Traditional recipes

Boston butt: a true American favourite

Boston butt: a true American favourite

This January on our site the focus is on foods and recipes from America, and the influences from that great melting pot of cultures. As my regular readers will be aware, here at Barbecoa we are best known for our quality dry-aged beef, but let’s start with pork – Boston butt, to be precise. Best known as the cut that is used to make wonderful pulled pork, a Boston butt, as most UK butchers would know, starts life as a neck-end; half of the pigs shoulder. The other half is often called a hand and spring.

Many moons ago, when I started out, neck-ends of pork were cut in a few ways. The whole joint could be boned and the skin scored, and rolled for a succulent roast. Another way was to scoop the blade bone out, with that again being used for a cheapish roasting joint. The remains could then be cut into one inch thick spare rib chops. These are superb slowly roasted with some sliced apples, cider and a hint of sage, or even a spicy tomato sauce. Today, however, it’s all about pulled pork.

So, how do you turn a neck-end into a Boston butt? Firstly the skin needs to be removed – reserve to make scratchings with later. Remember, though, that you do need to leave a thin layer of fat, both to protect the meat from drying out and to add flavour. Next, take out the back or chine bone and then trim the ends so it looks nice and square.

Then comes the exciting part; seasoning the joint. Your options to add flavour are only held back by what you have in the cupboard, or the limits of your imagination. If you’re stuck for an idea or just need some inspiration, check out my good pal DJ BBQ on Food Tube. My Mum just loves his Chunky banana ketchup served on the side, and I always do double when pulled pork is on the menu.

The great thing about this cut is we can cook it in a conventional oven – yes still low and slow, but covered with a bit of foil in a good old fashioned roasting pan. Add a little bit of liquid, whether water, stock, or your favourite tipple – it will all add flavour. Enjoy!

Pork Shoulder Demystified: Boston Butt Versus Picnic Shoulder

More than once I’ve found myself standing in a butcher shop, staring with confusion at the cold case. Beef and I have a good relationship, and I can point out pork chops, baby back ribs, and pork tenderloins without any trouble. It’s pork shoulder that throws me off, sending me into a frantic internet-searching void until I finally admit to the butcher that I have no idea what I’m looking at. Is the butt the same as the shoulder, or does that enormous hunk of meat come from the animal’s hindquarters? Can I cook a picnic shoulder and a Boston butt the same way? What are all these cuts of meat?

I brought these questions—and more—to our Serious Eats culinary editors, then checked in with Joe Cates, a longtime friend and professional butcher, to end my love-hate relationship with this wonderful yet confusing cut of meat once and for all.

Dutch Oven Boston Butt BBQ

The thralls of summer are upon us and it calls for some classic, iconic, American meats, treats, and sweets. Being that our family are North Carolinians through and through, one food we all agree on is BBQ. Although this may not be one of Ashton’s favorite memories of our Grandpa Epps, one that is mine (because of its’ awesomeness) is my Grandpa cooking a pig during the beginnings of her wedding reception with blood all over him, as happy as can be. What a stud.

BBQ to us is a noun and is meant for specific pork meat. As we’ve gained Western exposure, we’ve realized that BBQ is considered to many a verb for an outside, grilling, social experience. We believe in no such thing, being that what I just described is of course titled nothing else but a “cookout”, and the term BBQ is distinctly reserved for pig meat! You can however use BBQ as a verb if you are having an outside, grilling, social experience while cooking a pig.

Now that you’re educated, enter this beautiful piece of meat, the Boston Butt. It is pork shoulder that when cooked correctly and dipped in the right types of sauce, is nothing less than exquisite. My preferred method would be to smoke or grill this bad boy, but as I am smoker and grill-less for the time being, I’ve found other ways, as with the cast iron skillet (or dutch oven pan).

This cook does take some TLC and patience, but it is well worth it. Make sure you cut off most of the exterior fat as pork shoulder has plenty of fat to be rendered within. Dab the shoulder dry, use your dry rub, sear, bake, rub, sauce, broil, and sauce again. The flavor is unreal with the savory spices and salts combining with the sweet and tangy components of the BBQ sauce. We absolutely loved this recipe and will definitely be repeating. Try it out and share its’ majesty with friends and loved ones before summer comes to an end!

How to Make Pulled Pork

Be sure to cook your pork shoulder (also referred to as a pork butt or boston butt) low and slow, between 200°F and 250°F until the meat is fall off the bone tender (usually when it reaches an internal temperature between 195°F to 205°F). By then all the intermuscular fat has dissolved leaving the meat extremely juicy. Test the meat by either using a probe or your finger. If the pork feels to “springy, it’s not tender yet! There should be a slight indentation in the meat when it is cooked just right.

