Pork Shoulder vs Pork Butt: Which is Best?

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The distinction between pork shoulder vs pork butt lies in their location and composition. Pork butt is cut from the upper portion of the pig’s shoulder and contains a greater amount of fat, while pork shoulder comes from the front shoulder, closer to the lower part of the leg, and consists of a higher muscle content.

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Pork shoulder
Pork Shoulder

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If you’re wondering which cut of meat you should use and when, you’ll learn all about that and the differences between the two while reading this article.

Both are great cuts of pork that we’ve used many times in various recipes, however they are each suited for different situations, so it’s a good idea to learn more about it.

Pork Shoulder vs Pork Butt

These two cuts of meat look similar, but there’re several distinctions to keep in mind when making your selection.

First of all, both cuts come from the shoulder. As you can see from the diagram below, the pork butt is the section of the shoulder that is higher up.

Pork cuts

So, there are a few other things that make these cuts different, like:

  • Pork butt’s got more fat than pork shoulder, so you’ll find more marbling in it.
  • The shape’s different too – pork butt is usually more rectangular, while pork shoulder’s got a triangular vibe going on because of how it’s cut from the pig.
  • Pork shoulder’s more likely to have the skin on it, but both usually keep a big ol’ fat cap.
  • When it comes to cooking, pork butt’s great for stews and pulled pork ’cause of all that fat, while shoulder’s better as a roast since the meat holds together well for slicing and you can get the skin all crispy.

Comparison Table

Pork ShoulderPork Butt
From front shoulder, lower legFrom upper portion of shoulder
More muscle contentMore fat content
Triangular shapeRectangular shape
Often has skin onSkin usually removed
Less fat and marblingMore fat and marbling
Better for roasts, crispy skinIdeal for pulled pork, stews
Sold boneless and rolledSold bone-in with fat cap
Called picnic roast/shoulderCalled Boston butt

What is Pork Shoulder?

Pork shoulder
Pork Shoulder

Pork shoulder is the top part of the pig’s front leg, right above the forelegs. Even the National Pork Board calls it that. Sometimes, people also call it a picnic roast or picnic shoulder.

Usually, it’s sold without the bone and all wrapped up in netting, with the skin still on, so the pieces won’t fall apart, because they are usually only minorly kept held together. They can also come bone-in and those tend to make a juicier end product.

Compared to the butt, the pork shoulder has less fat and marbling inside the meat, which means it’s not as fatty or tender when it’s cooked. That’s not saying much though, because the pork shoulder is actually a quite fatty, tender piece of meat.

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What is Pork Butt

Pork butt
Pork Butt

Pork Butt, or you might know it as Boston butt, is the top part of a pig’s shoulder. It’s super popular for making pulled pork because it’s pretty affordable and has lots of fat, so the meat stays tender and juicy instead of getting dry and stringy. There’s usually a big fat cap on one side, and it’s mostly sold with the bone in and no skin.

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To make it tender and delish, you have to cook it slow, like with smoking or braising, which breaks down all the connective tissues in the meat. It’s got loads of fat and marbling, so it won’t dry out even when you crank up the heat, and even if you overcook it.

The extra fat makes pork butt awesome for stews or any time you want some mouthwatering, fall-apart meat. Trust me, it’s perfect for whipping up some epic roast pork sandwiches.

Pork butt roast
Pork butt roast

Is Pork Shoulder Better Than Pork Butt?

Pork butt and pork shoulder do differ in taste and texture, though only slightly. Most eater won’t really notice the difference. If you’ve only got one choice, it’s not going to matter much.

When selecting between different cuts of pork, it’s important to consider differences in flavor and texture. Pork shoulder typically contains less fat and is more chewy, while pork butt has more intramuscular fat resulting in a slice that is softer and more tender.

Pork butt usually comes without the skin or bone when butchers cut it into a triangular shape. It is commonly used for pulled pork dishes, shredded after cooking in a stew or slow cooker to make Mexican dishes like carnitas tacos.

On the other hand, pork shoulder can be grilled or roasted to produce a crispy crust on the outside, much like crispy pork crackling or pork roast.

Pork shoulder

Pork Shoulders: When to Use It

Pork shoulder, which is often sold with the skin on, is a great cut of meat to use when you’re planning to serve sliced pork. The skin will achieve a crackling-crisp texture and it won’t have large pockets of fat that need to be picked around. For a delicious Cuban mojo marinated pork, use a pork shoulder – you won’t be disappointed!

Pork Butt: When To Use It

Pork butt is the best option for stews, braises and making the most tender pulled pork for sandwiches or tacos due to its higher fat marbling throughout, and uniform cut. Experts recommend choosing pork butt over pork shoulder in recipes, and if you have leftovers of pulled pork this guide on reheating it will keep it moist.

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Smoked pork roast
smoked pork roast


Is Pork Shoulder the Same as Pork Butt?

Both the pork shoulder and butt come from the same part of the pig – the shoulder. However pork butt is cut from the upper part of the shoulder and has a higher-fat content, while shoulder comes from lower down the arm and has more muscle and less fat.

Is It Possible To Make Pulled Pork From Any Cut Of Pork?

Pulled pork, like brisket, can be made from both cuts: the pork shoulder and pork butt. Both have sufficient fat content to make great pulled pork that’s flavorful and tender. If you want to avoid any chance of the meat being dry, choose the pork butt. You can also technically make pulled pork from pork steaks (though the shreds will be shorter) or pork tenderloin, but it will be much drier.

How Do You Make Boston Butt Pork Roasts?

To make a roast from a Boston Butt, you only need to season the roast and put it in the oven or Instant Pot or smoker for an extended period of time to break down the connective tissue and render a tender and juicy roast. It’s quite an easy process. The fat doesn’t need to be removed prior to cooking, nor does the skin, if you wish to leave it on.


Often, pork cuts like pork shoulder and pork butt are confused. Both come from the pig’s shoulder, although pork butt is higher on the foreleg and pork shoulder is lower.

Both cuts benefit from long, slow cooking methods, such as roasting, stewing, and braising, because they are relatively tough and fatty. However, pork butt tends to be more popular.


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Pork shoulder vs pork butt

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