Skip to Content

Is pork butt and pork shoulder the same?

This is a common question that many people have when shopping for pork to cook. The short answer is yes, pork butt and pork shoulder come from the same cut of meat. However, there are some subtle differences between the two names that this article will explain.

What part of the pig is pork butt/shoulder?

Pork butt and pork shoulder both come from the upper part of the front leg of the pig. This is the top portion of the leg and runs from the shoulder through the first few ribs. Some key facts about this pork cut:

  • It contains parts of the shoulder blade as well as the upper arm of the pig.
  • It consists of several different muscles and connects to the picnic ham.
  • It is well marbled with fat which keeps the meat moist during cooking.

This section of the pig contains a good amount of connective tissue. When cooked slowly over low heat, this connective tissue breaks down into gelatin which adds moisture and makes the meat very tender.

Where do the names “pork butt” and “pork shoulder” come from?

The names for this pork cut come from old butchery terms that referred to the way the shoulder was packed for storage and transportation:

  • Pork butt – Refers to the upper half of the shoulder. It was known as the “butt end” of the shoulder because it was shaped like a barrel or cask called a butt.
  • Pork shoulder – Refers to the lower half of the shoulder. It was known as the “blade end” of the shoulder because it contained part of the shoulder blade bone.

Over time in the U.S., the term “pork butt” became commonly used to refer to the whole shoulder.

Differences between pork butt and shoulder

While pork butt and pork shoulder come from the exact same cut of meat, there are a few subtle differences between the two:

  • Bone – Pork butt usually contains the shoulder blade bone while pork shoulder is often sold boneless.
  • Shape – Pork butt is more rounded while pork shoulder is longer and more oval.
  • Preparation – Pork shoulder is sometimes sold “rolled” with the meat tied into a cylindrical shape.
  • Uses – Pork shoulder is ideal for slicing for sandwiches while pork butt is best for pulling, shredding and chopping.

Below is a table summarizing the differences:

Characteristic Pork Butt Pork Shoulder
Bone Usually contains shoulder blade bone Often sold boneless
Shape Rounded Oval
Preparation Sold as-is Sometimes rolled and tied
Uses Best for pulling, shredding, chopping Good for slicing

In summary:

While there are some slight differences, pork butt and pork shoulder come from the same cut of meat. Pork butt contains more connective tissue so is best suited to long, slow cooking methods like roasting, smoking, or braising pulled pork. Pork shoulder can be cooked the same ways but its meat also holds up well when cooked faster at higher heat like grilling pork chops.

What is the fat cap on pork shoulder?

On a full pork shoulder, you will notice a large cap of fat on one side of the meat. This layer of fat is known as the fat cap.

The fat cap is part of the pig’s natural layer of fat and skin that covers the shoulder section. When the whole shoulder is cut from the pig, the fat cap remains intact.

Some key facts about the pork shoulder fat cap:

  • It is usually about 1 inch thick.
  • It helps keep the pork moist and tender during cooking.
  • If left on during cooking, it will render and permeate the meat with rich, porky flavor.
  • It can be left on or removed before cooking depending on recipe and preferences.

Many barbecue experts recommend leaving the fat cap in place for smoking, roasting, or braising pork shoulder. However, others argue that it isn’t necessary and can be removed to reduce the fat content if desired.

Pros of keeping fat cap on pork shoulder:

  • Adds moisture and flavor
  • Helps meat retain juices
  • No work required to trim it off

Pros of removing pork shoulder fat cap:

  • Reduces overall fat and calorie content
  • Allows rubs and sauces to better penetrate meat
  • Makes it easier to crisp the outside

Whether to keep or remove the fat cap is ultimately a personal choice that depends on your recipe, cooking method, and preferences. Many recipes will specifically instruct whether to leave it on or take it off.

Typical cooking methods for pork butt/shoulder

The significant amount of fat and connective tissue in pork butt/shoulder makes it ideal for long, slow, moist-heat cooking. This allows the tough collagen to break down into tender gelatin. Some of the most common cooking methods include:


Roasting in the oven at around 300°F allows the pork to cook evenly while remaining moist and tender. Roasting typically takes 1-2 hours per pound.


Smoking over indirect heat at 225-250°F imparts delicious smoky flavor over several hours. Wood chips or chunks are used to produce smoke.


Braising involves browning the meat then slowly cooking it in a small amount of liquid like broth, wine, cider, etc. The pork reaches fall-apart tenderness after 2-3 hours.

Slow cooker

Using a slow cooker or Instant Pot is an easy hands-off way to cook pork shoulder. It braises in its own juices and shreds easily after 8+ hours on low.


Grilling pork shoulder uses medium heat (around 350°F) rather than low and slow cooking. Frequent flipping and basting are needed to prevent drying out.

For any cooking method, the internal temperature should reach 195-205°F before removing to ensure tender,shreddable meat.

