How To Butchering A Pig

Jan 19, 2021 | Homesteading

*This post contains images of raw meat in large quantities. If butchering meat isn’t for you  no worries, I recommend clicking over here to Learn How To Dry Your Own Beans For Winter Baking!  We choose to eat and raise meat on our homestead, therefore have learned to process our livestock and wish to share this skill with others looking to learn. 

From Pig To Pork

Learn  how to break down a pig into cuts of meat using basic hand tools. Butchering a pig can be intimidating, especially if it is your first time, but these steps will guide you in turning half a hog into pork cuts that are ready to cook. 

This year we raised our first pigs and learned a lot along the way. Before processing our pigs we went to our friend’s, who has been farming for decades, to watch as he butchered his pigs.  His skilled strong hands made it look effortless, however there were A LOT of steps to remember

He recommended printing off a checklist with all the steps before I got started on my pig.  That way I wouldn’t have to look up videos mid butchering, with nasty hands, to see what to do next .  I decided to do just that but could not find any step-by-step guide online, so I made my own. I watched Youtube videos of experienced butchers and wrote down each step I needed to completely break down my pig. 

Now I want to share this guide with you, to make your pig butchering process as simple and straightforward as possible. 

I recommend printing of this checklist so you can have it on your table as you process your pig.  I also encourage you to watch some Youtube videos before starting on your pig, to have a visual image of the steps you will need to take. This pig butchering guide has all the steps written down for you, but it is helpful to have seen it done before starting. 

This guide does NOT cover how to slaughter a pig, gut it, skin it or remove the head. 

Before starting these steps your pig should already be cut in half and ready to breakdown. We left our pig to hang in a cold room for a few days to cool down the meat. We used a reciprocating saw to half the pig by cutting down the spine, which was a lot EASIER than using a hand saw! 


Step 1: Pull out the leaf lard (Internal fat around kidneys). 

Step 2: Cut out scrappy bit near the leaf lard and kidneys (clean the area up)


Step 3: Make a cut by the back leg; where the belly connects to the back leg, along the connective meat, down to about where the ribs start. (Do not get into the tenderloin)

Step 4:  Saw off the back end ham. Angle the saw between the H bone (white thing sticking out of the ham) and the tailbone. Cut a little bit inside of the H bone and just clip the tail, so sawing slightly through the end of the spine. Cut down through the femur with a saw, then switch to a knife and cut the rest of the way through. 

Step 5: Cut out the little piece of the tailbone off of the ham. 

Step 6: Count 4 ribs down from the front of the pig and make a cut between the 4th and 5th rib (marking where to saw). Keeping the saw straight up and down (no angle) saw between ribs down through bone. Once through the bone switch to the knife and cut the rest of the way through. 

Step 7: Remove the tenderloin (runs along ribs). Start at the ham end, use a knife to slowly work/cut the tenderloin off. Run the knife along the spine (top) and underneath; follow the bone and bottom seam. Once tenderloin is loosened up, pull it out. Clean up the tenderloin, cutting off fat and gristle.

Step 8: Make a cut from the bottom side of where tenderloin was, all the way down to the other end of the belly. Take the knife and cut from the ham end along the bottom side of where the tenderloin was until you hit the first rib bone, going all the way through the meat. Switch to the saw and angle along that cut, across ribs (horizontally) to two finger width down from top of rib. Saw through the ribs. Once past bones switch to a knife and cut the rest of the way through.

Now you have the 4 primal cuts: ham, shoulder, side, loin.

pig butchering


Step 9: Cut ribs off bacon. Run knife along underside of ribs, keeping knife tight against the bones. (If you want meaty ribs, do not run knife tight along the bones, leave meat between your knife and the rib bones. This will make for less bacon but give you ribs worth eating.) Start at the big rib side and cut down to the last small rib. Keep your knife an inch or so out from the ends of the ribs. Keep pulling and cutting along that fat line. At the end you will be all the way to the corner of the belly, and the ribs will be free. 

Step 10: On the belly, where the top of the ribs were, there is a little piece of bone in the corner. Cut that piece of bone out of the fat (just a little triangle).

Step 11: Square up the bacon. Cut off any bits to make a clean rectangle shape. Measure about 6 inches from where the last smallest rib was to the edge of the belly. Here make a cut vertically down through the belly (creating a 90° angle to square up the bacon). The bit cut off can go to become sausage.  Trim off a bit of fat along the bottom edge of the bacon (if there is any). 

Step 12: Flip bacon over and make sure there is no skin or hair root left on the fat. Remove some of the excess fat off of the bacon (to your preference).


Step 13: Slice some of the back fat off the loin, using the base part of the knife. If you take off meat with the fat accidentally, throw it in the sausage bin. Leave a little fat on the loin (¼ inch) and save the back fat for lard.

