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Pork butt and shoulder are two common cuts of pork that are used interchangeably. Finding out the differences between these two cuts can save you from many moments of confusion when trying to buy the best cut of pork for smoking. Pork butt and shoulder originate from the same pork but they reside in different locations and qualities.
Often, in the ranking of the best cuts, pork butt happens to be the most mentioned. The term pork butt can be quite funny, though, and even has children saying ”eeeeewwww” or even burst out laughing. This part of the pork in contrast comes from the thicker section of a pig’s shoulder. But does this mean pork butt is the same thing as pork shoulder?
Pork butt and shoulder are not the same despite coming from the same area of the pig. While these two cuts are from the same primal cuts on the shoulder of pork, they differ in flavor, texture, and the cooking method is not similar as well. The pork butt also contains much more fat and marbling than the regular shoulder.
Understanding pork cuts and the differences between pork shoulder and butt when to use them and their fat content is important to make juicy and tender pork meat every time. Also, for many beginners, they must pick a cut that has the best marbling.
What is Pork Butt?
Pork butt is a cut of meat from the shoulder of a pig, it is a common cut typically use in pulled pork.
Pork butt has the best fat distribution which makes it intensely flavored and tender when it is cooked properly. This cut of the pork is ideal for a slow-cooked braise because of its fat content, which also makes it ideal for achieving the tear-away consistency that is for pulled pork.
Pork butt does have a misleading name as it’s not really from the butt rather it comes from the top of the shoulder behind the neck. This cut is also known as Boston butt; there is often a fat cap on the side of the cut although it is carefully butchered to remove most of its bones.
What is Pork Shoulder?
The pork shoulder is one primal triangular cut that comes from the area just above the front leg of the pig. This cut of pork meat is often found in many recipes, when smoked properly, it is fall apart tender, bursting with flavor, and is deliciously easy to make.
Most of us only know pork shoulder for its finishing product, which is the pulled pork but it’s also referred to as picnic roast or picnic shoulder.
Typically, pork shoulder is broken down in two the top, also known as Boston butt, and the lower arm, which is the one known as the shoulder pork or picnic roast. Pork shoulder is also full of fat and has a more pronounced pork flavor than leaner cuts such as the pork chop.
This cut of the pork is best cooked low and slow to break down the collagen and melt the fat as it cooks.
Pork Butt vs. Shoulder: Are They The Same Thing?
No, pork butt and shoulder are not the same thing although they are both primal cuts that come from the same area of the pork. They happen to differ in quality and location as well, the pork butt which is also known as the Boston butt is located higher on the shoulder. In contrast, the pork shoulder can be found further down reaching towards the pig’s front hooves.
Both pork and shoulder cuts can be tough and fatty hence the low and slow cooking method is needed, but pork butt stands out for its higher fat content and marbling, an un-discerning eater might not notice the difference though.
Slow cooking methods like braising, stewing, braising, and roasting can be used or both cuts but due to pork butt’s unique fat content, it is the preferred option for smoking. Pork butt and pork shoulder are frequently confused with each other but pork butt can be found higher on the forelegs while pork shoulder is farther down.
Also, both are budget-friendly options and they are perfect for feeding a crowd. Although pork butt is slightly larger than pork shoulder so for this reason it can be slightly more expensive.
The skin of the pork shoulder is usually left on when butchers cut it in a triangular shape so it often comes without any bone while pork butt is more uniformly cut. If you are still confused about which is which when buying, simply mention the cut you want to your butcher.
Differences Between Pork Butt And Shoulder
To make a roast from any of these two cuts, you have to understand the differences between them and also take note that their cooking method differs.
Understanding the key differences between pork butt and shoulder can help you confidently buy the meat you need for the type of cooking, texture, and flavor you are going for. So, here are the key differences between these two cuts.
1. Shape of The Cut
This is one of the major differences between pork butt and shoulder. Butchers often cut a pork shoulder in a tapered triangular shape, and also they sell it with the skin intact.
But pork butt is usually cut in a uniform rectangular-shaped meat with the skin off. If you get a boneless pork shoulder, it will be sold with the surrounding netting to hold it together.
You can buy a pork butt bone in or without and unlike shoulder pork, it is often sold with the fat cat still intact. You can ask the butcher for what exactly you want/need, bone intact or not, fat cap trimmed away or not.
2. Fat Content
The fat content in pork shoulder is usually less than that of pork butt. Pork shoulder fat content is not only less but it can be tough or chewy while the pork butt on the other hand, is well marbled with more intramuscular fat, which runs throughout, thereby yielding a soft and more tender meat.
Pork butt have higher fat content throughout so obviously, it tastes more flavorful than a pork shoulder. However, just like any other type of meat, the flavor depends a lot on the way it’s cooked. Different cooking methods will give you a different effect on the flavor. Pork shoulder contains less fat so it is more burdensome and chewier.
4. Cooking Method
The cooking method used for pork shoulder and butt also happens to be different. Pork shoulder generally works best when it’s grilled or roasted; this gives it a nice crispy thin crust on the outside, like pork roast or crispy pork crackling.
Pork butt, on the other hand, is often used by cooks in dishes that can be shredded after stewing or using it in Mexican dishes such as carnitas tacos.
Is Pork Shoulder Better Than Pork Butt?
Based on the comparison between pork shoulder and pork butt, it’s obvious that they differ in taste and texture, but since they are similar cuts on the shoulder of a pig, many might not know the difference. Either choice of meat will produce a good result. Pork shoulder and pork butt are the two most popular cuts and work for different variety of things.
Both pork shoulder and pork butt come out deliciously flavored when they are cooked properly. If you want to slow smoke a piece of delicious pork, we recommend the pork butt but when you want pork with crispy skin and a slightly tougher texture, go for pork shoulder.
One thing that pork butt and shoulder share is that they are suited for low and slow cooking methods.
Both cuts of meat have plenty of connective tissues that need to break down for the meat to be tender, so they have been discovered to come out juicy and tender when smoked. Pork butt, on the other hand, is even more suited for making pulled pork.
Both are great options, and you have to choose one that works with your recipe unless you are concerned about nutritional value in which pork butt has more fat and cholesterol than pork shoulder. In all cases, with the breakdown above, you should be able to identify these two cuts and pick one that suits your dish.