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Do you need to trim pork shoulder for pulled pork?

Pulled pork is a classic barbecue dish that is often made by slowly cooking pork shoulder until tender and shredding it into bite-sized pieces. When preparing pork shoulder for pulled pork, a common question is whether the fatty cap and any extra fat or skin needs to be trimmed off before cooking.

Should you trim pork shoulder before making pulled pork?

Most recipes and barbecue experts say you do not need to trim a pork shoulder before making pulled pork. Leaving the fat cap and extra fat intact serves an important purpose. The fat renders and bastes the pork shoulder as it cooks low and slow, keeping it moist and flavorful. Trimming off too much fat can lead to dried out pork.

Reasons not to trim pork shoulder

Here are some of the main reasons it’s recommended to cook pork shoulder for pulled pork untrimmed:

  • The fat cap and marbling melt during the long cooking time, keeping the pork moist and tender.
  • Fat renders and bastes the meat, adding flavor.
  • Any unrendered fat is easy to remove after shredding and draining the pork.
  • Leaving the fat intact provides insulation so the meat cooks evenly.

Many competition barbecue cooks and top pitmasters cook pork shoulder with the fat cap intact when making pulled pork for these reasons. The melting fat gives pulled pork its signature juicy, succulent texture.

Should you remove any fat or skin?

While most of the fat cap and marbling should be left intact, here are a couple guidelines on trimming pork shoulder:

  • Remove any large hard pieces of fat around the edges that look like they may not render well.
  • Trim off any flaps or skin that look very thick and rubbery.
  • Score the fat cap in a crosshatch pattern which helps the fat render.

The key is to leave the majority of the fat untouched so it can properly baste the meat, but remove small bits that likely won’t melt down during cooking.

How to trim a pork shoulder

If you do choose to trim excess fat and skin off the pork shoulder, here are some tips:

  • Use a sharp knife to remove thick, hard pieces of fat around the edges.
  • Make shallow cuts to score fat cap in a crosshatch pattern.
  • Trim any dried out flaps around edges or large sections of thick skin.
  • Try to leave about 1/4 inch of fat cap intact if possible.
  • Avoid cutting too deep into meat and losing moisture.

Trim conservatively, as you don’t want to remove more fat than necessary. Take your time and remove any bits that really won’t render down during the long smoking time. Leaving the majority of the fat cap intact is recommended.

How much fat to leave on

There is no exact amount of fat that must remain, but here are some general guidelines on how much to leave intact when trimming a pork shoulder:

  • Leave the fat cap at least 1/4 inch thick, if possible.
  • Aim to remove only 10-15% of the overall fat at most.
  • Keep the thick marbling throughout the meat.
  • Remove only hard fat on edges and any dried, leathery skin.
  • Score fat cap in crosshatch pattern to help rendering.

Leaving 85-90% of the original fat will provide sufficient moistness and flavor during the long smoking time. Be selective in any trimming, taking off only what is unlikely to melt down.

To wrap or not to wrap

Another factor when cooking pork shoulder for pulled pork is whether to wrap it partway through cooking or not. Here are the pros and cons of wrapping:

Benefits of Wrapping

  • Helps keep pork moist if trimmed more.
  • Speeds up cooking time.
  • Infuses pork with sauce or liquid flavor.

Drawbacks of Wrapping

  • Can make bark soggy.
  • Reduces smoky flavor.
  • Stops fat rendering if wrapped too early.

Many competition pitmasters wrap to help retain moisture when cooking trimmed pork shoulders. For untrimmed pork, wrapping is less necessary. Experiment to see if wrapping improves moistness based on the amount of trimming.

Key Takeaways

  • Most barbecue experts recommend not trimming fat cap or marbling on pork shoulder.
  • Leaving fat intact bastes meat and keeps it tender and flavorful.
  • Only remove hard pieces of fat, dried skin, or leathery flaps.
  • Score fat cap to help rendering.
  • Aim to leave 85-90% of fat intact.
  • Wrapping may help retain moisture if pork is trimmed more.


For the best pulled pork, leave the majority of fat on the pork shoulder intact when cooking low and slow. Selective trimming of unrenderable bits is fine, but leaving most of the fat will keep the pork incredibly moist and flavorful after hours of smoking. Be judicious in any trimming to avoid drying out the pork. With minimal trimming and the right low and slow cooking method, you’ll achieve tender, fall-apart pulled pork bathed in its own rendered fat and juices.