Pork shoulder

Other Names: Roasts: Boston butt roast, épaule (French), espadilla (Spanish), 5- or 7-bone roast, foreshank, hombro entero (Spanish, picnic roast), paleta (Spanish, shoulder blade), picnic shoulder roast, spalla (Italian). Chops: Boston butt chop, costilla arriera (Spanish), picnic or arm chop, pork steak.

General Description: Meat from the pork shoulder (NAMP 403) is relatively fatty, making for juicy, tender, and flavorful roasts, and it has the perfect ratio of fat to lean meat for homemade sausage. Chinese chefs prefer pork shoulder because it has enough fat for braising or roasting and takes well to the pungent flavors typical of Chinese cuisine. The shoulder is usually divided into the upper shoulder portion, called the Boston butt, and the lower arm portion, called the picnic shoulder. The shoulder also includes the foreleg or hock.

The Boston butt (NAMP 406) produces a delicious and economical pork roast, though it has a lot of internal fat. This rectangular roast is the cut of choice for pulled pork barbecue because it’s marbled with enough fat to keep the meat moist. A pork steak or blade steak, not to be confused with the more tender adjoining loin blade chop, is a cut from the upper pork shoulder. The picnic shoulder (NAMP 405) is sold whole, usually bone-in, or as either the meatier upper arm portion or the lower foreleg portion. Picnic shoulders usually have some skin attached. A boneless picnic shoulder (NAMP 405A) is meaty, relatively lean, and has outstanding flavor. It is ideal for braising because it takes on a juicy, soft texture; it is popular for barbecue.

The smaller picnic cushion (NAMP 405B) is cut from the picnic shoulder. It is quite lean and is often used in Mexican recipes that require slow roasting, braising, or boiling as well as in Asian entrées that call for marinating and slicing thinly.

A 5- or 7-rib roast is a somewhat fatty, economical retail roast sold bone-in or boneless from the shoulder blade section. If you buy it as a bone-in roast, make sure that the butcher has cracked the backbone between the ribs so it’s easier to carve.

Part of Animal: The pork shoulder lies between the rib section and the foreshanks. It includes three to seven rib bones along with the shoulder blade and the upper front leg.

Characteristics: A whole pork shoulder is often divided into the Boston butt and the picnic shoulder. Both consist of different muscles with different characteristics, some more tender, some tougher.

How to Choose: A whole pork shoulder will weigh 12 to 16 pounds. A Boston butt weighs 6 to 8 pounds, is also sold boneless, and will serve up to eight people. The picnic shoulder weighs 6 to 8 pounds and is also sold boneless.

Amount to Buy: Allow 3/4 to 1 pound for bone-in roast; 1/2 to 3/4 pound for boneless roast.

Storage: Store pork roasts up to 3 days refrigerated.


  1. Trim away excess fat. Sprinkle desired seasonings on all surfaces of the roast, leaving it to marinate at room temperature for about 1 hour before roasting.
  2. Tie, if desired, to make a compact and even shape, and sear in a very hot (450°F) oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or in oil in a large, hot skillet.
  3. Reduce heat to low (275°F) and slow-roast for 2 to 3 hours, or until tender. Or braise, cooking covered in a small amount of flavorful liquid, for 2
    to 3 hours, or until tender. Or cook in a smoker till tender and most of the fat has melted away, 6 to 10 hours; cool, then shred the meat. Reheat with barbecue sauce to make pulled pork.

Flavor Affinities: barbecue sauce, chile peppers, Chinese five-spice powder, ginger, lemons, oregano, rice wine, soy sauce.

from Quirk Books: