Pork Butt Vs. Pork Shoulder: What’s The Difference?

Pork butt and pork shoulder are commonly two different cuts that are often confusing. If you are new to the BBQ, you will likely need help distinguishing between the two. So, what is the difference between pork butt vs. pork shoulder?

The pork butt is obtained from the shoulder of a pig and is characterized by a high-fat content. Pork shoulder, on the other hand, has a high muscle concentration even though it comes from the shoulder like the pork butt. Generally, the major differences between Pork Butt and Pork Shoulder revolve around the fat content, shape, and cooking methods.

A clear understanding of pork butt and shoulder is essential because it will help determine when to use pork butt or pork shoulder. Additionally, it is the best way to decide on the most appropriate cooking method.

pork grill smoked

What Is Pork Shoulder?

The pork shoulder is a cut of meat obtained from the pig’s shoulder above the forelegs. It is also referred to as the picnic roast. The cut is typically broken down into the blade shoulder, the top, and the lower arm shoulder.

The pork shoulder is cut from the hardworking region of a pig, and it is, therefore, dark in color as it has a high concentration of oxygen-storing myoglobin. Again, the cut tends to be tougher than the pork butt due to the connective tissues. The high-fat content makes the portion extremely flavorful as long as it is cooked correctly: low and slow.

The low and slow cooking technique is ideal for cooking the pork shoulder because it allows for the breakdown of the collagen into gelatin while melting fats to heighten the flavor of the meat.

When To Use A Pork Shoulder?

The pork shoulder contains a lot of fat, giving it a more pronounced flavor and a wide range of applications than leaner cuts such as pork chops. There are several instances where you will find the use of pork shoulder the most appropriate choice, including the following;

  • When you want to prepare meat that can hold its shape when chopped or sliced
  • If you need a cut that you can cooking using different cooking techniques, including roasting, braised, or even for stew recipes
  • When you are looking to obtain crispy skin since it is sold with the skin on
  • If you intend to make ground pork

What Is Pork Butt?

Pork butt is also known as Boston butt. It is a cut derived from the upper part of the hog’s shoulder. Pork is popular as it is relatively inexpensive and easy to prepare. You will probably see it served as pulled pork in restaurants with a bone-in.

Many connective tissues and muscles characterize pork butt; hence best cooked low and slow. Fortunately, the cut is extremely fatty, with plenty of fat marbling, making it hard to dry out during the cooking process, even if you cook at higher temperatures.

Also, the cut is often confused with a cut from the rear end of a hog. But that is incorrect. The pork butt includes different cuts of meat, such as the ham hock or the pork sirloin, which are normally behind the pork loin.

When To Use A Pork Butt?

A concentration of connective tissues and intense fat marbling distinguishes pork butt. Thus it can endure several hours of cooking. It is an option for stewing, barbecue pulled pork, and braising. Additionally, you can use the pork butt in any recipe that requires tender meat with an excellent pork flavor, such as stew, carnitas, or pulled pork. Again, you can roast the pork butt or make it into sausages or ground pork.

Pork Butt Vs. Pork Shoulder: The Main Differences

Although pork butt and pork shoulder are derived from the same part of a hog, they differ in several ways. Here are the main differences between pork butt and shoulder.

1. Fat Content And Marbling

One of the distinguishing factors between the two popular cuts of pork revolves around marbling and fat content. The pork butt contains more fat and marbling than the pork shoulder. Since the marbling and fat content are responsible for enhancing the flavor of the meat, then it is accurate to conclude that the pork butt is more flavorful than the pork shoulder.

2. The Shape

The pork shoulder is commonly known for its triangular shape, occasioned by the fact that it runs from the shoulder blades to the pig’s hooves. The pork butt, on the other, is rectangular as it only sits above the blades.

3. The Uses

The pork butt and shoulder are similar in that you can use them for various dishes. However, the pork butt has a more intense fat content making it an ideal candidate for slow cooking to make it moist and more tender. Therefore, it is excellent for achieving a tear-away consistency, making it excellent for pulled pork. The pork shoulder is the best for pulled pork if you are after adding a bit of crispiness to your meal.

4. Taste

Marbling and fats play a significant role in determining the pork flavor. Since the pork butt has a higher concentration of fat and marbling throughout, it is more flavorful than the pork shoulder. Nonetheless, your cooking method will determine whether or not you get the best from the pork butt. In other words, for the best results, you must choose the best cooking technique. Fortunately, the pork butt allows you to employ different cooking methods for the best results.

5. The Cost

The pork shoulder is usually cheaper than the pork butt because the butt is larger. However, butt cuts are economical, meaning you can comfortably afford them. If you are undecided on the cut to cook, the best way is to factor in the number of people you want to serve and the price before reaching a decision.

Pork Butt Vs. Shoulder What Is Best For Pulled Pork

Pork butt is ideal for barbecue pulled pork as it has intensive marbling fat that quickly produces amazing and delicious pulled pork. In addition to using the pork butt for pulled pork, you can also use it for stewing and braising. Generally, use the pork butt for any recipe that requires tender meat with an excellent pork flavor.

perfect pork shoulder

Shoulder Vs. Loin Vs. Butt Pork Roast. Which Is Leaner?

The pork loin is the leanest of the three cuts of pork. It has less fat than the shoulder and the pork butt. Further, it is the most tender of the three. You can use the pork loin in pork chops or transform it into delicious and juicy roast pork.

If you are trying to figure out the best cut of pork among the loin, pork shoulder, and pork butt, then you need to understand that the answer highly depends on what you want to cook.

For instance, if you want to cook pulled pork for your friends or family, the pork shoulder will be the most appropriate cut for such an objective.

If you want to cook juicy and tender pork, turn to the pork loin, and you will not be disappointed.

The pork butt is diverse, meaning you can deploy various cooking techniques. Besides, it is a forgiving cut of pork that you will enjoy preparing.

Pork Butt Vs. Pork Shoulder: Which One Is Better?

While the pork butt and shoulder differ in texture and flavor, an undiscerning eater may not notice any difference. When choosing between the two, you must consider your preferences and the flavor and texture differences. Since the pork butt contains an intense network of marbling and fat, it is more flavorful as long as you find the best way to cook it.


Either the pork butt or the pork shoulder can give you a delicious dish as long as you devote your time and efforts to preparing them to perfection. Additionally, whenever you have to choose between the two cuts, ensure that you consider the flavor profile of each other and make your decision based on your recipe.