Step 14: Cut off the sirloin. To do this you will be slitting the meat at the last knuckle (white line part of spine). On the meat side make a line on the fat where the sirloin mussel (meat section) meets the loin (meat section). Cut down through the meat; should be lined up with the last knuckle. Once through the meat, twist the sirloin to break it off at the knuckle. 

Step 15: Clean up the sirloin roast. You can take out the bone or leave it in. Options for the sirloin: leave as roast, cut into stew meat, cutlets, or once it is cleaned up and the bone is out it can be cut into sirloin steaks. 

*Following are instructions for boneless pork chops, which can be done with just a knife. 

Step 16: Cut ribs off loin. Run the knife along the inside of ribs, cutting along the ribs all the way down until you hit the other bones. If you can’t see ribs towards the end, cut off some meat to be able to see them. Then, flip it over and cut along the other bones. Now the loin should be free from the bones.

Step 17: Clean/trim up loin. Trim off the thinner part, lip side, all the way along (if there). Square up the loin ends. Cut into roasts or boneless pork chops. Tip: For cutting chops, start at the opposite end of the hand your knife is in for more even chops.

pig butchering


Step 18: Ribs that came off the loin. Score through the membrane, along the spine, and peel the membrane off the ribs (a meat hook comes in handy for this).  

Step 19: Cut off the smaller end, where the flat bones are, at the end of the ribs. Cut through the meat with a knife, then use the saw to cut the rest of the way through the baby backs. The small end can be cleaned for sausage meat. 

Step 20: Using the saw, cut along the bottom of the baby back ribs to remove them from the flat bones: cut on the ribs side of the triangle, right along the spine. The small flat bones go to be cleaned for sausage (not kept). The resulting ribs are the baby backs. 

Step 21: Move to other ribs (came off bacon). Score the membrane and peel it off. Clean up the ribs (if anything). Now you are done with the spare ribs.


Step 22: Remove the neck bone (keep for soup). Turn the shoulder so the end of the leg points away from you. Put the knife right underneath the ribs. Start in the middle of ribs and follow around them, up both sides. Spin the shoulder around, pointing the leg towards you. Pull the bones towards you and cut under the bones to free the neck as you pull. 

Step 23: Square up the shoulder. Above where the leg is there will be a floppy piece. Cut it down flat. This should leave the top surface of the meat somewhat level. Square up “jowel” side of shoulder (side where leg is pointing and where the head was attached). Make a straight cut slightly below the armpit down to square up the shoulder. (Extra bits again go to sausage)

Step 24: Flip the shoulder over and take off some excess fat. (Do not take off too much if you are going to smoke this meat as it helps keep it moist.)

Step 25: Remove the gland from the shoulder. This is located where the neck would have been, in front of the shoulder and in the fat on the cut edge. (If a lot of the neck was removed when cutting off the head this may already be gone). 

Step 26: Cut the hawk off the shoulder about an inch above the armpit (into shoulder). Cut through the meat with a knife, then use the saw to go through bone. The hawk can be kept whole for making beans or the meat can be removed from the bone for sausage. 

Step 27: Cut off the picnic roast. To do this cut the rest of the shoulder in two (not half but rather close to ⅔ and ⅓ pieces. With the side where the hawk was pointing to your right, cut from top to bottom, approximately ⅓ of the way over from the right edge. Dividing the horizontal lines (in the meat) in half; cut with the knife through the meat, then use the saw to cut through the bone, then back to the knife to go through the rest of the meat.

Step 28: The picnic roast is the smaller roast with the bone, which is the one that the hawk was attached to. You can keep it as a roast or make it into sausage meat. (If you had a meat band saw this could be cut into steaks).

Step 29: The other larger piece of meat is the boston but roast. This is the pork shoulder which you can leave whole for pulled pork or cut into 3 smaller roasts. To make the roasts, turn the meat sideways (to cut in the other direction from how we cut off the hawk and picnic roast) and cut it into thirds.

breaking down a pig


Step 30: Double check that the little piece of tail bone is removed. 

Step 31: Remove most of the fat (your preference) from both the inside and skin side. Be sure to leave a little fat. 

Step 32: Remove the hawk from the ham. To do this feel the seam where the leg meets the ham, cut it with your knife. Follow it along until you hit a joint, only cutting an inch into the meat. Once you see or hit the joint, cut down through the joint (tuning your knife down towards the table) and peel/work the hawk out of the ham. This will result in a floppy piece attached to the ham. You can send the hawk to be cured and smoked to use in beans, or leave it plain. 

Step 33: Straighten off the ham (the part where the hawk was). Follow the angle of the cut by the joint, angle up towards the top of the ham, and cut off that floppy part along with some of the meat on the ham (that mussel is less tender). The angle resulting will be around 160° (obtuse).


Step 34: Cut up the meat scraps into cubes for sausage. Remove any bone and cartilage. Leave the fat on the meat since this will help keep your sausage from being dry.  

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Hey, I’m Maggie. I hope you will join me and my family in getting back to the land.  Here you will learn about making things yourself, cooking homegrown food, and beginning a homesteading journey.


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