It’s pork shoulder vs. pork butt! You’re not alone if you’re trying to decide whether to buy pork shoulder or pork butt. We’ll show you the differences between the cuts of pork to help you decide which is best for you.
Which is better, pork shoulder or pork butt?
David and I decided to experiment to find out which one is better, a pork shoulder or a pork butt.
We bought a pork shoulder and a pork butt as close to weight and size as possible. We scored the fat cap of the butt and the shoulder skin. Then rubbed both with our all-purpose pork dry rub and then smoked them on the same grill the same way.
After both cuts of meat had a beautiful bark, we pulled them off the grill and wrapped each in aluminum foil. We returned the meat to the grill and cooked both cuts of meat for a total of 6-8 hours until both had an internal temperature of 205 degrees F, which is ideal for pulled pork.
Once the meat was cool, David pulled each, and we performed a blind taste test to see which was the better cut of meat.
The results were pretty surprising. And this experiment between the two different cuts of meat changed David’s opinion about the best meat for making pork barbecue.
Before we get to the results, it’s probably best to identify where these two cuts of pork come from on a pig and break down the similarities and differences between them.
What is Pork Butt? (Boston Butt)
Despite the name “butt,” a pork butt comes from the upper portion of a pig’s shoulder. This sub-primal cut is the thicker section of the shoulder that includes part of the neck, shoulder blade, and the upper portion of the front leg. Because this portion of the leg does not get as much use as the lower part of the leg, it has more marbling and lots of connective tissue, making it relatively tough.
Pork butt is also known as “Boston Butt.” This cut of meat gets its name from the Revolutionary wartime in New England. Back in those days, butchers took less prized cuts of pork and stored them in barrels called “butts.” This portion of the shoulder became known as a specialty in New England. Hence the name “Boston Butt.” Depending on where you are, you may also hear the butt portion of the shoulder referred to as a “picnic ham” or “blade roast.”
What is Pork Shoulder? (“Picnic Shoulder or “Picnic Roast”)
A pork shoulder is also known as a pork picnic roast or pork picnic shoulder. This portion of the pig’s shoulder is the triangular portion of a pig’s lower leg. This muscle is used a lot, making the meat tough with much less marbling. It is usually sold with the skin on.
The Major Differences Between Pork Shoulder and Pork Butt
Both the pork shoulder and the pork butt are sub-primal cuts of meat that come from the primal cut of the front shoulder of a pig. Both are relatively tough and fatty and benefit from being cooked in low and slow cooking methods, such as smoking, roasting, stewing, and braising. However, there are some pretty distinct differences between the shoulder and the butt.
|DIFFERENCES||PORK BUTT||PORK SHOULDER|
|SHAPE||A relatively thick rectangular chunk of meat.||A triangular piece of meat that tapers off.|
|FAT CONTENT||A good amount of marbling throughout the meat. Sold with the fat cap intact.||Leaner, with less marbling, usually with the skin on.|
|COST(Both are relatively inexpensive cuts of meat)||Slightly more expensive.||Slightly cheaper.|
|AMOUNT OF MEAT RENDERED||Less bone, more fat, and more meat. Our experiment ended up with a pound more meat after the cook!||More bone, less fat, and after the cook, less meat.|
|TEXTURE||Silky smooth texture that’s more tender meat due to the marbling within the meat.||Stringy leaner meat. Not as tender due to less marbling throughout the meat.|
Watch This Video To Learn The Results Of Our Experiment
When to Use Pork Shoulder
Use pork shoulder any time you want the meat to hold its shape. A pork shoulder can be smoked and sliced whole like ham. Shoulder meat can also be cut into chunks for stews and chili recipes. Since the skin is usually left intact on a pork shoulder, it’s best to crisp up the skin using a reverse sear at the end of a long slow cook for pork crackling.
When to Use Pork Butt
Use pork butt for roasting, stewing, braising, or any time you want tender, juicy fall-apart smoky barbecue.
BBQ Recipes that use Pork Butt or Pork Shoulder
You can make the following delicious recipes using either a pork butt or a pork shoulder.
- SMOKED BBQ PORK PICNIC SHOULDER
- SMOKED PORK CARNITAS WITH SPICY CABBAGE SLAW
- BRINED SMOKED PORK SHOULDER
- OVEN-ROASTED PORK CARNITAS WITH ORANGE CABBAGE SLAW
Tasting the two types of meat cooked using the same method side by side really opened our eyes, and in our opinion, a pork butt makes a better barbecue.
In conclusion, whether you use pork shoulder or pork butt is a matter of personal preference. You can use either cut of pork to do the same thing.
Use what you like best!