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The Difference Between Pork Butt and Pork Shoulder

By Annie Petito Published

Pork butt is not from the rear of the pig. Pork shoulder is from only part of the shoulder. Confused? We’ll clear up the difference between these two cuts.

Pork butt and pork shoulder are frequently confused—and misleadingly named—cuts of meat. Both come from the shoulder of the pig, but pork butt is higher on the foreleg, while pork shoulder is farther down. As relatively tough and fatty cuts, both benefit from long, slow cooking methods such as roasting, stewing, and braising. But the cuts are different enough that we generally prefer pork butt. Read on to understand why.

What's the Difference?

Pork Butt
Pork Shoulder
Pork Butt Pork Shoulder

 

Also known as "Boston butt"

 

Also known as "picnic shoulder" or "picnic roast"

 

Well marbled with intramuscular fat

 

Typically has less intramuscular fat and marbling

 

Often sold with fat cap intact

 

Frequently sold with skin on

 

Rectangular, uniform shape

 

Tapered, triangular shape

 

Sold as bone-in and boneless

 

If boneless, typically sold in netting; when netting is removed, meat "unfolds" into uneven layer

When to Use Pork Butt

Since pork butt has more fat marbling throughout the meat and a more uniform shape, it’s the best cut for stewing and braising as well as for making fall-apart-tender pulled pork for a barbecue or for tacos. If a recipe calls for a choice between pork shoulder and pork butt, we highly recommend choosing pork butt.

When to Use Pork Shoulder

Pork shoulder is our cut of choice when making a pork roast that calls for crackling-crisp skin (such as our Cuban-Style Oven-Roasted Pork), since the cut is sold with the skin on.

Try These Pork Butt Recipes

Recipe Spicy Mexican Shredded Pork Tostadas (Tinga)

This spicy Mexican shredded pork known as tinga boasts all the smoke and fork-tendernesss of good barbecued pulled pork. Even better, it cooks completely on the stove.

Recipe Smoky Pulled Pork on a Gas Grill

We’ve always believed that a gas grill just can’t match charcoal when it comes to flavor. But after months of testing, our gas-grilled pulled pork didn’t just match charcoal—it beat it.

Recipe Indoor Pulled Pork with Sweet and Tangy Barbecue Sauce

We transform pork shoulder into smoky-tasting barbecue with a crusty exterior and tender interior without trading our indoor oven for and outdoor pit.

Recipe Spicy Pork Tacos (al Pastor)

This taqueria staple features juicy, spit-roasted marinated pork that’s crispy at the edges and fork-tender within. Could we achieve that same trademark texture on the grill?

Recipe Chinese Barbecue Pork (Char Siu)

Sweet, salty, savory—get down with some serious Chinatown vibes.

Recipe Porchetta

Italy’s rich herb-and-garlic-infused slow-cooked pork is one of the world’s best street foods. We wanted to transform it into a roast for company.

Try These Pork Shoulder Recipes

Recipe Cuban-Style Oven-Roasted Pork

Garlicky, citrus-infused pork is a natural for the backyard grill. Unfortunately, so are dry meat, burnt skin, and faint flavors. We grill-roasted 200 pounds of pork to get it right.

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