Pork Butt vs Pork Shoulder

pork butt and pork shoulder on a smoker

Pork has been a staple in many cultures’ diets for centuries, with various cuts offering different flavors, textures, and culinary possibilities.

“Two of the most beloved and often confused cuts are pork butt and pork shoulder.”

Although they come from the same general area of the pig, these cuts have distinct differences that make them suitable for different dishes.

In this article, I’ll delve into the nuances of each cut and how they can be best utilized in cooking tender pork.

“Pork Butt vs Pork Shoulder: Unraveling the Mystery of Pork Cuts.”

What Is The Difference Between Pork Butt And Pork Shoulder?

pork shoulder and pork butt on a pig

The primary difference between pork butt and pork shoulder is their location on the pig.

The pork shoulder and butt come both from the shoulder of the pig but just from a different part.

Despite its name, pork butt does not come from the rear of the pig. Instead, the butt is higher on the shoulder from the front leg and is also known as the Boston butt. 

The pork shoulder, on the other hand, comes from the lower shoulder portion, and may sometimes include part of the leg. A pork shoulder is also referred to as a picnic shoulder or picnic roast.

Pork Butt

Pork butt is well-marbled with fat, which makes it ideal for slow and long cooking processes. The marbling renders down during cooking, creating a tender and flavorful dish.

The cut is often sold with the bone in, which can contribute to the meat’s flavor and moisture during the cooking process.

Most people know this cut of meat by the name Boston Butt.

How To Use Pork Butt?

Pulled Pork

Pork butt is often used for pulled pork due to its rich fat content that yields moist, succulent meat when you use the slow cooking method at a temperature of 225 – 250.

Boston Butt

Sometimes specifically referred to as Boston butt, this cut is perfect for smoking, as the fat cap can protect the meat during the long cooking time, infusing it with a smoky flavor.

Pork Butt Recipes

Recipes often call for pork butt to be used in stews, braises, and slow-cooker meals. The fat content allows for a variety of cooking methods without the risk of the meat becoming dry.

Pork Shoulder

The pork shoulder cut is leaner than the butt and often comes with the skin on, which can provide a delectable crispy texture when roasted. This cut can be tougher than the pork butt. But will usually be used for long cooking times.

How to use pork shoulder?

Pulled Pork

Although pork butt, or Boston butt, is typically preferred, pork shoulder can also be used for pulled pork, especially when the recipe involves a long cook time to tenderize the meat.

Pork Roast

A pork shoulder roast, also called picnic roast, especially with the skin on, can create a stunning centerpiece. The skin can crisp up into crackling, contrasting beautifully with the tender meat.

Pork Shoulder Recipes

Pork shoulder shines in dishes that are roasted or braised, and it is also commonly used for making sausages due to its leaner nature.

Picnic Shoulder

Sometimes you may encounter a cut labeled “picnic shoulder,” which is simply the lower portion of the pork shoulder. This cut is great for slow-roasting and barbecue.

Which Is Better For Pulled Pork, Pork Butt, Or Pork Shoulder?

For pulled pork, many pitmasters and chefs prefer the pork butt because of its fat content which translates to flavor and tenderness.

However, pork shoulder can also produce excellent pulled pork if cooked properly.

If you are interested you can read my smoked pork butt recipe and find out how I smoke them.

Differences Between The Two

The main differences lie in their fat content and texture after cooking.

Pork butt tends to be more tender and moist, while pork shoulder is a bit leaner and may require more careful cooking to achieve the same level of tenderness.

What Are Some Popular Pork Recipes Using Pork Butt Or Pork Shoulder?

Pulled Pork

Both cuts are popular for making pulled pork, a staple in barbecue cuisine, where the meat is smoked for several hours until it can be easily shredded.

Pork Roast

Whether it’s a Boston butt or a picnic shoulder, roasting these cuts at a low temperature will ensure a succulent pork roast.

I mean, who doesn’t like a good pork roast with potatoes and carrots?


Pork butt is commonly used for carnitas, where it’s braised until tender, then broiled or fried to create crisp edges.

Pork Butt And Pork Shoulder Recipes

Both cuts are versatile and can be used interchangeably in many recipes, though adjustments in cooking time and technique might be necessary depending on the desired outcome.

While pork butt and pork shoulder are often used in similar dishes, their slight differences in fat content and texture can influence the outcome of your cooking.

Understanding these nuances will help you choose the right cut for your next pork dish, whether a succulent pulled pork or a festive roast.

Read Also: https://bettergrills.com/bbq-sauce-recipe-for-pulled-pork/


There are people who can explain all these things better than I can. After all, I am not a butcher. Here is a great explanation of the difference between a pork should and a pork butt.

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Pork Shoulder vs Pork Butt- My Experience

I have made many pounds of tender pulled pork dishes from boneless pork shoulder and bone-in pork butt.

By the way. For more inspiration, you can have a look at the pork recipes I shared.

So you know where the name Boston comes from in the Boston Butt?

As most of you know the pork butt is also known as a Boston butt, and the explanation of why it got this name comes from the fact that it became very popular in the Boston area and the barrel it was shipped in was called a butt.

My personal choice, and preferred cut of meat, for my backyard BBGQ pulled pork is using a bone-in Boston butt.

The reason for that is that, in my opinion, the bone adds some more flavor compared to the boneless version.

A pork shoulder generally comes with less fat and the pork butt contains more fat. For that reason, my wife uses a pork shoulder to cook pork roast.

Sometimes I buy a pork shoulder and ask my butcher to cut it into pork steak that I just grill.

If I have to make one suggestion it would be to buy the one that is cheaper or on sale and adjust your cooking times and temperatures.

Eddie van Aken

Eddie van Aken has years of experience in running his full-service restaurant and with this came working with using and dealing with all types of kitchen equipment. With his experience, he can find all the pros and cons of grills and add them to the grill reviews he is doing. You can read more on the about page for Eddie van Aken

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