1 (4 1/2 to 5 pound) boneless or bone-in pork shoulder (also known as pork butt), twine or netting removed

2 teaspoons salt, plus more as needed

1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

2 tablespoons neutral flavored oil

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped small

4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon ancho or mild chili powder, see our homemade chili powder recipe

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon fish sauce or 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

How to Cook a Pork Shoulder Roast

Also known as "Boston butt" or "picnic shoulder," pork shoulder is an inexpensive cut of well-marbled meat that comes from the top portion of the front leg of the hog (despite the name "butt"). You can choose boneless cuts, which cook in a shorter period of time, or bone-in cuts, which have a little more flavor. The "Boston butt" has a bit more fat, making it super tender, while the "picnic shoulder" has more connective tissue, requiring slightly longer cooking time. Either one can be used in any recipe.

The shoulder is a heavily used muscle, so the meat is fairly tough. Cooking it low and slow melts the gelatin and softens the muscle fibers, resulting in falling-apart tender meat. Make sure to set aside enough time, as cooking a four- to seven-pound roast can take all day. But, a little time spent cooking this roast results in great leftovers you can easily freeze for future quick meals.

The Basic Steps

1. Warm it up: Remove the pork from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

2. Get ready: Preheat the oven to 300 to 325 degrees F (with the rack in the center), prepare your smoker, or pull your slow cooker or favorite Dutch oven out from the cupboard.

3. Trim the fat: Trim the thick layer of fat from the outside of the roast (but make sure to leave a thin layer, as this will help the pork to baste as it cooks).

4. &aposTis the Season: Season the pork with salt, pepper, and any other flavors you like. The seasoning choices will depend on what you want for the end result: if you&aposre making tacos, sprinkle it with cumin, chili powder, and oregano. If you want to use the pork for several different types of meals, keep it simple with just salt and pepper.

4a. Sear it good. This is an optional step, but if you have the time, adds a lot of flavor. Heat a little oil in a large skillet or your Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sear the pork heavily on all sides until golden brown.

5. Getting Saucy: If braising on the stove top, roasting in the oven, or cooking in a slow cooker, place the pork in the pan fat-side up. Add enough liquid to the bottom of the pot to come halfway up the pork. Use chicken or vegetable stock, beer or cider, vinegar, or apple juice for the most flavor.

6. Cover it up: Bring the liquid to a simmer, cover the pot, and transfer it to your oven or smoker (or keep it on the stove top). If using a slow cooker, simply put on the lid.

7. Cook away! Roast, braise, or smoke the shoulder until it is falling-apart tender. Depending on the size of your roast, and whether it&aposs bone-in or bone-out, this could take 2 to 6 hours in the oven, or up to 8 hours in a smoker. If using a slow cooker, cover and cook on High for 5 to 6 hours or Low for 8 to 10 hours.

Pork Shoulder Recipes

Pulled pork, slow-cooked and torn into shreds, is a favorite when tossed with barbecue sauce and piled onto sandwiches. However, you can also mix this shredded meat into pasta, casseroles, top pizza, toss it into a stir-fry, make enchiladas or tacos, and so much more. Here are our favorite recipes to get you started:

Pork shoulder is great beyond pulled pork for barbecue. In Pork and Shiitake Mushroom Ragu, the pork is cut into chunks, and then slowly braised with herbs, tomatoes, and spices.

Slow Braised Boston Butt Pork Roast

If you’ve been following Lemony Thyme for a bit, you’ve probably picked up on our love for slow braising meats. So much so, I added the category B is for Braising to our recipe roster. Whether it be a Beef Pot Roast, Pork Chops, Beef Shanks, Chicken in a Pot, or this gorgeous Boston Butt Pork Roast, braising takes any cut of meat and turns it into tender love.

Here is our typical method…

To begin, assemble your favorite dry rub. For us that consists of fairly equal amounts of dried thyme, sage, oregano, yellow mustard, garlic powder, Mrs. Dash Garlic Herb seasoning, salt & pepper.

Apply the rub to all sides of the roast, pressing it in as you go. Then choose a dutch oven that is just a bit bigger than your roast and brown the roast in canola oil until it is deep brown on all six sides. Once really nice and browned, remove the roast. Add a generous amount of thickly sliced onions into the dutch oven and saute until just tender.

Often at this point we add 1 cup of dry red wine, stirring to deglaze the pan. However for this roast, we used 1 cup of dry white wine and 3-4 minced garlic cloves before returning the roast to the pan. We then added enough milk to raise the liquid level to half way up the roast. When looking for alternate cooking methods for a Boston Butt, we came across the site Real Food Has Curves (Amen) and their recipe for Pork Butt Braised in Milk and Spices. We already knew we loved Chicken in Milk and since these guys clearly understood the molecular structure of milk and protein…that was both intriguing and good enough for us.

