Pork Shoulder vs Pork Butt

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  June 21, 2021

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Pork Shoulder and Pork Butt are two different pieces of meat despite coming from neighboring places.

Those two pieces get very often confused with one another, which is why I have decided to prepare a guide in which you will learn the exact differences between the pork butt and the pork shoulder.

For that purpose, I would like you to right now take a look at the picture below and understand where exactly both pieces come from.

Based on that information, you can already have quite a lot of doubt about the pork butt, the name of which suggests a completely different place of origin.

Yeah, someone responsible for coming up with names can mislead people.


Pork Butt

Take one more look at the picture above where you can see in detail that the meat comes from the upper part of the pork shoulder.

Pork Butt also known under a different name (boston butt) is a rectangular piece of meat. It is a very well marbled meat with its skin removed and with high quality intramuscular fat.

It can be sold with bone or boneless, both options are good for cooking.

You can still have your doubts about the name itself, as it is misleading. In order to thoroughly understand the history of this name, I refer you to this article.

Such structure of meat and fat guarantees that it’s a great piece for all kinds of slow cooking (I especially recommend smoking).

After many hours of smoking, the meat should reach a temperature of at least 195 degrees F. At this moment, the fat and the connective tissue will break down, which will make the meat very easy to separate.

Of course you can ask a butcher to cut a pork butt into pork steaks in order to cook meat in a different way. Such steaks can be prepared on a grill, including with the cooking method of indirect heat for the best results.

Pork Shoulder

A whole arm consists of two separate pieces, the pork butt and the picnic. Overall the name pork shoulder applies to those two pieces, which in practice differ from one another with things like the place of origin, as can be seen in the picture.

Also known as the “picnic shoulder”, it is a piece of meat that is located exactly right below the pork butt (the closest to the knee).

It has an irregular, conical shape and is usually sold with skin and bone.

It is also a piece of meat that works perfectly for slow cooking just like the boston butt (preferably for smoking).

The preserved skin makes it possible to utilize other recipes like the Mexican pork carnitas for example. Such style of cooking makes it possible to achieve delicious, juicy meat with a crispy, grilled skin.

When it is the best to use the pork butt, and when the picnic

Pork Butt, thanks to its regular and relatively even shape, is easier to smoke. You don’t have to worry about removing the skin, and it will be no problem to achieve delicate meat.

The Butt is also characterized by better marbling than the picnic.

If, on the other hand, your recipe covers achieving crispy skin when cooking, it will be necessary to buy a pork shoulder (picnic). It is a cut that contains skin and works perfectly for recipes of this type, which make an interesting alternative to the pork butt.

Where to buy a pork shoulder?

If you want a high quality pork butt or pork shoulder, you have online butcher stores with home meat delivery at your disposal. A great solution when you can’t buy very high quality meat in your neighborhood.

You have the ability to verify the store by reading reviews from other customers, which makes it all the more worth it to try this form of buying meat.

Pork Butt vs Pork Shoulder – Conclusion

The name pork shoulder refers to the pieces of cuts located in the pork shoulder. These are obviously the pork butt (boston butt) and the pork shoulder (the picnic) which are two different pieces of meat that get often confused.

The picture clearly shows the difference.

You have to keep in mind that the name pork butt does not refer to the animal’s “rear end”, which can also be seen in the picture.

When knowing the basic definitions of both pieces, you will know exactly where a particular piece of meat at store comes from. It often happens that both pieces get confused at a store which is all the more reason to know the differences so that you know what you’re buying.

Both pieces are great for slow smoking, and which one to choose actually depends mainly on how you’d like to prepare the meal.

When it comes to preparing the most ordinary pulled pork like this simple recipe, a better piece will be the pork butt. Mainly due to the even shape and lack of skin, which would need to be removed anyway.

If your recipe involves crispy skin, on the other hand, a better choice will be the pork shoulder (the picnic), which is sold together with the skin.

Also read: how to reheat your pulled pork like a PRO

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.