Pork Shoulder vs Pork Butt – Picnic Shoulder or Boston Butt?

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If you have ever wondered what the difference is between pork shoulder vs pork butt, you aren’t alone. Despite the similarities between these two cuts of pork, they are different. I am going to help you explore the distinctions between these two popular cuts of meat, delving into their unique characteristics, flavors, and best uses in the kitchen. So, buckle up and prepare to become a pork aficionado as we dive into the world of pork butt and pork shoulder.

Pork shoulder (picnic shoulder) and pork butt (Boston butt) stacked on a butcher block.

Is There a Difference Between Pork Butt and Pork Shoulder?

The short answer is yes. There is a difference between pork butt and pork shoulder. The names are often used interchangeably, but they are different cuts of meat. If you go to the butcher and ask for pork shoulder, you will likely get a pork butt. To make the distinction, you will want to ask your butcher for a picnic shoulder if you are looking for the lower part of the shoulder that is infamous for roasts and crackling skin.

When it comes to cooking up mouthwatering pork dishes, two cuts of meat often take center stage: pork butt and pork shoulder. Despite their similar appearance and proximity to each other on the pig, many home cooks and professional chefs alike are often confused about the difference between these two cuts of meat.

What Is Pork Butt or Boston Butt?

The pork butt comes from the upper part of the pig’s shoulder and is sometimes referred to as the Boston butt. This cut contains more fat than a pork shoulder and is a popular choice for slow-cooking dishes like pulled pork.

Despite its name, remember that pork butt doesn’t come from the rear of the animal but rather from the upper part of the front shoulder. The pork butt is by far more popular than picnic shoulder, so if you ask the butcher for pork shoulder, you are more than likely going to get a pork butt.

Pork butt cut with lots of intramuscular fat.

Why Is Pork Butt Sometimes Called Pork Shoulder?

Pork butt is referred to as a pork shoulder because it comes from the shoulder region of the pig.

The reason it took on the name pork butt lies in the history of the meat industry and regional terminology. In the past, butchers in New England, particularly Boston, would pack the less expensive cuts of pork, like the upper shoulder, into barrels known as butts for storage and transportation.

This method of packaging led to the name Boston butt, which has persisted to this day. As a result, the name pork shoulder has become synonymous with pork butt, contributing to the confusion between the two cuts of meat. Despite the common name, pork butt and pork shoulder are distinct cuts that come from slightly different areas of the pig.

What Is Pork Shoulder or Picnic Shoulder?

Pork shoulder is a cut of meat that comes from the lower part of the pig’s front leg, also known as the picnic shoulder or picnic roast. It is a leaner cut compared to pork butt, with slightly less marbling and fat content.

Pork shoulder is ideal for slow-cooking methods like braising or slow-roasting, as the long cooking time allows the connective tissues to break down, resulting in tender and flavorful meat. It is commonly used in dishes such as carnitas, stews, and pot roasts.

Most of the time, you will receive your picnic shoulder roast with the skin on. This gives you the opportunity to create a delicious crackling. The puffed pork skin is delicious when prepared properly!

Picnic shoulder (pork shoulder) with skin on and bone in.

Best Cut of Pork for Pulled Pork

If you want some delicious pulled pork, then Boston butt, or pork butt, is the best cut of pork for the job. This cut’s higher fat content and marbling creates a tender, juicy, and flavorful meat. The connective tissues in pork butt break down when cooked low and slow, creating a melt-in-your-mouth texture. Pork shoulder is also an acceptable cut for pulled pork, but the end result is not as moist and tender as a pork butt.

When to Use Pork Butt

Pork butt is best used in cooking methods that require slow and long cooking times, such as smoking, braising, or slow roasting. This cut of pork is perfect for recipes that call for shredded meat, like pulled pork or carnitas, due to its high-fat content and connective tissues, which break down to create tender, flavorful meat. Pork butt is also an excellent choice for dishes that require a rich, meaty flavor, such as chili or stew.

