When shopping for pork, knowing your cuts will help you choose the right piece of meat for different dishes along with the best ways to cook them.
Pork belly and pork loin are two primal cuts of pork (out of a total of 5) that yield several retail cuts.
So, what is the difference between pork belly and pork loin? Pork belly and pork loin come from different parts of a pig, with the former coming from the belly and the latter cut from the back and sides near the spine.
Read on to find out more about pork belly and pork loin, how they taste, how they are cooked, how they are different from one another, and much more.
What Is Pork Belly?
Pork belly is an inexpensive cut of fatty boneless meat that comes from the underside, aka., the belly of the pig.
Made up of layers of fat and meat, whole pork belly looks like a brick of meat with thick and thin layers of fat marbled throughout.
When stripped off its outer layer of fat and then smoked, cured, and sliced thinly, pork belly turns into the most loved breakfast food – bacon!
More traditionally seen in Asian, Hispanic, and Northern European cuisines, where it is served as pork belly bao or as an add-on to other dishes such as pancetta, pork belly is also used to carve out spareribs.
What Does Pork Belly Taste Like?
The three words that best describe pork belly are: salty, meaty, and hearty. When kept whole, pork belly has an incredibly rich flavor due to the thick layer of fat running along its top.
When cured and smoked, it takes on an irresistible umami flavor that makes it taste utterly delicious!
Because of its richness, it pairs incredibly well with bright and fresh ingredients and flavors such as citrus, herbs, lettuce, scallions, and cucumber.
How To Cook Pork Belly
The best way to cook pork belly is low and slow. The connective tissue in the meat needs time to break down, which is why it is recommended to slow cook it. This will render the fat super soft and give the meat a tender chew.
It is best used in dishes that use slow or moist heat to make the meat soft and tender. If the skin is kept on, it can be crisped at the end under the broiler or in a pan.
Here are step-by-step instructions for making the best pork belly:
- Score the fat on the top with a knife. This results in a greater surface area being exposed to the heat and allows the excess fat to drain.
- Next, sprinkle it with seasonings. You may use only salt or a spice blend of your choice.
- Sear it until it becomes super crispy.
- Transfer it to a Dutch oven and allow it to braise for a few hours. Make sure the crispy skin side is up.
- It will be ready when the internal temperature reaches at least 145°F and the meat easily pulls apart.
Tip: good pork belly has a balanced ratio of meat and fat. Also, the fat should look creamy white. If it is too yellow or grey, it is probably not fresh.
What Is Pork Loin?
Pork loin is a lean and tender cut taken from the pig’s loin muscle, which is the midsection running from the shoulder to the rear.
More specifically, it is taken from the back fat and ribs. It is wide, thick, and rectangular, and has a fat cap, which is a thin layer of fat running along its top.
To make it easier to slice after cooking, it is most commonly sold as a boneless roast. Steaks cut from loin roast are called pork chops, which are another fan favorite.
What Does Pork Loin Taste Like?
Pork loin is a light-colored, mild-tasting meat that turns pale pink or white when it is cooked through. The fat cap keeps the meat moist when it cooks and results in a juicy and tender dish.
A go-to cut of pork that is perfect when you what to prepare an easy yet delicious meal, pork loin can be paired with a variety of seasonings and spices to make a show-stopping dish.
How To Cook Pork Loin
The best way to cook pork loin is to grill or sear it on the stove until you get a crispy, caramelized exterior, followed by roasting it at a low temperature in the oven to finish cooking the center. You may also cook pork loin in a slow cooker.
Here are step-by-step instructions for making the juiciest pork loin:
- Preheat your oven to 400°F.
- Rub all sides of the pork loin with seasonings of your choice. You may put them on individually or make a dry rub by mixing them all in a bowl.
- Next, place the pork loin, fat side up, in a roasting pan. Make sure the fat layer is on top so that it can baste the roast as it cooks in order to prevent the meat from becoming dry and tough.
- Place the pork loin in the preheated oven and let it cook for 10 minutes. This will help create a “crust” and keep the juices inside.
- Lower the temperature of the oven to 350°F and continue cooking it for about 20 minutes for every pound of meat.
- Check the internal temperature of the pork loin. It is ready once it hits 145°F.
- Pull it out of the oven, loosely cover the roast with aluminum foil, and let it rest for about 10 minutes before serving.
Differences Between Pork Belly And Pork Loin
As discussed above, pork belly and pork loin come from different parts of the pig and differ in several ways in terms of their taste, texture, and preparation methods.
Here are the key differences between the two primal cuts of pork:
|Pork Belly||Pork Loin|
|Part of pig||The pig’s belly||The pig’s loin – the back and sides near the spine|
|Flavor||Salty, meaty, and hearty||Lean and mild|
|Texture||Juicier when properly cooked||Tender when properly cooked – can dry out if overcooked|
|Nutrition||High fat, low protein, more calories||Low fat, high protein, fewer calories|
|Cooking method||Low and slow – cured before smoked or roasted||Grilled or seared, or prepared in a slow cooker|
Which One Is Better – Pork Belly Or Pork Loin?
Pork belly and pork loin are two different types of cuts of meat with different tastes, nutrition, and preparation methods.
Pork belly is a fattier, cheaper cut of pork with a lot more connective tissue. Pork loin, on the other hand, is much leaner and will cost you more compared to pork belly.
When choosing the better option, it all comes down to your preference, what you feel like having, and what works best for you.
Both pork belly and pork loin come from pig meat and have the same base pork flavor. Both can be used to create delicious recipes and are oftentimes interchangeable.
Both can be roasted and served with roasted vegetables, sauce, or salad on the side.
Can You Substitute Pork Belly With Pork Loin?
While you can use pork loin instead of pork belly, and vice versa, the total cooking time for each and the final product, in terms of taste and texture, may vary.
Pork belly is a cut of meat that is incredibly juicy and versatile. A perfect combination of tender meat and crunchy skin, it can be substituted with something with an equally intense and juicy flavor and texture.
We have another article detailing the best pork belly substitutes, but here’s a crash course.
Some great substitutes for pork belly include:
- Pork bacon
- Beef bacon
- Fatback meat
- Pork shoulder/pork butt
- Goose meat
- Duck bacon
- Turkey bacon
Pork loin is one of the leanest cuts of pork and there are not many pork cuts that fit the bill in terms of its texture and flavor, making it a bit difficult to find a good substitute.
Some great substitutes for pork loin include:
- Pork tenderloin
- Beef loin
- Chicken breast
Pork Loin Vs. Pork Tenderloin
Pork loin and pork tenderloin are both lean cuts of meat without much marbling and come from the same part of the pig – the loin muscle.
The most obvious difference between the two is their size. Pork loin is thick and wide, with a large fat cap running along its top, whereas pork tenderloin is narrow and thin with little to no visible fat.
Their cooking methods also vary greatly. Pork loin is a larger cut of meat and, therefore, benefits from a longer cooking time.
It is best prepared by starting out with a hard sear and finishing off with lower, slower heat. Pork tenderloin is better suited for quick cooking as it is leaner and thinner.
When it comes to the color, pork loin has a pale pink appearance, whereas pork tenderloin tends to be dark pink or red.
Another difference to note is that pork loin can be both boneless and bone-in, while pork tenderloin is always boneless.