Pork butt, despite its colorful name, does not come from anywhere near the butt or behind of the pig. In fact, quite the opposite. Pork butt is a cut of meat from the shoulder of the pig. Pork butt is the cut most typically used in pulled pork. It can be roasted or cut into steaks, but it is also well-suited for braising and stewing or for making ground pork or sausages.
What Is Pork Butt?
The pork butt consists of parts of the neck, shoulder blade, and upper arm of the pig. It's a moderately tough cut of pork with a good deal of connective tissue. The area of the pig we might think of as the actual "butt," the big muscle at the top of the leg is where the ham—cooked fresh or cured or smoked—comes from. Ham is the thigh and most of the gluteus maximus (that's why it's so meaty).
The name makes sense when you consider that the word "butt" can also mean the thicker end of something (eg, the butt of a gun) or the blunt end of something since a pork butt is the thicker end of the shoulder cut. Pork butt cuts are relatively inexpensive, costing about $2.50 per pound on average.
How to Cook Pork Butt
Both pork butt and pork shoulder cuts do best with long, slow cooking and are excellent choices to be barbecued, braised, or used as stew meat, as well as roasted or cooked in slow-cookers. They also stand up well to strong flavors (think barbecue sauce or chiles) because they have a strong flavor themselves.
This is due to the fact that the meat is derived from a hard-working section of the body: Carrying around all that hog weight exercises that section and as a result, it develops great flavor. This is notably true of pastured pork from pigs raised in environments where they can walk freely.
What Does Pork Butt Taste Like?
The fat content in pork butt gives it more flavor and naturally bastes the meat. Long, slow cooking on low heat brings out the juices and makes for a tender, more succulent cut of meat.
Pork Butt vs. Pork Shoulder
The cut of pork called "pork shoulder" also comes from the shoulder. But pork butt comes from the thicker section of the shoulder where there is more intense marbling, or fat running through the meat. Pork butt may contain the shoulder blade bone but usually doesn't.
Cuts labeled "shoulder" (including a "picnic shoulder") are from the thinner, triangle-shaped end of the shoulder, which would be attached to the butt if they weren't commonly separated into smaller cuts. It has less marbling and less fat.
You can, if necessary, use a pork butt and pork shoulder interchangeably in most recipes. Pork shoulder is a bit better if the final plan is to slice or chop the meat and have it hold its shape, while the more intense marbling of pork butt makes it particularly well suited for barbecue, specifically making pulled pork or other recipes where you want the meat to fall apart into shreds easily.
Pork Butt Recipes
Pork butt is delicious in spicy stews such as New Mexican Carne Adovada, green chili, or a classic Posole since the fat in it helps spread that chile flavor around, and the chunks of meat will tend to get even more tender than pork shoulder does. Again, it's all about the marbling. Butt is also used to make carnitas and pulled pork. These recipes offer a variety of ways to use pork butt:
Where to Buy Pork Butt
A local butcher shop or farm is always the best source for meat. But you will find pork butt at the supermarket, whole or partial, usually boneless and with much of the exterior fat removed. At warehouse stores, you'll find whole boneless pork butts in vacuum-sealed packaging, sometimes with the exterior fat intact. Some cooks prefer to use bone-in pork butt because they believe the bone adds more flavor but bone-in pork butts are becoming harder to find, especially at warehouse stores.
Storing Pork Butt
Cooked meat can be refrigerated safely for three to four days. Leftovers that will be eaten within four days should be stored in airtight plastic bags, heavy-duty aluminum foil, or plastic storage containers (squeezing out as much air as possible before sealing). For storage longer than four days, cooked meat should be frozen.