Pulled pork is a great place to start your culinary learning curve of smoking and barbecue. Not only is it relatively inexpensive and incredibly delicious, it is a forgiving meat that can still taste good even if you serve it slightly over or under-cooked, unlike cuts such as brisket and ribs. These reasons and more makes pulled pork one of the easiest smoked meat recipes to learn as a beginner.
Although it may seem intimidating at first, anyone can “pull off” a pulled pork dinner. But the first step to a good pulled pork is selecting the proper cut of meat. Continue reading to learn which cut of meat is the most popular for pulled pork and why.
Pork Shoulder is the Good Choice
By far, the most popular cut of meat to use for smoking pulled pork is pork shoulder. This is for a few good reasons. First, pork shoulder is pretty affordable compared to other cuts; you can purchase quality pork shoulder for a little more than $3 per pound.
It is also readily available at most grocery stores, butcher shops, and artisanal meat shops. At grocery chains, pork shoulder is generally sold in two cuts: pork butt and pork shoulder. At your local butcher, you can request a whole shoulder (which can weigh between 12 and 16 pounds) or a custom cut if you like.
Another reason why pork shoulder is a great choice for pulled pork is that it doesn’t dry as quickly as other pieces of meat. If you accidentally overcook it, you can still serve it and enjoy it with your favorite sauce. So long as you maintain within safe temperatures, you can even get away with under-cooking it a bit.
Also, the amount of collagen and fat in pork shoulder help a lot. The collagen breaks down into simple sugars during the smoking process, making the meat sweet and delicate. And the amount of fat that melts away gives the meat a tender and juicy consistency that builds a flavor without using any rubs are sauces.
Pork Shoulder Vs. Pork Butt
Pork shoulder makes up the whole front leg and shoulder of a hog. If you are shopping at the neighborhood grocery store, you can expect to find pork shoulder divided into two cuts. These two halves are the pork butt and pork shoulder, also referred to as the “Boston roast” and the “picnic roast.”
Pork butt is also known as “Boston butt” because it is the thicker section of the hog shoulder where there is more concentrated marbling, or fat running through the muscle. Sometimes pork butt contains shoulder blade bone, but most of the time, it does not. These monikers are where many people get confused. Pork butt actually comes from the shoulder of the hog, not the rear end. The term, “butt”, in this sense, is used to describe a blunt or thick end of something, like a gun or cigar.
The actual pork shoulder is from the same cut that the pork butt comes from, but at the thinner, triangle-shaped end. It has more bone than Boston butt, but will weight around the same, which is between 5 and 6 pounds. Picnic cuts can come without bone, but it is recommended to get one with the bone. As for champion pulled pork, pork butt is the top choice cut to use. Picnic cuts work just as well, but some compare it to unprepared ham.