At first glance, you may say that the argument concerning pork butt vs pork shoulder is not worth discussing for both terms are basically synonymous. Well, this reaction is pretty much understandable, considering that many people erroneously think that both terms refer to the same thing. Yet, this idea, however, of both being synonymous is also not totally right. Pork butt and pork shoulder may seem synonymous, but it is more proper to say that they are somewhat similar.
The pork butt and the pork shoulder are derived from the same part of the pig. They appear to be of the same cuts. Thus, more often, many people mistake them to be synonymous with each other. Yet, there are significant differences between the two, and these differences are what we are going to discuss later.
Pork Butt and Pork Shoulder: What’s the Difference?
The main differences between pork shoulder and pork butt lie in their size, which part of the pig they are derived, their grain fibers, and how they are sold. As mentioned above, both cuts are taken from the upper part of the pig’s foreleg.
The pork butt is labeled “butt” because it comes from the thicker part of the foreleg. The pork shoulder, on the other hand, is labeled “shoulder” because it came from the triangular part of the foreleg which is thinner. Together, these two are what we commonly call the “whole pork shoulder.”
The upper part of the pig’s foreleg performs a lot of works which means that the muscle fibers within this area are tough and well-exercised.
The pork butt or what we call “Boston Butt” refers to the rectangular cut of meat that you can buy from the meat store. It is characterized as being well-marbled with lots of fat from the top. As you cook the pork butt, its fat readily melts and provides awesome flavor to the meat.
The pork butt comes with many connective tissues and is best tenderized via slow cooking. You can buy the pork butt with its shoulder blade still attached. You should not cut the shoulder blade out for it could surely add flavor to the meat.
The pork shoulder is taken just below the pork butt. It is situated at the foreleg’s top. It is also called “picnic shoulder” and “picnic ham.” But if the hock is not attached to it, it is called “pork shoulder.” You’ll notice that when you buy pork shoulder, it usually comes with the covering skin. Moreover, it is shaped like a triangle.
The pork shoulder is not expensive. It is derived from the part of the pig that is well-exercised and as such, it comes with rich flavor. However, it doesn’t have much fat marbling. Moreover, if you don’t cook it properly, you would end up rendering the meat very tough.
How to Cook Pork Shoulder?
The best way to cook pork shoulder is to subject it to a slow cooking process to tenderize it and eventually melt its fat. It is best cooked by stewing or braising. Yet, you can also bake or fry it. It is also nice to slice it before serving it. Additionally, in Asian cuisines, ground pork shoulder is usually added to meatloaf and meatballs for added flavor.
If you don’t want the extra crackling of the skin when you cook it, you can readily trim the skin off. If you want to cook it as a whole cut, you can thaw it for 30 minutes before cooking. You can then cook it slow using a slow cooker or an oven. It is also advisable to cook it at 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
The older instructions, of course, said that you need to cook it at 160 degrees Fahrenheit, though this was altered by the USDA in 2011. You should also allow the meat at least 3 minutes outside the oven before you slice it.
Let’s finally address the shoulder vs pork butt dilemma. We could say that both are from the same part of the pig. Pork shoulder, however, appears better when cooked whole, and when sliced before served. On the other hand, pork butt is best for other recipes and making pulled pork wherein its meat falls apart. Lastly, both are really great cuts and could be used interchangeably.