Picnic shoulder, or pork shoulder, is a cut of pork that comes, as you might expect, from the shoulder area of the pig. Since the "shoulder" of a pig is a leg and pigs walk on all four legs, the picnic shoulder is a cut with muscles that get a lot of work. All that work of walking around gives the shoulder a lot of flavor; it also gives that cut what could be called a lot of texture. Without proper cooking, it can be tough, but the right cooking method will bring out its fabulous flavor in the most tender of ways.
Picnic Shoulder Versus Pork Shoulder
So what's the difference between picnic shoulder and pork shoulder? In short, not much. They are theoretically the same, with slight variations in how they are cut in different parts of the country. One can be substituted for the other in recipes without worry. Don't get too hung up on the confusing names of the meat. Depending on the region, there is also a "Boston butt" or a "picnic ham." Many styles and regional variations exist in butchery and in the respective naming of cuts, so when in doubt, ask your local butcher for specifics and be clear about what you are looking for. Butchers can help clarify and can also cut the meat or select a piece that is the exact size you need for your recipe or size of your crowd.
Picnic Shoulder Versus Pork Butt
To make matters more confusing, pork butt is another cut of pork. Those well-versed in the peculiar nature of the names of meat cuts will already know that pork butt is, in fact, from the shoulder, or front legs, of the pig. Ham comes from the back legs.
Cuts labeled "pork shoulder" or "picnic shoulder" are from the thinner, triangle-shaped end of the shoulder whereas the "butt" is from the thicker, more intensely marbled end of the shoulder. Because picnic shoulder comes from the thinner area, it is a bit better for cooking whole and slicing, while pork butt is perfect for making pulled pork and other recipes in which the meat is meant to fall apart. If the selection at the butcher counter demands, use picnic shoulder, pork shoulder, and pork butt interchangeably in most recipes.
How to Cook Picnic Shoulder
Like pork butt, picnic shoulder benefits from long and slow cooking. In addition to slicing, it is great to cut up and use as stew meat and in chilis, like Pork Green Chili and Red Chile Pork Stew. Picnic shoulder can also be cooked whole and then served sliced, almost like ham. Keep it covered and moist while it cooks for the best results. Serve it warm, at room temperature, or chilled and toted along on a picnic. Get it? Picnic shoulder? Perfect for slicing and serving picnic-style!