Pork Cutting: Belly Primal

This is what the belly primal looks like right off the hog.  On the top left side you can see the ribs.  These are called “side ribs,” as opposed to “back ribs,” which are on the loin primal.  In fact, this entire primal is sometimes called “side pork.”

On the bottom left is the breastbone, or sternum.The pork belly primal

The ribs are covered in a membrane that doesn’t break down very well, even after extensive cooking.  When I buy side ribs from the grocery store, the first thing I do is remove that membrane.  I think it’s easiest removed while the ribs are still attached to the belly, so we’ll do it now.

Each rib has a vein running between the membrane and the bone.  If you run your finger along the bone you can push a bit of blood out of the severed vein, like so (the dark spot right above my index finger is blood.)

Milking the a side rib vein

Having located the opening, I insert the tip of my knife into the vein. The tip of my knife is now between the bone and the membrane.

Lifting the side rib membrane with a knife

Lifting the membrane with the knife might cut it, so at this point I switch to my steel.  I insert the steel between the membrane and the ribs.

Lifting the side rib membrane with a steel

Now the steel can be used to pry the membrane from the belly.

Lifting the side rib membrane with a steel

Once the membrane has been lifted, it easily pulls away from the rest of the ribs.  It’s a bit fatty and slippery to handle with bare hands, so I use a paper towel for grip.

This is what the belly looks like with the side rib membrane removed.

The belly, side rib membrane removed

Next the side ribs are removed from the belly.  I start at the top of the ribs, where the belly was once connected to the loin, and follow the ribs down to the breastbone.

Removing the side ribs from the belly

Here’s the belly with the removed side ribs.

The belly and the removed side ribs

Here are the side ribs.

The side ribs

The side ribs are usually divided perpendicular to the ribs.  In groceries stores the top section would be sold as “pork side ribs, centre removed.” In the US they’re called “St. Louis-style ribs.”

Removing the "centre," or breastbone, from the side ribs

Here’s the belly with the ribs removed.

Pork belly, side ribs removed

Finally I trim away the diaphragm.  This is tough meat that is best ground.

Pork belly, diaphragm removed

To recap, the belly yields:

  • pork belly to be cured and smoked for bacon
  • side ribs
  • sternum for stock