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Pork Shoulder vs. Pork Butt – Which Is Best?

Pork Shoulder vs. Pork Butt – Which Is Best?

Similar to chicken and beef, there is also some debate in the pork world. 

Though not as popular as other long-held debates, it is still an important subject to discuss due to the confusion between cuts.

Before we get into which cut reigns supreme, understand where these cuts of meat originate.

The butcher divides the carcass into primal cuts.

For example, each front shoulder is a primal cut that is broken down into sub primal cuts, which are the pork butt and pork shoulder.

What Is Pork Butt?

The pork butt is positioned next to the pig’s head. It rests atop the pig’s shoulder blade.

Pork butt, better known as Boston butt ironically not located in the butt.

In fact, it is located in the front of the animal, not the rear. So how did pork shoulder end up being called pork butt?

During the colonial era, New England butchers packaged affordable cuts of meat into large barrels.

These large barrels were referred to butts, which were to store meets as wells as transportation.

Hence, the pork shoulder eventually became known as the pork butt. Obviously, the name stuck as it is still widely used today.

In contrast, the butt of the animal is not even referred to as “the butt.” Instead, it is called hindquarters and fashioned into hams.

What is Pork Shoulder? 

As it’s sometimes called, the shoulder or picnic shoulder is positioned right under the butt.

It is the bottom portion of the front leg. It sits on the pig’s leg and spans to the area just above the pig’s front hoof, or hock.

Pork Shoulder vs. Pork Butt

It is safe to say even though pork butt and pork shoulder are fabricated from the front leg of the carcass.

They are vastly different when it comes to characteristics such as marbling and the degree of toughness.


Besides location differences, pork butt has a high ratio of intramuscular fat.

The pork butt is not as active as other muscles; thus, it is intensely flavorful and tender.

You will usually see pork butt in the butcher’s section of the grocery store with the bone-in and a cap of fat on one side of the meat.

Pork shoulder is the ultimate candidate for low temperature slow cooking me like smoking and braising.

These methods melt the intricate layers of fat, yielding a juicy, tender cut of pork.

Unlike the pork butt, the shoulder is a heavily used muscle. Thus, it is not only dense but extremely tough.

Depending on what you are using it for, you may want to start cooking your pork shoulder low and slow, increasing the temperature during the latter portion of the cooking time to allow the crispy, crackly skin to develop.

Variations Of Pork Butt 

You may find pork butt steaks in the butcher section that are perfect for grilling.

Additionally, you may find it shaved into thin strips for stir-fries.

Pork butt happens to be a cut of meat with the right quantity of meat-to-fat.

Hence, it is perfect for making sausage since it usually has an 80/20 or 70/30 ratio. This makes it the gold standard for sausage making.

Variations of Pork Shoulder

Unlike pork shoulder, you may only find pork shoulder whole. However, it can be sold bone-in or boneless.

Due to its unique, tapered triangular shape, most recipes tend to use a whole pork shoulder.

Additionally, boneless pork shoulders almost always come packed in netting.

When you remove the netting, you will find the pork shoulder unravels into an uneven slab of meat.

Hot Tip
We recommend purchasing a bone-in pork shoulder as it will help with moisture retention.

What Is the Best Cut of Pork for Pulled Pork?

It is only natural to wonder which cut is the best for making pulled pork.

You have probably made pulled pork with both cuts of meat without knowing it.

However, pork butt is the perfect meat for pulled pork. It has the ideal fat-to-meat ratio.

The marbling and sinews make it the better choice for pulled pork.

Most people wonder if cooking meat for such a long period of time can dry it out.

However, the melting fat and gelatin in pork butt protect the pork butt from drying out.

When cooked slowly, the protein breaks down, yielding tender meat that melts in your mouth.

Bottom Line
When it comes to pulled pork, pork butt is king.

How To Cook Pork Butt 

As we’ve mentioned before, pork butt is cooked best when cooked for hours at low temperatures until it has a temperature of 195°F.

However, pork butt can be cut into steaks or thinly sliced and cooked quickly and yield a tender product.

How To Cook Pork Shoulder

Pork shoulder is mainly sold bone-in and skin-on and generally requires low and slow cooking methods due to it being extremely tough.

Pork shoulder is an okay substitute to use for pork butt. However, because it will yield a smaller amount, pork shoulder, you may want to stick with pork butt.

Additionally, you will have to remove the skin before cooking it. If you prefer crunchy skin, you will love pork shoulder.

You can finish your shoulder over high heat, and a crispy, crackly skin will develop.


Prices are contingent upon the area you live in. However, pork shoulder is usually less costly than pork butt.

To be specific, pork shoulder is approximately 1/3 of the cost of pork butt.

Which Is Better?

Though pork butt is the ideal candidate for most low and slow cooking preparations, pork shoulder is a viable opponent. Pork butt is perfect for dishes such as chile Verde, carnitas, stews, smoking, and soups.

Pork shoulder, however, knocks pork butt out of the park when it comes to higher temperatures.

As a result, pork shoulder develops an incredibly crispy crackling that cannot be compared to anything else on the planet.

Final Thoughts

Now you have all of the information you need to form a valid argument in the pork shoulder vs. pork butt debate.

As for the winner of this debate, that decision is up to you.

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