When to Use Pork Shoulder

Since pork shoulder is normally sold with the skin on, it is a great cut for dishes that require crispy skin, such as Cuban pork roast. In addition, the leaner texture and lower fat content give it a firmer texture and make it ideal for slicing.

If you cook it low and slow for a longer amount of time, pork shoulder can get tender enough to shred. However, pork butt is still our favorite cut for pulled pork.

Bottom Line

When deciding between pork shoulder vs pork butt, both cuts are great for slow-cooked meals, but pork butt is the better choice if you’re looking for pulled pork with a melt-in-your-mouth texture.

Pork shoulder is best used when you need a cut with a firmer texture and leaner fat content. Delicious meals like Cuban pork roast, carnitas, and chili are all perfect examples of dishes that benefit from the use of pork shoulder.

Whichever cut you choose, both types can make a delicious meal if cooked correctly.

Size comparison between picnic shoulder and Boston butt.

Pork Butt Recipes

Smoked Pulled Pork

This traditional recipe involves slow-cooking a seasoned pork butt until it’s tender and juicy. Once cooked, it’s shredded and mixed with your favorite barbecue sauce, ready to be stuffed into sandwiches.

Pork Butt Chili

This hearty chili makes use of pork butt’s rich, meaty flavor. Add your leftover smoked pork butt and simmer it with tomatoes, beans, and a blend of spices until it’s tender and flavorful.

BBQ Pork Butt Pizza

For a twist on traditional pizza, try topping it with slow-cooked, shredded pork butt. The rich, savory pork pairs perfectly with tangy barbecue sauce and a blend of cheeses.

Pulled Pork Nachos

These nachos feature slow-cooked, shredded pork butt, black beans, cheese, and your choice of toppings. They’re perfect for a snack or party appetizer.

Smoked Pulled Pork Tacos

These tacos are made with tender pulled pork butt, chopped onion and cilantro, and your favorite toppings. Serve with a side of guacamole or pico de gallo for a delicious lunch or dinner.

Pork Shoulder Recipes

Smoked Cuban Pork Shoulder

In this recipe, the pork shoulder is marinated with a mix of citrus juices and traditional Cuban spices and then smoked to perfection. The result? A crispy skin and juicy, flavorful meat.

Cuban Style Pork Sandwiches

Thin slices of smoked pork shoulder are served on a crusty roll with pickles and mustard for a classic Cuban-inspired sandwich.

Smoked Pork Stew

This stew features a combination of pork shoulder, potatoes, carrots, and other veggies. Cook it on the smoker low and slow until the meat is fork-tender and full of flavor.

Quick Answers to FAQ’s

Is pork shoulder the same as pork butt?

No, pork shoulder and pork butt are not exactly the same. While they both come from the front area of the pig, the pork butt is higher on the foreleg, while the pork shoulder is further down.

Can you use Boston butt for pulled pork?

Yes, you can definitely use Boston butt for pulled pork. It’s a popular choice due to its marbling, which makes the meat tender and flavorful when slow-cooked.

What is better pork shoulder or butt?

The answer depends on what you’re making. A pork butt is better for pulled pork because of its higher fat content and marbling. But a pork shoulder would be the better choice for roasts or steaks due to its firmer, leaner texture.

What is a pork butt roast?

A pork butt roast, also known as a Boston butt, is a cut of meat from the upper part of the pig’s shoulder. It’s a well-marbled, tough cut that becomes tender and flavorful when slow-cooked or smoked, making it perfect for dishes like pulled pork.

Is pork butt the same as Boston butt?

Yes, pork butt and Boston butt are indeed the same. Both terms refer to the cut of pork that comes from the upper part of the pig’s shoulder, which is well-marbled and great for slow cooking or smoking.

Our Favorite Pork Recipes!


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About Joshua Boquist

Josh is an outdoor enthusiast and food fanatic. A License To Grill is his passion project where the outdoors intersects food - grilling, smoking, and all things tasty!

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