Pork Shoulder vs Pork Butt: What is the Difference?

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The difference between pork shoulder vs pork butt is that pork butt comes from the pig’s upper shoulder and has a higher-fat content, whereas the pork shoulder is from the front shoulder, lower down the leg, and has more muscle.

» This Flavorful Cuban Mojo Marinade is amazing on pork shoulder.

pork shoulder

Okay, that’s helpful, but it doesn’t fully explain why or when you would choose one over the other. You can learn more about the differences between the two by reading this article.

We’ve used both pork butt and pork shoulder in a lot of recipes and have found that both are great cuts of pork, but they can and should be used for different reasons.

What is the Difference Between Pork Shoulder vs Pork Butt?

There are a few differences between these cuts of meat that will give you an idea of how and when to use them. Let us break it down for you.

First of all, both cuts come from the shoulder. As you can see from the diagram below, the pork butt is just from the meat that’s higher up on the shoulder.

pork cuts

Other differences include:

  • Pork butt is a fattier cut than pork shoulder and contains more marbling.
  • Pork butt is more uniformly cut into a rectangular piece, while pork shoulder is often cut into a triangular shape, due to how it is cut from the pig.
  • Pork shoulder is more likely to come with the skin on, though both cuts usually have a large fat cap left on.
  • Pork butt is often used for stews and pulled pork because of its fat content, while shoulder is more often used as a roast because the meat stays together better for slicing and the skin can be made crispy.

What is Pork Shoulder?

pork shoulder
Pork Shoulder

Pork shoulder is the primal cut of the pig’s shoulder above the forelegs. The National Pork Board refers to it as “the top portion of the pig’s front leg.” It’s also referred to as picnic roast or picnic shoulder. It’s often sold boneless and rolled in netting, with the skin on.

Typically, the pork shoulder has less intramuscular fat and marbling than the butt, which directly translates into the amount of fat and tenderness the meat will have once cooked.

It has a more pronounced pork flavor than leaner cuts, like pork chops, because it still contains a lot of fat. The meat is best cooked low and slow, as the gelatin breaks down the collagen and melts the fat as it cooks. It can be a very tender cut that is good for making a roast with crispy skin.

What is Pork Butt

Pork Butt
Pork Butt

Pork Butt, also known as Boston butt, is the upper portion of a pig’s shoulder. It’s often used to make pulled pork since it’s relatively cheap and has a high fat content, which makes the meat tender and juicy, rather than dry and stringy. There is often a fat cap on the side of the cut, and it is generally sold bone-in with no skin.

Slow cooking (like smoking or braising) is necessary to break down the connective tissue in pork butt and make it nice and tender, but it’s also very fatty with plenty of marbling, so it’s less likely to dry out at higher temperatures.

Because of the increased fat content, it’s best to use pork butt for stews or when you want a succulent, juicy fall apart meat. It’s perfect for making roast pork sandwiches.

pork butt roast
Pork butt roast

Is Pork Shoulder Better Than Pork Butt?

Pork butts and pork shoulders differ in taste and texture. There are similar primal cuts on the shoulders of the pig however, so an undiscerning eater might not really notice the difference.

When choosing between different cuts of meat at the store, it’s good to consider differences in flavor and texture.

  • Pork shoulder generally contains less fat and is more burdensome and chewier, while pork butt has more intramuscular fat yielding a slice of softer and more tender meat.
  • The skin of the pork shoulder will usually be left on when butchers cut it in a triangular shape. As a result, it will come in a rectangular-shaped piece of meat without any skin or bone.
  • Pork butt is often used to make pulled pork dishes shredded after cooking in a stew or slow cooker to make Mexican dishes like carnitas tacos. Pork shoulder is more commonly grilled or roasted to produce a crispy crust on the outside, much like crispy pork crackling or pork roast.
pork shoulder

Pork Butt: When To Use It

Since pork butt has more fat marbling throughout and is a more uniform cut, it is best used for stews, braises, and making the tenderest pulled pork for sandwiches or tacos. When choosing between pork shoulder and pork butt in a recipe, experts strongly recommend choosing pork butt. If you have leftover pulled pork make sure to check out this guide on reheating pulled pork to keep it moist.

Pork Shoulders: When to Use It

Because pork shoulder is often sold with the skin on, we use them when making roasts that require crackling-crisp skin. It’s a good cut of meat to use when you plan to serve sliced pork, because it will stay together more firmly and doesn’t have large pockets of fat that eaters don’t love to pick around. Use a pork shoulder for this Cuban mojo marinated pork. You won’t be disappointed.

smoked pork roast
smoked pork roast

FAQs

Is Pork Shoulder the Same as Pork Butt?

Both the pork shoulder and butt come from the same part of the pig – the shoulder. However pork butt is cut from the upper part of the shoulder and has a higher-fat content, while shoulder comes from lower down the arm and has more muscle and less fat.

Is It Possible To Make Pulled Pork From Any Cut Of Pork?

Pulled pork, like brisket, can be made from both cuts: the pork shoulder and pork butt. Both have sufficient fat content to make great pulled pork that’s flavorful and tender. If you want to avoid any chance of the meat being dry, choose the pork butt. You can also technically make pulled pork from pork steaks (though the shreds will be shorter) or pork tenderloin, but it will be much drier.

How Do You Make Boston Butt Pork Roasts?

To make a roast from a Boston Butt, you only need to season the roast and put it in the oven or Instant Pot or smoker for an extended period of time to break down the connective tissue and render a tender and juicy roast. It’s quite an easy process. The fat doesn’t need to be removed prior to cooking, nor does the skin, if you wish to leave it on.

Conclusion

Often, pork cuts like pork shoulder and pork butt are confused. Both come from the pig’s shoulder, although pork butt is higher on the foreleg and pork shoulder is lower.

Both cuts benefit from long, slow cooking methods, such as roasting, stewing, and braising, because they are relatively tough and fatty. However, pork butt tends to be more popular.

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pork butt

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