What Is Pork Shoulder?
Pork shoulder is a cut of meat that extends from a pig’s front ankle to the center line between the shoulder blades. It encompasses the entire shoulder joint, ending at the left side near the base of the pig’s neck and on the right side at the top of the rib cage. One may purchase an entire pork shoulder, also called pork butt, but it is more commonly sectioned into two or three pieces. American butchers typically only slice the shoulder into two pieces, while British butchers slice it into three.
When butchering a pork shoulder, the top of the shoulder is called a blade roast or a Boston-style shoulder. In American butchery, this refers to the cut of meat that begins between the shoulder blades and ends just above the shoulder joint. Most pork shoulder cuts are very fatty, which is favorable to those looking for a shoulder cut that will absorb flavor easily and remain moist during long cooking times.
In Great Britain, the blade pork roast is a triangular cut of meat that starts just above the shoulder joint and extends diagonally backward to the base of the shoulder blade. The small, triangular strip of flesh just above the British blade roast is called the spare rib roast. In the United States, the spare ribs are the top section of the actual rib cage. Both cuts of meat taste similar, though the British version is meatier and is marbled with fat.
The area of the pig from just above the shoulder joint to the top of the hoof is called the shoulder arm roast in American cooking, and the hand roast in British cooking. The name is the only real difference between the cuts of meat — both encompass the same bone and muscle areas. Those looking for a leaner cut of meat may prefer a hand or arm shoulder roast over pork butt or blade roast. Arm shoulder roast contains slightly more connective tissue than the other parts of the pork shoulder, but less fat.
The key to cooking any cut of pork shoulder is usually moisture. Marinades and low, slow cooking times allow the flavors to work throughout the pork and give it a juicy, tender texture. Some cooks prefer to smoke their shoulders in a small, ceramic smoker for up to 24 hours. Others like the faster method of using a slow cooker, which takes only about 10 hours. Arm shoulder roast may require a coating of olive oil or another fat to keep it from becoming dry.
Once fully cooked, pork shoulder should shred easily with a pair of forks. It may then become part of flavor-infused soups, stews, barbecue sandwiches, or even pork tacos. One might also save the drippings from cooking a shoulder roast to make pork gravy.
I like to put a dry rub on a pork shoulder and let it sit in the fridge for a while before I cook it. I put it in a large roasting pan and add a little water and some liquid smoke, but a lot of other people will put it into a smoker and let it cook low and slow overnight. I prefer to cover a roasting pan with aluminum foil and let it cook in a 200 degree oven for at least 10 hours.
I think the best way to eat pulled pork shoulder is on a fresh hamburger bun with vinegar slaw, sliced pickles and a little red barbecue sauce. Vinegar slaw is not universal, though. If I can't get it, I mix a little bottled barbecue sauce into the pulled meat and eat it without a bun.
Around here, pork shoulder is the preferred cut for pulled pork barbecue, but Boston butt is usually less expensive. Both cuts can be delicious when prepared "low and slow", but I think pork shoulder is a better cut overall. Boston butt has a lot more fat and gristle than pork shoulder, for one thing.
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