Next comes the braising. What you’re looking for is a slow burble not a boil. Start out in a 300 degree oven and hourly adjust the temperature accordingly to maintain the slow burble. (For a 6lb. roast, we started at 300 went to 275 then settled at 250 for about 3 hours total cooking time).

The end result was a succulent roast as always…because at the end of the day how do you mess up a pork roast?!

We bought the biggest roast we could find on that day (6 lbs.+)…so we could pull it into Pulled Pork Sliders to enjoy while watching the Great American Race.

We later transform the leftover roast into a giant pot of Pozole Rojo , a favorite hearty winter dish.

Reserving a couple servings of pulled pork for a nice Mexican Breakfast with Pulled Pork and Eggs.

Why not make a batch of Homemade Dr. Pepper BBQ Sauce to serve with your Slow Braised Boston Butt Roast.

A nice Slow Braised Boston Butt Pork Roast is so versatile and yields a bounty of tender pork goodness to be savored for days.

How to Make Pulled Pork

Be sure to cook your pork shoulder (also referred to as a pork butt or boston butt) low and slow, between 200°F and 250°F until the meat is fall off the bone tender (usually when it reaches an internal temperature between 195°F to 205°F). By then all the intermuscular fat has dissolved leaving the meat extremely juicy. Test the meat by either using a probe or your finger. If the pork feels to “springy, it’s not tender yet! There should be a slight indentation in the meat when it is cooked just right.

How to Make It.

All of Big D&rsquos secrets are about to be out. From the spices used to make a great rub to the technique he uses to always have a great Boston Butt. He renders the fat for flavor but not so much that you will have greasy hands eating it on a sandwich. Here we will show you how to get the perfect Pork Butt every single time.

  • 7-8 Pound Pork Butt (shoulder) Bone in&ndash Inexpensive cut of pork that slow cooks to BBQ perfection.
  • 1/4 cup Seasoning Salt &ndash we love a good all purpose Seasoning Salt. My personal favorite is Lawry&rsquos
  • 2 Tablespoons brown sugar &ndash Just a touch of sweetness to compliment the salt. Also helps make that beautiful Bark.
  • 1 & 1/2 Tablespoons sugar &ndash again, sugar aids in tenderizing the meat with the salt but also provides that gorgeous Bark on the outside of the meat. A flavorful way to seal in moisture.
  • 2 Tablespoons Smoked Paprika&ndash the smokiness of the this Hungarian paprika is a distinct flavor you won&rsquot find in regular paprika. Smokes makes a difference.
  • 1/2 Tablespoon Garlic powder&ndash why not? garlic is like butter, it makes everything better!
  • 1/2 Tablespoon Black Pepper&ndash to add a little spice without being too spicy!
  • 1/2 Tablespoon Ground Mustard &ndash more for tenderizing than flavor. Ground mustard have very little flavor but more an acidity and adds a little tart to the salty and sweet.

Here is where we get down to the Nitty Gritty. Lots of great tips here!

  1. Mix all Rub ingredients together in a bowl. Spread evenly on Pork Butt on all sides.
  2. Heat enough charcoal to get your fire started. We use a charcoal chimney for this. Just enough to start a good fire in your firebox or on one end of your grill. Once coals are hot, spread in the bottom and add a few small pieces of wood, careful not to overfill your firebox or grill bottom. Heat fire to 250-300 degrees.
  3. Once 250-300 degrees is reached, place seasoned Pork butt on indirect heat away from fire/smoke source, fat side up. Smoke for 3-4 hours unwrapped to brown and form sear bark on outside of meat.
  4. After sear time, carefully move Pork Butt to a pan and wrap securely with enough foil to cover entire surface. Place back on smoker/grill on indirect heat and cook for another 3-4 hours depending on size of Pork Butt. As a general rule, cook time is about an hour per pound. We do half of that time unwrapped and the other half wrapped. Also, during both cook times, make sure to feed the fire accordingly to maintain 250-300 degree temp inside smoker. A thermometer is recommended. Cook to internal temperature of 165 degrees.
  5. When cook time is done, remove from heat and place in a pan and poke a hole in the foil to drain excess fat from inside of the wrapping. Let drain for 30-45 minutes and then allow meat to rest until cool enough to handle. Unwrap, remove the bone, this should happen easily and cleanly. Shred meat and serve with your without your favorite BBQ sauce!

Butterflied Pork Butts in the Smoker

In this recipe, we'll be looking at creating a butterflied pork butt i.e. a butterflied pork shoulder.

I often remove the bone from pork butts before smoking them and sometimes I get them from the store with the bone already removed. The boneless aspect of this is not necessary but does give you a lot more flexibility with getting them done faster, creating more bark on the outside and more smoke access. It's a great method and in this recipe I'll show you exactly how I do it.

Be sure to use Jeff's original rub (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled rub) for extra tasty bark.

