Pork shoulder, also known as Boston butt or pork butt, refers to the upper part of the front leg of the pig. It is a flavorful and versatile cut of meat that can be prepared in many ways, including roasting, braising, stewing, and slicing for sandwiches. But can a pork shoulder actually be sliced? Let’s take a closer look at the anatomy of a pork shoulder and the feasibility of slicing it.
Anatomy of a Pork Shoulder
A pork shoulder consists of several muscles held together by connective tissue. The main muscles are:
- Picnic shoulder – This makes up the lower two-thirds of the pork shoulder. It has a good amount of fat marbling.
- Boston butt – This sits above the picnic shoulder. It is well-marbled with fat and connective tissue.
- Arm shoulder – This small, tough muscle sits above the Boston butt.
In addition to the muscles, pork shoulder contains a significant amount of connective tissue. This includes collagen and elastin fibers that help bind the muscles together. It’s the high collagen content that makes pork shoulder well-suited for slow, moist cooking methods like roasting, braising, and stewing.
Can You Slice a Raw Pork Shoulder?
Trying to slice through a raw pork shoulder is extremely difficult and not recommended. The shoulder muscles are bound too tightly together by connective tissue to allow clean, even slicing. Slicing a raw pork shoulder would require a very sharp knife and a lot of force to chop through the tough connective tissue. The result would be ragged, uneven slices with lots of exposed connective tissue.
So while it’s physically possible to slice a raw pork shoulder, the results would be poor. For even, tender slices, the pork shoulder must be cooked first to melt the collagen and tenderize the meat.
How to Cook a Pork Shoulder for Slicing
Cooking a pork shoulder requires time and moisture to break down the connective tissue. Here are two effective methods:
Method 1: Oven Roasted
To cook a pork shoulder for slicing in the oven:
- Thoroughly season the pork shoulder with salt, pepper, and other spices/herbs.
- Place in a roasting pan and roast uncovered at 300°F for 4-6 hours until fork tender.
- Baste occasionally with pan juices to keep moist.
- Once fully cooked, remove from oven and let rest for 20 minutes.
Roasting gently breaks down the collagen while keeping the pork shoulder juicy and flavorful.
Method 2: Slow Cooked
To cook a pork shoulder for slicing in a slow cooker:
- Season pork shoulder all over with salt, pepper, and other desired seasonings.
- Place seasoned pork in a slow cooker and add 1 cup of liquid such as broth, apple cider, or water.
- Cook on LOW heat for 8-10 hours until very tender.
- Carefully remove pork from slow cooker and let rest for 20 minutes before slicing.
The slow, moist heat of a slow cooker will dissolve much of the connective tissue in a pork shoulder after several hours.
Slicing a Cooked Pork Shoulder
Once the pork shoulder is thoroughly cooked, it’s ready to be sliced. Follow these tips:
- Use a sharp carving or slicing knife.
- Slice across the grain of the meat for the most tender, even slices.
- Cut into 1⁄4–1⁄2 inch thick slices.
- Aim for clean, thin slices without lots of connective tissue.
- Start at one end of the pork shoulder and work downward using long, sweeping slices.
Slicing when the pork is still warm from cooking will create cleaner slices. Resist sawing back and forth as this can shred the texture.
Serving Sliced Pork Shoulder
There are endless possibilities for serving sliced pork shoulder:
- On sandwiches – Stack tender slices on buns with barbecue sauce and slaw.
- Tacos – Chop or shred slices and use as taco filling.
- Salads – Thinly slice and add to spinach salads, grain bowls, etc.
- Flatbreads – Top flatbread pizzas with sliced pork shoulder.
- Charcuterie – Arrange beautifully sliced pork shoulder on a meat and cheese board.
- Soups – Thinly slice or dice pork shoulder to add to bean soups and stews.
Sliced pork shoulder also reheats very well. Simply rewarm leftovers in a skillet, oven, or microwave until heated through. The pre-sliced pork makes it quick and easy to add to any recipe.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should you slice pork shoulder before or after cooking?
Always slice pork shoulder after it has been fully cooked. Raw pork is very difficult to slice evenly due to the tough connective tissue. Cooking first breaks down those fibers for easy slicing.
What temperature should pork shoulder reach before slicing?
Cook the pork shoulder to an internal temperature of at least 145°F before slicing. This ensures any potentially harmful bacteria are killed. Use a meat thermometer to monitor the temperature.
Can you slice pork shoulder without cooking it first?
You can technically slice through raw pork shoulder with a very sharp knife but the results will be poor. The meat will require lots of force to cut through and the slices will be uneven. It’s not recommended. Always cook pork shoulder before slicing for tender, even cuts.
What is the best way to slice pork shoulder?
For the most even, tender slices, use a sharp carving or slicing knife. Cut across the grain of the meat in thin, 1⁄4-1⁄2 inch slices. Let the cooked pork rest for 20 minutes before slicing so the juices redistribute. Work slowly and carefully.
How do you store leftover sliced pork shoulder?
Properly stored, sliced pork shoulder will keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Place cooled, sliced pork in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag. Make sure to remove as much air as possible before sealing. Use leftover sliced pork within 3-4 days for maximum freshness.
While pork shoulder appears too tough to slice raw, cooking it properly breaks down the connective tissue and transforms it into a very sliceable cut of meat. Low, moist heat methods like roasting, braising, or slow cooking allow the pork shoulder to become meltingly tender and perfect for thin, even slices. Sliced pork shoulder is delicious in everything from sandwiches to salads to tacos. With proper storage, leftover sliced pork will keep in the fridge for several days. So go ahead and enjoy cooking pork shoulder and slicing it to add delicious meat to any dish.