What Is The Difference Between Ham And Pork Shoulder

Ham and shoulder come from the same animal, the pig, and can be made using the same techniques, but they result in different bites. If you have ever wondered where the difference between these two pieces lies, this is the perfect opportunity to clear up your doubts.

To compare ham and shoulder, let’s focus on the Iberian version of both products. Given that due to their similar appearance they can be confused, surely at some point when deciding and buying or if you have been offered both products you have doubted… Is ham always better? Is the palette worse? What am I choosing when I choose one or the other, really?

Iberian ham, an emblematic product of Spanish gastronomy inside and outside our borders, is the best known of the two, but both share animal origin and can be prepared in similar ways, although obtaining particular results in each case. Ham or shoulder, shoulder or ham. If just thinking about it makes your mouth water… let’s take a bite!

What is ham

The food product obtained from the hind legs of the pig is called “ham. ” These pieces can be made in different ways, varying their final organoleptic characteristics depending on the process, since a cooked ham, for example, has nothing to do with another salted and cured one. In addition, the appearance, flavor, smell, and final texture of the ham also depend on the breed of pig and the characteristics of its meat in each case.

What is the palette

The cut that corresponds to the front legs of the pig is known as “shoulder” or “shoulder” and that, prepared in different versions, has different final characteristics depending on the process carried out to prepare it. The breed of pig to which the piece belongs is also decisive when it comes to indicating the characteristics of the final food product. In addition to being cured, it is a piece that can be found cooked ( known then as lacón ) and is very popular used in roasts due to its suitable size to put in the oven and its price, usually cheaper.

Difference between ham and shoulder

Protagonists in many celebrations, present at different moments of tasting, from breakfast to snacking, shoulder and ham are two delicacies that result from a meticulous process of salting, drying, and maturation in which control of the times of these last two techniques is a primordial element.

It is time to discover what differentiates these two foods, taking as reference the ham and the shoulder that are made with pieces from the Iberian breed pig (from which not only these two foods come, but also a large quantity of high-quality sausages that form part of the national pantry) following a process that includes salting, curing and letting it mature. We would now leave aside the cooked options that result in tender, pinkish products with nuances of flavor and textures completely different from these.

Provenance or origin of the piece

As pieces that come from the same animal, the main difference between the two is the part of the Iberian pig’s body in which they are found: the shoulders come from the front limbs, and the hams from the hind limbs. They are all legs of the same animal, but, logically, due to their arrangement and the function they fulfill, the constitution of each type of leg is different. Thus, in the total piece, the shoulders contain more bone and the hams contain more meat.

Dimensions and weight

Given that the pig’s hind legs are larger and longer than the front ones, in terms of dimensions and weight, the ham is the winner (although depending on whether it is 100% Iberian or whether it has a mix, the size, and final weight may vary. Of the piece). In any case, for equal pairs of the same animal, taking reference from the front and rear legs, the shoulders will always be smaller and shorter than the larger and longer hams.

In terms of weight, taking into account that there is no exact number and that it varies depending on the production process, the pig, and the piece, we can establish a difference of around three kilos, since the shoulders average around 5 kg (between 4 and 6 kg) and hams an average of 8 kg (between 7 and 9 kg).


The curing processes of hams and shoulders vary depending on the final weight of the piece once salted, this being the key to what will be its texture, flavor, and final appearance when it comes to being enjoyed. With a maximum of 24 months, the Iberian shoulder requires a minimum of 12 months of curing, that is, at least one year. While ham, for its part, is cured for a maximum of 36 months, the average terms go from 20 to 24 months, that is, almost double that of an Iberian shoulder.


Another of the main differences that allow us to distinguish between an Iberian shoulder and an Iberian ham is the flavor of each of them. There is no better or worse flavor, but rather different flavors with their own profiles that give them their own personality. The back piece, the ham, is supposed to be a more complex bite, as it presents a large number of nuances derived from its longer maturation and the proportion of fat, which marbles the meat and makes it more honeyed and melting.

The front piece, another treasure of the Iberian larder, lacks such a quantity of nuances due to its shorter maturation and presents more concentrated fat, less distributed throughout the meat. For all this, it has a more uniform, intense flavor, with fewer different characteristics in a single bite.


When we talk about the performance of a piece we are referring to the proportions of meat, fat, and bone that it presents and depending on which a greater or lesser proportion of meat that can be consumed will be obtained from it. Depending on the animal, the diet it has had, and each final piece obtained, this parameter may vary.

As mentioned above, the shoulder has more bone, due to the constitution of the animal and the morphology of the specific piece, and it also has a greater amount of fat. In conclusion, the amount of meat that can be used from a shoulder is considerably less than that of a ham, in which the equation is the opposite, with a greater proportion of meat than fat and bone and a greater yield per piece.


In terms of cutting, and assuming that either of the two pieces requires minimal skill and knowledge to be used correctly and the same tools can be used to cut a shoulder as a ham, the technique to do so is different.

At the outset, it is more complex to know how to cut and extract all that performance, which is already lower, from an Iberian shoulder. Due to its shape and size, and the way in which the animal’s bone is arranged, much more precise and experienced handling of the knife is necessary with which the slices are cut, the shavings are removed or pieces are made from which Taquitos are then made.

That is why it is much more common to see whole pieces of ham that are sold to be cut at home than shoulder pieces, from which smaller slices are obtained in size (also due to their dimension), and which are usually purchased already sliced. In any case, a shoulder can be a good option for domestic consumption intended for a smaller number of people, due to its smaller size.


Although it is true that its profitability per piece is lower, because as indicated, it presents a lower yield, in general terms, if we take even pieces of the same Iberian animal, in the same quality range, with a certain percentage of Iberian Likewise, the shoulder is cheaper than the ham, since it requires a shorter curing time and the final food is produced more quickly.

What is better, ham or shoulder?

If this analysis of differences and characteristics has to have a practical purpose, it would be to demystify that ham is better than shoulder: what we must be clear about, as consumers, is that we are talking about different pieces, with their own characteristics, that you may like more or less, but that they are not, in any case, the same food. There are extraordinary hams, which due to their nuances are the glory of gastronomic hedonism, and extraordinary shoulders, which with their intense flavor can make us enjoy them equally wonderfully.

It is the priorities and tastes, as well as the budget, of the person who buys ham or shoulder and the way in which they acquire them (per piece or already cut, assuming the difficulty of cutting them at home) that must determine their choice. Knowing the performance and conditions of each piece, and depending on what occasion and how it is acquired, the answer can lead us to choose a ham or a shoulder.

If we want to choose a product, for example, 100% acorn-fed Iberian ham and the ham in this category is out of our budget, we must know that a shoulder that is 100% acorn-fed Iberian ham will always be a more affordable alternative, with a much higher price. tighter and that we can buy cut, ready to taste, subtracting the complication that its cutting has.

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