Typical flavor profiles and rubs/sauces for pork butt

Pork shoulder pairs beautifully with sweet, spicy, savory, and smoky flavor combinations. Some popular options include:


  • Brown sugar
  • Chili powder
  • Cumin
  • Paprika
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Mustard
  • Cayenne pepper


  • Barbecue sauce – tomato-based, vinegar-based, mustard-based
  • Mop sauce – vinegar, broth, spices
  • Fruit preserves or chutney

Flavored liquids for braising

  • Apple cider
  • Beer or wine
  • Fruit juices
  • Chicken or beef broth

The caramelized outer ‘bark’ that forms on smoked or roasted pork shoulder is considered the best part by many barbecue fans. Sauces and seasonings enhance the meaty flavor rather than overpower it.

Should pork shoulder be cooked with bone in or out?

Pork shoulder can be cooked either bone-in or boneless. Here are some factors to help decide which option to choose:


  • More flavor – bone adds richness
  • Juicier meat near the bone
  • Holds its shape better
  • More work carving around bone


  • Tends to cook faster
  • Easier to carve
  • No risk of hitting bone while eating
  • Might dry out more easily

For optimum moisture and flavor, it is best to cook pork shoulder bone-in and then remove and discard the bone before shredding or serving. However, boneless pork shoulder can still be very juicy and tender if cooked correctly to an internal temp of 195-205°F.

Choosing a raw pork butt at the store

Follow these guidelines when selecting a pork shoulder/butt for cooking:

  • Choose a pork shoulder between 8 and 12 lbs – larger ones can be tougher
  • Select a shoulder with a thick fat cap for more moisture
  • Look for meat that is deep pink with white-colored fat
  • Avoid shoulders with dry, dull-colored meat
  • Pass on shoulders with thick, rubbery-looking fat

For pulled pork, choose a bone-in pork butt or picnic ham shoulder. For roasts or pork chops, a boneless shoulder roast is easier to carve and serve.

As long as the pork has good marbling and the fat cap is proportional to the meat, it should be moist and flavorful after low and slow cooking.

How much pork butt/shoulder is needed per person?

Pork shoulder is usually served pulled or shredded as a main course item. To estimate how much pork is needed per person:

  • For pulled pork sandwiches – 1/2 lb of uncooked pork per person
  • For plated pulled pork meals – 3/4 lb to 1 lb per person
  • When served with sides like coleslaw and baked beans – 1/2 lb per person
  • As an appetizer or slider – around 2 to 3 oz per person

These portion sizes provide enough generous portions of pulled pork for most grown adults. Smaller portions may be adequate depending on sides and appetite.

After cooking, pork butt loses around 25-30% of its raw weight in fat and juices. So a 10 lb raw shoulder will yield around 7 to 7 1/2 lbs pulled pork.

Nutrition facts for pork shoulder

Below are the nutrition facts for a 3 oz serving (around 85g) of roasted and chopped pork shoulder according to the USDA:

Calories 180
Fat 9g
Saturated fat 3.2g
Protein 19g
Sodium 54mg

As you can see, pork shoulder provides a good amount of protein, while also being relatively high in saturated fat. The fat content can vary depending on how much is trimmed off before cooking.

Nutritional benefits

Some of the potential health benefits of pork shoulder include:

  • High in vitamins B6, B12, thiamin, selenium
  • Good source of zinc and phosphorus
  • Provides iron, niacin, and riboflavin
  • Contains branched-chain amino acids

Eating pulled pork in moderation can be part of a healthy diet. Opt for smaller portion sizes if you are concerned about fat, sodium or cholesterol contents.

How to store and reheat leftover pulled pork

Properly stored, leftover pulled pork can last 3-4 days refrigerated and 2-3 months frozen.


  • Let pulled pork cool within 2 hours, then refrigerate.
  • Store in a sealed container to prevent drying out.
  • Use within 3-4 days.


  • Let pulled pork cool completely before freezing.
  • Portion into freezer bags or airtight containers.
  • Remove as much air as possible and seal.
  • Freeze for up to 2-3 months.

Reheating Tips

  • On the stove – Heat pork with a bit of liquid in a skillet on medium.
  • In the oven – Bake frozen pork at 350°F in a covered dish with sauce/liquid.
  • Microwave – Heat small portions with a splash of liquid for 2-3 minutes.
  • Slow cooker – Add 1/2 cup liquid per pound of pork and cook on low 2-3 hours.

Avoid drying out the pork when reheating. Slice or shred only right before serving.


While pork butt and pork shoulder come from the same part of the pig, slight differences like bone, shape, and preparation make each better suited for certain pork dishes. Both benefit from low, slow cooking methods to break down connective tissue.

When shopping, look for good marbling and a thick fat cap. Allow 1/2 to 1 lb raw weight per person. Cook with dry rubs and spice blends to add flavor. Leftovers can be stored for several days refrigerated or months frozen.

With its rich, meaty flavor and tender, juicy texture when cooked properly, pork shoulder truly is one of the most delicious and versatile cuts of meat.