What’s not to love about tender, delicious, juicy pork shoulder?
Also known as Boston butt, pork shoulder is one of the most famous cuts of pork.
Pork shoulder is inexpensive and easy to cook. Plus, there’s so much you can do with pork shoulder.
You can put it in a slow cooker and make pulled pork; you can smoke it on your offset smoker or roast it in the oven.
Either way, you’ll end up with an irresistibly beautiful hunk of meat.
Many people get caught up in the pork shoulder vs. pork butt debate.
However, you should be asking pork shoulder fat side up or down.
What’s the Difference Between Pork Shoulder and Pork Butt?
Believe it or not, pork butt doesn’t actually come from the pig’s butt.
Pork butt is actually carved from the forequarter, which is located above the shoulder.
Pork shoulder and pork butt can be used as substitutes for each other. They are both really fatty.
In addition to this, both cuts are tough so slow-cooking s the best method of preparation.
Even though they are similar, pork shoulder and pork butt are different.
For example, pork shoulder has less fat than pork butt. Pork shoulder can also be slightly tougher and chewier than its counterparts.
On the other hand, pork butt has more marbling, creating a softer tender bite.
In contrast, pork butt comes as a rectangular-shaped cut of meat. Pork butt can either come bone-in or boneless.
What Is the Fat Cap?
On big pieces of meat like pork shoulder, you will notice a layer of hard white fat on top of the meat. This is the fat cap.
It can be up to an inch in thickness. Just like brisket has to be trimmed, the fat cap on your pork shoulder needs to be trimmed.
Ask your butcher to trim the pork shoulder, or you can do it yourself before you cook the pork shoulder.
If you are going to smoke your pork shoulder in your propane smoker, you need to leave some fat on the meat.
It will prevent the pork shoulder from drying out.
On the other hand, if you are cooking the pork shoulder in a slow cooker, you can remove most of the fat cap.
Be careful if you are trimming the pork shoulder yourself, as removing the meat below the fat cap is easy.
How Do You Use Pork Fat Trimmings?
In the same way, you can use beef fat trimming to make Wagyu beef tallow; you can use pork fat to make lard.
Simply place your pork fat into a cast-iron skillet and place it on your stove.
Turn your stove’s burner to its lowest setting and heat the pork trimming until it renders.
Strain the lard to remove any impurities and store it in a container.
Alternatively, you can also make crackling from the bits of pork fat that do not melt completely.
Pork Shoulder Fat up or Down
To cook pork shoulder fat up or down is the question. And the answer is it depends.
The concept behind cooking pork shoulder fat side up is because the fat melts.
The pork shoulder absorbs the melted fat that pools on its surface and adds more flavor.
But BBQ experts say that this is a myth. Pork shoulder is primarily made up of water.
Fat is hydrophobic, which means water will not absorb oil.
This is not to say that cooking pork shoulder fat side up has no benefits.
If you are smoking pork shoulder in your electric smoker, the rendered fat will drip down the meat and baste it.
This will keep moisture sealed inside the pork shoulder.
It is best to turn your pork shoulder fat side up halfway through the cooking process so the fat can crisp up.
It will create a tasty, golden, sticky layer of goodness.
There are some drawbacks of cooking pork shoulder fat side up. For example, the rendered fat can wash away your BBQ rub as it melts.
In addition to this, if you do not place a drip pan underneath the pork shoulder, it could cause a flare-up, injuring you.
On the other hand, if you are cooking the pork shoulder in a slow cooker, it’s better to place it fat side down.
The fast will act as a thin insulating barrier between the heating instrument and the pork shoulder.
This allows the meat to cook low and slow until it’s nice and tender.
In addition to this, the fat cap will render into the marinade or sauce, creating a silky, rich texture.
Alternatively, you can also brown your pork shoulder before placing it in a slow cooker.
Simply place the pork shoulder into a hot pan with a little oil and allow the Milliard reaction to take place.
The Milliard reaction is a chemical interaction that occurs between amino acids and sugar when foods are heated.
Just like caramelizing foods is a type of no enzymatic browning, the Milliard reaction is also a form of non-enzymatic browning.
Make sure you use high heat and turn the pork shoulder over so every part of the meat, including the fat cap.
Remember, the goal of searing the pork shoulder is not to cook the meat.
It is to simply brown the pork shoulder, which will help seal the moisture in the meat and create an amazing flavor.
Once the pork shoulder is browned, you can place it into your slow cooker and add the cooking liquid.
Make sure you put the pork shoulder fat side down.
You can also cook the pork shoulder using a hybrid method. If you cook it fat side down, you can flip it halfway through the process.
If the top of the pork shoulder is dried out too much, flip it over, It will absorb some of the cooking liquid and add some moisture to the meat.
However, you must not allow the fat to drip onto your heating instruments or coal as this could cause a flare-up.
In addition to this, you should flip the pork shoulder over quickly.
The minute you open your pellet smoker, the ambient temperature will drop.
If it is left open too long, this could add extra time to the smoking process.
Whether you should cook pork shoulder fat up or down is up to you.
After all, it is your pork shoulder. You should cook it as you see fit.
Now that you know the benefits and drawbacks of both methods, you can make your own decision.
You might also be interested in the following:
- Do You Cook Pork Butt Fat up or Down?
- Do You Cook Salmon Skin up or Down?
- Do You Cook Turkey Breast up or Down?
- Corned Beef Fat Side up or Down?
- Brisket Fat Side up or Down?
- Do You Use Aluminum Foil Shiny Side up or Down?
I have been smoking and grilling meat from an early age and enjoy sharing my knowledge and expertise through the hundreds of articles I have written about BBQ. I hope to make everyone’s BBQ journey that little bit easier.