going to talk about loins for just a minute. I promise there is a point to it, so stick with me. There are three distinct parts to a loin: a lighter pink part, a darker red part, and a layer of fat. The overall shape of the loin is also pretty standard: one end is thick while the other tapers off. The vast majority of the loin is made up of the lighter pink part, with a layer of the darker red and fat on one side. The thick end is almost all pink and fat, but as you move toward the tapered end, the red part tends to get thicker until the end itself is made almost entirely of the darker red (with more fat appearing inside the red). The pink part is extremely easy to overcook, which will make it dry and tough. The red part, however, is much more forgiving and is sooo tender when cooked properly. Unfortunately, the red part stays pretty dark even after cooking, so it doesn’t look like what we’re used to seeing from a pork chop. Finally, the fat doesn’t seem to render very much in the (short) time it takes to cook a pork chop to 160 degrees F. Sooo… The “prettiest” chops are going to come from the thick end, but they will be the hardest to cook (without turning them into shoe leather). The middle of the loin will be much easier to cook, but will have very distinctive sections to the meat (light and dark). The tapered end would make for really easy cooking, but isn’t going to look much like a pork chop (and it’s going to be pretty thin, width-wise).
Thanks for hanging in there. Okay, now to apply what we know. I recommend cutting your chops from the thick end. While it will be the hardest to cook, you can control just how hard by the thickness of the cut: thinner cuts cook faster and more evenly, while thicker cuts take more time and finesse. How far down the loin you cut into chops is at your personal discretion–just keep in mind what I said earlier about the finished product. Once you’re done with the chops, I would recommend cutting a few sections about 6 to 8 inches thick to roast or braise (i.e., pork loin). Finally, I would save about 2 to 3 inches of the tapered end to use for dishes that call for tiny cuts of pork (such as Pork Fried Rice).
What you’ll need:
- 1 whole pork loin
- Large cutting board (or knife-safe surface to cut on)
- 8 inch chef knife or cleaver
- Paper towels
- Plates to temporarily hold the cuts
- Freezer-safe bags (vacuum bags preferred) to store the cuts in
- Rinse the loin with cold water, and dry with paper towels
- Cut the loin as described above. Place the cuts onto plates.
- Separate the cuts into expected serving sizes. (If you expect to feed only yourself, I would recommend doing 2 cuts per bag–one for dinner, and one for lunch the next day. The “loins” and the “extras” parts should be individually bagged.)
- Freeze all portions that you don’t expect to use within a day or two.