If lechon, crispy pata, and pork adobo (among many other dishes) are any indication, then we can say pork is the one thing that can’t be removed from a traditional Filipino diet. Since our country is known for maximizing animals by utilizing all of its parts, it follows suit that we have our own names for all our favorite pig parts.
Here’s a break-down of common pork cuts—and how to say them in both Filipino and English!
Maskara (Head or Mask)
The maskara or pig’s head is one of the most versatile parts of the pig. The cheeks are meaty; so in some countries, people cure and smoke them to make jowls or bacon. On the other hand, the snout and ears have some cartilage, adding some texture to the rest of the head which is generally skin and fat.
The variety of flavors and textures in the maskara make it a great catch-all for sisig. Cut up and mixed, it’s soft, crunchy, gelatinous, and meaty. Some people also chop up the maskara and barbecue it; others just roast the head whole and pick at it as pulutan.
Tenga (pork ears) have a soft bone running through them. So a part of it is tender, but the rest of it is fatty and some skin. You can use pork ears by themselves in several dishes like Kapampangan sisig or barbecued pigs ears. A great at-home option is to boil them until soft, then slice into strips then deep-fry, making them very crunchy (kind of like chicharon).
The batok (neck or collar) is a fatty cut taken above the pig’s shoulder. It can be divided into the spare rib (which is different from the pork spareribs we’re all familiar with) and the blade. To cook, you can bone out the neck and roast it as a whole joint. Otherwise, people also cure the batok into “collar bacon.”
Kasim or pork shoulder (aka pork butt, though it’s not actually the butt) cuts are marbled with fat and connective tissues (litid). These an ideal cut for slow-cook recipes that involve braising, stewing, or barbecuing. Most adobo-cut pork options in the supermarket are from the shoulder, and these cuts are great to use for adobo, sinigang, menudo, or the like. You can also slow-roast an entire kasim, and you’ll end up with a tender, flavorful piece of meat.
The pork loin or tagiliran encompasses the long back area of the pig between its shoulder and back legs. It has the leanest meat and is the most tender part of the animal. When you get pork loin from a supermarket or butcher, it’s usually cut as the whole back, but you can ask them to cut it depending on what you need. You can get it either bone-in (like a rack) or boneless (great for pork roasts). Being a versatile piece of meat, there’s plenty you can do with pork loin. That said, slow-cook methods—specifically grilling or roasting—work best.
People often bunch the tenderloin (lomo) with the rest of the loin. But this pork cut is actually very different. Pork tenderloin describes the muscle that runs along the pig’s central spine. It’s all meat (it’s also known as pork filet), so it’s very lean, tender, and delicate. You don’t need a lot to cook it; it takes well to marinade and cooks fairly quickly. If not grilling or searing on its own, you can quickly add it to a stir-fry dish.
Below the loin and tenderloin, you’ll find the ribs or tadyang. The ribs are usually categorized into spareribs and baby back ribs. Spareribs come from the belly of the pig and contain a lot of flavorful meat. Meanwhile, baby back ribs—which do not come from baby pigs—are taken from near the loin. These contain more lean meat around the bones and sell at a higher price. You can choose to baste and char ribs over a grill or roast it in the oven. Heck, you can even deep-fry it to make crispy tadyang.
Pork belly or liempo refers to the pork cuts taken from the belly or sides of the pig. Alternating layers of fat and lean meat make up the belly, so it’s the most flavorful part of the pig. Its versatility goes beyond just inihaw or fried liempo; it can be turned into a rolled belly, and it can also be used interchangeably with dishes that use kasim. Bacon, pancetta, and other cured pork products also usually come from the belly.
The leg (pigue) of the pig provides a lot of lean meat that, when sold, can either be fresh or cured. It’s also called ham because, well, this is where ham comes from. The pigue acts similarly with kasim in the sense that it’s also multi-purpose and works best with slow-cook methods. There’s not a lot of fat in this area, so it’s best to take your time to cook pork legs to properly tenderize the meat.
The pata or hock gives us dishes like crispy pata and patatim. This cut isn’t very fatty, but it makes up in flavor from the skin and tissue that surround the dark meat. The pata can also substitute kasim and pigue in a variety of dishes. The knuckles or trotters of the pig is also a popular bar chow. Alternatively, it’s great to use for making stock.