How Should I Cook Pork Butt (Fat Side Up or Down)?

Written in 2024
by Adam

    Cooking a pork butt fat side up or down is an age-old debate, but it doesn't have to be that way! We'll take the guesswork out of cooking your next pork butt by looking at what's best for you. If you want to make some pulled pork sandwiches with a nice piece of meat on top, then read this article and learn which method will work best for you.

    What Is A Fat Cap?

    There is a fat cap on many large cuts of meat, such as the pork butt or shoulder, which is a layer of hard white fat that covers the meat.

    It's approximately ¼ to ½ inch thick and covers much, but not all, of the surface area. When grilling it's recommended not to trim this fat at all or if you have to just remove a very small layer of the fat. This will ensure the meat doesn’t quickly dry up when cooking and flavour is maintained.

    How To Buy A Pork Butt

    The pork butt comes from the pork shoulder and not the back of the pig as the name suggests. It's also called a Boston butt, shoulder roast or pork blade roast.

    When purchasing a fresh pork butt, make sure the meat is pink and has plenty of white, creamy marbling (fat). Avoid any pieces with large veins of fat as they will have little to no flavour when cooking.

    They are sold as either bone-in or boneless cuts. When cooked, the bone-in will yield lesser meat per pound.

    Cooking A Pork Butt Fat Side Up?

    The argument for cooking a pork butt fat side up is that the meat will self baste as it cooks. This means the fat melts from the top coating the meat and this helps in locking in the moisture and preventing the meat from drying up.

    Those who support this method also point out that the melted fat will penetrate the meat, adding more flavour. However, meat is made of water, and it will prevent the oil from penetrating deep into the surface as oil and water do not mix.

    The Downside of Cooking The Fat Cap Up

    If the seasoning rub is not applied correctly, that uses the mustard layer was not coated first, the melting fat will rinse away the rubs making the meat less flavourful.

    Another downside is when it's finished cooking you will have a very fatty piece of pork which makes doing pulled pork sandwiches difficult if not impossible unless you remove all the fat. However, this is a personal preference, and we recommend not using this method if you want to get pulled pork.

    Cooking A Pork Butt Fat Side Down?

    They are many pit masters who support cooking the pork butt fat side down. The reason why they support this is the fat acts as an insulator and protects the meat from direct heat, which might cause it to dry out.

    The Downside of Cooking The Fat Side Down

    The dripping fat might cause flare-ups, which could burn the meat and lessen the flavour, giving it an unpleasant taste.

    Some counter this by placing a drip pan under the pork butt to catch the dripping fat. However, if you are looking to cook with direct heat, this is not recommended.

    Flipping The Meat During Cooking?

    So why not flip it and get the best of both cooking methods! Some pit masters will flip their cuts every hour, while others may flip it every half hour.

    This method requires you to do it quickly because when you open the lid to do this, heat will escape, and it will need more recovery time, adding to the overall cooking time.

    Be careful when flipping the meat as the melted fat will drip off the meat and could cause significant flare-ups.

    However, it is recommended instead of flipping it, you simply rotate or spin it. This is because smokers have hot and cold spots, so it's ideal to rotate the meat to ensure all the parts are well cooked.

    Another reason why you should rotate your meat is to prevent the flare-ups that happen with flipping the meat.

    Rotate the meat every 2 hours at a 45-degree angle to one side. This allows one side to absorb more smoke from sitting right above the coals for a longer period without burning them.

    Cooking With The Fat Cap Up or Down?... What We Recommend

    Cook with the fat side facing the heat source. It is commonly assumed most grills come with the heat source is under the meat. However, nowadays, smokers are coming out with the heat source on top.

    We recommend cooking fat side down, so it's facing the heat source to allow for better penetration of smoke, flavours and juices into the meat while locking in moisture.

    In vertical smokers such as a Weber 711001 Smokey Mountain Cooker or Masterbuilt MB20070210 MES 35B Electric Smoker, the heat source is below, this means fat will be facing side down.

    When it comes to horizontal or offset smokers, the heat comes from your right and left sides of the smoker. This means fat will be facing up in this case, as the heat source comes from the sides and escapes from the bottom.

    In Conclusion

    We advise that you cook your pork butt with the fat side facing the heat source, which might be up or down depending on the smoker. This will allow better penetration of smoke, flavours and juices into the meat while locking in moisture.

    We would like to know what you think! How do you like to cook your pork? Fat side up or down. We would love to know why! Please comment below

    Possible FAQs

    Should you trim the fat cap off pork shoulder?

    No, we do not trim the fat cap off. We recommend cooking with as this will prevent moisture loss and lock in flavour!

    Do you flip a Boston butt when smoking?

    Yes, you can flip the pork butt, but we recommend rotating your meat every couple of 2 hours at a 45-degree angle to one side, this will ensure all parts are well cooked.

    When you flip the pork butt  more fat drips and can cause flare-ups.

    Written by Adam

    Adam is the creator of the SmokeGuys website, running it since 2016. Hater of coriander, lover of all things meat... Adam currently works in marketing with a dream of being able to make food his full-time 'job' in the longer term.

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