If you’re looking to make pulled pork, the chances are that you’re on the lookout for a cut of meat known as ‘Boston Butt’. This is the cut most recipes will recommend to you.
There is confusion surrounding the cut of meat however, and its name will change depending on where you live. It also has nothing to do with the rear of the pig at all.
We are gonna clear this up here, so you know where to buy your meats in confidence.
The Boston Butt comes from the shoulder of the pig, closest to the spine. It is also known as ‘pork butt’, and will look rectangular in shape and might still be attached to the bone.
It is down to you whether you buy it on the bone or not, but some say the extraction of the bone can be messy and result in an uneven cook.
The bone can also tell you when it’s cooked, as it will slide right out with ease when ready.
There are a couple of theories surrounding the name ‘butt’, with some believing it references the meatier part of the shoulder, and others believing its referencing that the shoulder butts were packed for shipping in barrels known as butts.
The pork butt is known as the Boston Butt as it was the city of Boston was it first originated, with the butchers of Boston having a very particular cut that made it well known across the country.
Now that we understand that the Boston butt and pork butt are the same things, let's look at the actual butt of the pig, the rear end.
The rump end is actually where the ham comes from, specifically the thighs and glutes. It’s easy to see why hams are so meaty then.
You might be wondering why hams aren't used for pulled pork if it is so meaty.
The secret lies in the collagen and fat that lies in the shoulder meat, which breaks down during the cooking process and makes it so tender.
You might be wondering about the difference between pork shoulder and pork butt, as if the butt is from the shoulder, where is the shoulder from? Pork shoulder comes from the shoulder, but the thinner part, lower down.
It’s also known as the ‘picnic shoulder’ and will be cone-shaped, with the bones still in, and sometimes the skin left on too.
Some pitmasters like to use the pork shoulder to make pulled pork, but there are certain things you should consider that might make it a little bit harder to work with.
The skin must be removed when preparing the meat so that it doesn’t form a bark, so that’s something to worry about.
Also, the weird cone shape can make a very difficult and uneven cooking.
If you have a plan to deal with these issues, however, feel free to try the picnic shoulder!
It’s also named the money muscle for its ability to win barbecue competitions.
It’s extremely tender and marbled with fat that renders down during a long cook.
The money muscle is located high on the shoulder and is a part of the loin. This part of the pig is worked a lot less and so it is a lot more tender.
Finding Boston Butt can be difficult in some areas, so some pitmasters try their luck with tenderloin or fresh ham. However, we wouldn't recommend either of those.
Most times your pork comes out dry, it is because it is the wrong cut.
An example is that tenderloins dry out quickly and end up very rubbery.
The best type for pulled pork has lots of fat and collagen to break down during the long cook. Any cut from the shoulder will work, but leg or shank are also good options.
If you can’t find ant Boston Butt, try asking your local butcher and they might be able to point you in the right direction.
This is where things get very technical. You don’t want to run out while serving, but you dont know how much to cook.
Keep shrinkage in mind, remembering that the average Boston Butt will shrink 30%, and can shrink up to 50%.
We need to take into account how many people are eating, and remember that teenagers eat roughly the same as adults, and kids eat small amounts.
B = teenagers/ adults
S = small eaters
U = size of uncooked Boston Butt needed in pounds
U = ((2B + S)/2)+1
U = ((2 x 3 + 2) / 2) + 1
U = ((6 + 2) / 2) + 1
U = (8 / 2) + 1
U = 4 + 1
U = 5
If your making sandwiches, you would need around ¼ a pound of pulled pork per sandwich.
This method works out the amount of cooked pork you need, so account for shrinkage and buy it slightly heavier.
This cut is the best to cook slow and low, with popular ways to prepare it being stewing, barbecuing or braising. The most popular way to use pork butt is pulled pork.
Here are some general tips to remember when cooking pork butt:
-Not much trimming and cutting is needed
-Use a binding agent, like mustard, before a rub
-Apply an even amount of rub just before you put the butt in the smoker
-You will cook at 225-235 for around 10 hours.
-A probe thermometer is the best way to measure the internal heat
-Let the bark build up for around half the cooking time and then wrap it in aluminium foil.
-After the meat is wrapped, let it cook for another four hours.
-Let it rest for 30 minutes once it’s done.
-Always bear safety and hygiene in mind
-don't rush the process, be patient
Knowing what cuts of meat you are dealing with and the best ways they’re cooked is the best way to pull off some amazing meals.
Although the terms pork butt or boston butt can be confusing, but hopefully now you understand the difference between the butt and rear end and can walk into your butchers with confidence.