What’s the Difference Between Pork Butt and Pork Shoulder?

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Love pork, but confused about all the different cuts?

There are 7 primal cuts from pork.

Each primal cut is broken down even further by butchers.

This is where you get cuts like bacon, pork chops, Boston butt, and pork shoulder.

Many readers ask us, what is the difference between all these cuts and what is the best way to use them?

Well, the difference between pork butt and pork shoulder is; pork butt is closer to the pig’s upper back whereas the pork shoulder is closer to the leg bone and leg muscles.

Below we explain in detail and show what recipes each cut is better used for.

should you cook with boston butt or pork shoulder?

Boston Butt vs Pork Shoulder – What’s the Difference?

The pork butt is closer to the pig’s upper back whereas the pork shoulder is closer to the leg bone and leg muscles.

The pork shoulder is also known as ‘Picnic Shoulder’ or ‘Picnic Roast’.

If you don’t have a lot of cooking experience with pork, we recommend using the pork butt (otherwise known as Boston butt).

It’s simpler to cook with than, since the meat is has a lot of fat, so you won’t have to worry about it drying out.

Many people get these two cuts of meat mixed up because they appear to be similar at first glimpse. However we below we will show you the differences.

Pork Butt (Also Known as Boston Butt) Explained

pork butt or sometimes called the boston butt(1)
Our pork butt just out of the smoker. Waiting for it cool so we can pull it

There are actually quite a lot of differences between a pork picnic shoulder and a Boston butt.

The pork butt is closer to the pig’s upper back and is situated just above the shoulder. Many still consider the pork butt to be a part of the pig’s shoulder meat.

The pork butt actually resembles more of a rectangular uniform shape. It tends to lie flat with little to no uneven bits.

This cut of pork is closer to the back or spine of the pig. There is not a lot of muscles in this area. So, the pork butt or Boston butt has a lot more intramuscular fat (marbling) running through it.

When buying pork butt, the butcher shop may sell it to you with or without the bone. It doesn’t matter if your cut comes with the shoulder blade still intact.

It’s fine to cook the pork butt with the bone still attached. And if you’d like to remove it, locate the bone and slice it out.

If you’re still struggling, many easy-to-follow video guides explain it well. Here’s one that we found super helpful.

Pork Shoulder Explained

The pork shoulder — or picnic shoulder cut — takes on more of a triangular shape that’s actually quite uneven.

The picnic shoulder is also located closer to the leg bone and leg muscles. Therefore this piece of pork contains more muscular tissue.

This makes this cut leaner when compared to a typical rectangular piece of Boston butt. Pork shoulder is also one of the most popular cuts for curing and making ham.

A nice cut of pork shoulder, ready to be rubbed then cooked.

When Should You Use Pork Butt?

With more connective tissue in the Boston butt, the most common advice is to cook this cut of meat on low for a long time.

Since it’s high in fat, you won’t have to worry about the meat drying out during the cooking process.

Slow cooking will ensure that the pork butt has time to break down and develop a soft texture.

If you want to add extra flavor you can inject your pork butt with beef tallow or seasoning mix.

Many people recommend that pork butt should be the best choice of meat to use for making pulled pork. To ensure the pork butt is tender enough to shred, you need to reach the optimal temperature which is at least 200°F.

You might also find the price of pork butt is slightly lower than pork shoulder.

When Should You Use Pork Shoulder?

While the pork shoulder is considered to be ‘fatty’, it is not as marbled as the pork butt. It’s still a great cut of meat to use for pulled pork.

Since the pork shoulder is often sold with its skin, you can also use it to make pork crackle.

You’re not limited to making pulled pork or crispy pork skin out of picnic shoulder.

You can also cut it into pork slices or stick it in the oven to make a pork roast.

This cut of meat is actually perfect for burnt ends as well as Chinese-style cooking, as you can use it to make Char Siu or Siu Yuk.

The pork shoulder is not as fatty as a cut of pork belly, but trust me, it still tastes great!

If you’d like to stick with slow cooking methods, you can also always use picnic shoulder to make a delicious soup or stew.

Delicious Recipes for Pork But and Shoulder

Unsure of how you should cook these cuts of pork?

We’ve picked out five of our favorite pork butt and pork shoulder recipes to share with you:

Smoked Carnitas With Tacos

We hope that you found this article helpful in differentiating between pork shoulder and pork butt.

Please feel free to share your favorite pork recipes with us too!


Author: Justin Carrtington
Hi I’m Justin, I am one of the taste testers (hard job I know) here at Simply Meat Smoking! I have been grilling, smoking and cooking up a storm since I was young. I like use all types of fuel from charcoal to gas, wood and even electric!

When I not trying to perfect my ribs or brisket I am hanging out with my friends,mainly acting like a big kid.

You can read more on our About Us page.

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