Pork Shoulders are great cuts of meat for smoking. They have lots of intramuscular fat and respond very well to low and slow cooking methods like you would have in a smoker. We will go into more detail about what exactly is a pork shoulder (Boston Butt) and how we go about smoking them.
Where did the term Boston Butt come from?
In pre-revolutionary New England and into the American Revolutionary War, New England butchers would take cuts of pork like hams and shoulders and pack them into barrels for storage and transport, known as a butt. This particular shoulder cut became known around the country as a Boston specialty, and hence it became the "Boston butt." In the UK it is known as "pork hand and spring", or simply "pork hand". Source: Wikipedia
Why do people call ‘pork shoulders’ ‘pork butts’?
Spoiler alert, No, it’s not because it is the butt of the pig. The top of the pork shoulder that includes the shoulder blade is called a Boston Butt. As we mentioned above, this was because of how they were packed in the American Revolutionary War period. Hence the nickname emerged - ‘pork butt’. The lower portion that includes the bottom part of the shoulder and the upper arm of the hog, is called a picnic shoulder or picnic ham. Typically, most people use the Boston Butt - and that’s what we use at the restaurant. The Boston Butt’s have a consistent size and shape that we prefer and it’s what you see most frequently at the grocery store.
For the spice rub, we use a little different blend than we use on the brisket. For pork we use a sweeter rub that works well with pork. Pork is a blank slate, so to speak, and reacts well with a variety of spices. Since we do use more sugar in this rub it is important that you smoke at a lower temp, our temperature is usually around 225 degrees, so the rub doesn’t burn. Also, with the extra sugar we do get that nice bark that we have been talking about.
The shoulder is made up of quite a few muscles and has the shoulder blade right in the middle of it. Because of this, the shoulder does take quite a while to smoke. It takes up to 10 hours or more to be done and we shoot for 195 degrees to be pull-apart-tender. When we temp out our shoulders, we usually insert the thermometer right under the blade bone since the area around the bone takes longer to cook. We suggest you have a meat thermometer, but if you don’t, the shoulder blade coming out of the meat smoothly is usually a pretty good indicator that your meat is done.
For the sauce we like to have a vinegar component since it pairs so well with pork. Our Vinegar with Sriracha pairs very well and adds a heat element that we really enjoy. Also, our red sauce has vinegar in it and with its sweet, savory taste profile, it works very well. The good news is that most sauces will work well, so don’t be afraid to be adventurous.