  • Prep Time: 35 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10-12 hours
  • Smoker Temp: 225°F
  • Meat Finish Temp: 190°F
  • Recommended Wood: Hickory
  • 1 Pork butt (boneless) (may also be called Boston butt)
  • ¼ cup yellow mustard
  • Jeff's original rub (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled rub)
  • Jeff's Texas style rub (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled rub)
Please note that my rubs and barbecue sauce are now available in 2 formats– you can purchase the formulas and make them yourself OR you can buy them already made, in a bottle, ready to use.

I purchased a 2-pack of boneless butts with a total weight of about 15 lbs.

Set the pork butt(s) on the counter and take a few minutes to become acquainted with the pork butt.

There is a fat cap on the top side (which I trimmed off but you don't have to).

If you lift up the area where the bone was removed, you'll see that it's well on the way to being butterflied already.

Use a sharp knife to finish the job by cutting through the meat on the far end and then deeper into the area on the left in the image above.

Here's what it looked like after I continued cutting as described above.. almost done.

Finish cutting deeper into the pork butt without going all the way through then lay the meat open like a rack of ribs.

With the meat laid open, I placed it on a pan and rack for seasoning.

There is nothing better than Jeff's original rub (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled rub) where pork is concerned. It creates amazing bark and you just can't beat that.

As per usual, I used some yellow mustard on the meat to create a nice “adhesive” for the rub to stick to.

Apply Jeff's original rub (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled rub) liberally and just leave it sitting there for about 15 minutes.

I used this time to go get the smoker going but how you use your time is entirely up to you-)

After about 15 minutes, the rub will have stuck to the meat pretty good and obtained a sort of wet look. Flip the meat over and do the exact same process to the other side.

Looking good and ready to go into the smoker.

By the way: that smaller piece in the front was a piece that came apart from the rest of the meat when I was trimming the fat. No problem at all.. just make sure it gets some mustard and rub as well.

Setup your smoker for indirect cooking at about 225-240°F using hickory, pecan, apple or whatever smoker wood you have available. If your smoker uses a water pan, fill it up for some nice humidity in the smoker.

Every smoker is different but in my pellet smoker, it took 11 hours for the meat to reach 190°F in the thickest part. I wanted it to be tender but sliceable. If you're interested in pulled pork, just let it go a little longer to an internal temperature of about 207°F.

Be sure to use a tried and true leave-in meat thermometer so you can monitor the temperature without opening the lid any more often than necessary. I am using the Smoke X in the image below which is capable of 4 unique inputs. You can read my review of this excellent piece of equipment HERE.

Here it is about 6 hours in after mopping it for the first time.

You might be thinking that it should have gotten done a lot faster since it was butterflied however, it was around 25°F during the cook, there was snow on the ground with plenty of cold wind. On a nicer day, it may have cooked faster. I also opened the door quite often to snap pictures, apply my rub/butter mop, etc.

I could have wrapped it once it reached about 160°F but since I wanted maximum bark, I opted to let it cook open even if it took longer.

See my butter/rub mop recipe at Jeff's Butter and Rub Mop Sauce

Once it reaches its done temperature, bring it into the house to rest.

I recommend letting the meat rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing it to let the juices settle down a little bit.

Look at that smoke ring and the juicy meat!

I sliced mine like ribs but it was really tender even at 190°F internal temperature and so I had mostly slices with some pulled meat by default. No complaining on my end!

Place the meat into a pan or platter depending on how fancy you wanna be and call dinner!

You'll notice that I poured the extra rub butter mop over the top and sprinkled on some of my Texas style rub (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled rub) for some extra saltiness which I thought it needed.

These slices were about ½ inch thick and made some amazing sandwiches. Also good on fajitas, tacos, etc.

Opening these pork butts up probably doubled or tripled the amount of bark and that alone was worth it in my opinion.

In a future recipe, I will use this butterflied pork butt method to stuff the meat with something and then roll it back up, tie it and cook it in the smoker. Feel free to jump the gun and try that option. If you come up with something really good, let me know!

How to Smoke a Boston Butt

  1. Combine the pulled pork rub ingredients in a small bowl.
  2. Spread the mustard all over the Boston butt.
  3. Rub the spice mix into the meat, make sure to cover it completely.
  4. Wrap the meat with aluminum foil and refrigerate until ready to smoke.
  5. When ready to cook, heat your smoker to 250 degrees F and place the boston butt in the center of the grill.
  6. Remove from grill when the internal temp reaches 195 degrees F.
  7. Before pulling apart, let meat sit for 10 minutes.

How Long to Smoke a Boston Butt?

In total, you’ll need to smoke the Boston butt for 9 to 10 hours, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 195 degrees F. Make sure the temperature of the smoker never goes above 300 degrees F.