Home > Comparison > Pork Loin vs. Pork Shoulder: What’s the Difference?

Pork Loin vs. Pork Shoulder: What’s the Difference?

Most cuts from a pig are interchangeable in recipes, but the pork loin makes a better choice to serve as a main dish.

A careful comparison shows that each cut works best with specific cooking methods and recipes.

When comparing the difference between pork loin and pork shoulder, you’ll notice that the two types of meat don’t look alike.

You get them from separate parts of the pig that have different fat content and texture.

Things About Pork Loin You Should Know

What Is Pork Loin?

pork loin joint

Pork loin is lean meat from the upper side of the pig. This cut starts behind the shoulder and extends to the back leg across the ribs.

You can buy pork loin as a whole pork loin, roasts, or pork chops.

Pork loin roasts are usually boneless and weigh between 2 and 4 lbs. The meat sells as pork loin roast, center loin roast, pork center rib roast, or pork roast.

The pork loin cut is a wide, flat, tender piece of meat with a top fat layer. The other tender cut is the pork tenderloin. The tenderloin is a slender strip of muscle from the pig’s backbone, just above the top of the pork loin.

Don’t confuse the two cuts. The tenderloin is thinner, leaner, boneless, and usually more expensive per pound. It cooks faster and can dry out if cooked with the same technique you’d use to cook a pork loin.

What to Use Pork Loin For

If you purchase a whole pork loin, there are several different ways to cut it to make it into several meals.

Three to four inches of each end make good stew meat when chopped into chunks, and you can slice another five or six inches in from each end into pork chops. You can separate two or three roasts from the middle in the sizes you want.

If you purchase a pork loin roast, place it in the pan with the fat side up. As it cooks, the fat will melt and coat the loin to keep it moist. Check the roast with a meat thermometer to ensure it’s at least 145 °F [1] for food safety purposes.

You can serve the roast in slices and use the leftover pork in casseroles, stir-frys, and sandwiches.

Things About Pork Shoulder You Should Know

Pork shoulder is a different cut of meat from pork loin and requires longer cooking.

What Is Pork Shoulder

raw pork shoulder

Pork shoulder is the meat above the pig’s front leg between the shoulder blades. You can buy them as a blade pork roast when the shoulder blade bone is intact.

Arm roast is the pork shoulder with some meat from the arm, which is the pig’s front leg. The label usually calls it a picnic ham if the leg bone is intact.

One other name for pork shoulder roast is pork butt, which many people think is from the backside or butt of the pig, but is the highest, thickest part of the shoulder that can include neck muscle.

If the label says pork shoulder rather than pork butt, it’s from the lower shoulder area. Ground pork also typically comes from the meat of a pork shoulder.

Pork shoulder usually weighs between 4 and 10 lbs and is a chunk of meat with a little visible fat marbling throughout.

What to Use Pork Should For

Chopped pork shoulder works as stew meat or as ground pork in recipes. It can also be cooked and shredded to make pulled pork.

Pork shoulder works best when cooked for several hours in a slow oven or a slow cooker [2]. The longer cooking time gives the marbled fat inside the meat time to melt and help tenderize the meat.

Put liquid in the bottom of the pan or slow cooker to braise the meat and help make it tender. The internal temperature needs to reach 145 °F for safety, but 160 to 180 °F will make it more tender.

Differences Between Pork Loin vs Pork Shoulder

The most significant difference between pork loin and pork shoulder stems from each muscle’s location and use.


Pork Loin

Pork Shoulder


From the top between the back legs and shoulder area

From the shoulder


Weighs 4 lbs or less

Up to 10 lbs





A layer of fat on top

More fat


Sliced roast or pork chops

Part of other recipes


pork cut

When you compare pork loin vs pork shoulder, where they are in the pig accounts for all the differences.

The pork shoulder is the shoulder of the pig, while the pork loin is the strip of meat along the ribs on its side.


Pork loin usually weighs 4 lbs or less, while pork shoulder can weigh up to 10 lbs, especially if it includes bone.


Pork loin is a tender muscle because it doesn’t get exercise like the muscle of the legs when the pig moves. The shoulder muscle works and is tougher as a result.


There is visible fat on both cuts of pork loin vs pork shoulder, but the placement and amount of fat are different.

The pork loin has a layer of fat on top but is still lean beneath it. The shoulder has fat marbled throughout.

The same serving size of pork shoulder can have up to one-third more calories [3] than pork loin because it contains more fat.


Pork loin gets served as a sliced roast or pork chops, but pork shoulder meat often becomes part of other recipes instead of an entrée.

FAQs About Pork Loin and Pork Shoulder

Common questions about pork loin vs pork shoulder include how to substitute them and which is better.

Which is better, pork loin or pork shoulder?

Which cut is better depends on how you want to use it. If you need pork for other recipes, pork shoulder is best. But pork loin makes a better roast served as an entrée.

Can I substitute pork loin for pork shoulder?

You can substitute one cut for another, but you’ll have to adjust how you cook it to avoid drying out the lean pork loin and cook the shoulder long enough to get tender.

What is a good substitute for pork shoulder?

The best substitute for a pork shoulder is a different cut from the same area, such as the pork butt of the upper shoulder or a picnic ham that contains arm meat.

Final Words

The main difference between pork loin vs pork shoulder is the location of the pork cuts. Now that you know the differences, go ahead to choose the one your prefer for a tasty meal!

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I’m Jennifer Schlette, a Registered Dietitian and Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. I love cooking, reading, and my kids! Here you’ll find the healthiest recipes & substitutions for your cooking. Enjoy, and be well, friends!

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