This roast pork butt, or pork shoulder, coated in a simple rub of brown sugar, paprika, cumin, and red pepper flakes, is incredibly easy to make and yields enough pulled pork to feed a small army. It’s roasted low and slow in the oven until falling-apart tender.
One weekend in early fall, I was cooking for a few friends and their parents who happened to be in town. The goal was to relax, watch some football, and eat great food. Instead, we spent the day watching over a grilled eight-pound pork shoulder.
The six of us sat down to eat later and stuffed our faces with delicious pulled pork, flatbreads, coleslaw, and maybe more than one beer. The important part is that I thought we killed the pork shoulder. How could there be any left?
Then I went into the kitchen to find that we had barely dented the sucker. We were all completely stuffed, and the pork was almost laughing at us as if to say, “Is that all you got?!” It was, in fact, all we had.
Now, it’s your turn.
While buying a pork shoulder (or pork butt—the same cut of meat) in the store can be intimidating, cooking it couldn’t be easier. Whether you do it on the grill, in the oven, or in the Crock Pot, it’s hard to screw up, and you’ll have plenty of food for many wonderful meals. In fact, you’ll probably want to freeze some, as eating a whole pork shoulder in one week is a tall order for a single family.
Sure, a slow roasted pork butt takes some time in the oven. Actually, it takes about a day to do correctly, but it’s worth it. It’s very hard to screw up, and the leftovers are some of the best you’ll find.–Nick Evans
☞ Table of Contents
We’ve learned a thing or two about slow roasted pork shoulder/butt over the years, and so we want to share those tricks with you. Feel free to chime in and add a comment below with any truths you’ve experienced in your pork butt escapades.
Is pork butt really the butt of the pig?
Pork butt is not actually the butt end of the pig. It’s more like the pork shoulder. Although it gets confusing because you may find either or both of those terms on the label at the store. And either will work in this recipe. But the pork “butt” is actually situated higher on the back of the pig and the “shoulder” is a little lower. Confusing, right?! You want to get the butt when you can. As one of our recipe testers Suzanne Fortier explains, “I was taught by my French-Canadian grandmother and father to request the butt end of the shoulder, or the Boston butt. The other end is sometimes called the picnic shoulder, and it tends to be gristlier. The Boston butt is the only way to go/”
How do I buy a pork butt or pork shoulder?
When buying a pork shoulder, look for one around eight to ten pounds. You can find them trimmed down to five or six pounds, but normally they trim off a lot of fat to make that weight, and fat isn’t a bad thing, especially if you’re grilling or roasting it. Also, try to get the butt with the bone in (sometimes labeled as a picnic butt). Regardless of the method you use, the bone gives the meat much more flavor as it cooks. Keep it in if you can.
Is a fattier pork butt better?
Yes! We feel the same way one of our recipe testers Jackie Gorman does. In her words, “With pork butt, I don’t think that the flavor is dependent upon the bone, but the amount of fat it has.” Pork has been bred to be leaner and leaner over the years. Our advice is to get yourself a nice heritage pork butt that’s well-marbled and has a thick layer of fat on it, just as God intended. Because as the pork roasts, the fat slowly melts, constantly bathing the underlying meat in what we like to think of as essential fatty acids of a different, porkier, yet still healthful sort.
What can I serve with my roast pork butt?
This pulled pork is mind-bendingly and stupendously magnificent on its own. And it’s arguably even better doused with a vinegary barbecue sauce and heaped upon homemade buns (maybe even with a spoonful or three of creamy coleslaw beneath the top bun). Swear.
Roast Pork Butt
- 1 tablespoon Diamond kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1/2 to 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
- One (6 1/2- to 8-pound) bone-in skinless pork butt (aka pork shoulder) or two 3 1/2- to 4-pound pork butts
- Your favorite barbecue sauce (optional)
- In a small bowl, stir together the salt, sugar, paprika, pepper flakes, cumin, and black pepper.
- Rub the pork butt all over with the spice mixture. The pork butt should be completely coated on all sides. If you have time, tightly wrap the pork in plastic wrap, place it in on a rimmed plate or container of some sort, and refrigerate overnight to let the flavors mingle.
- Heat your oven to 250°F (121°C). Place a wire rack in a roasting pan.
- Place your pork butt, fatty side up, on the rack. Roast the pork, uncovered, until the internal temperature reaches 190 to 195°F (88 to 91°C). By this point the exterior should be crispy and dry—this is similar to what’s referred to as “bark” when smoking on a grill. This can take anywhere from 4 to 10 hours, depending on your oven and the size of your pork butt. [Editor’s note: This recipe is almost impossible to pull off without a meat thermometer. You really can’t judge the pork by sight or feel. A thermometer is the only way to know. Personally, we prefer a digital probe thermometer that can be left in the pork as it roasts or grills. When you insert the thermometer, stick it into the thickest part of the pork butt, and be sure not to have it next to any bone or you’ll get a false reading.]
- Remove the roast from the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes.
☞TESTER TIP: If you’re craving a super-moist meat for pulled pork, remove the pan from the oven, tightly wrap the pork butt in a couple of layers heavy-duty aluminum foil, and let it rest for 30 to 45 minutes to soften the exterior.
- Shred the roast pork butt with a couple forks, making certain to evenly mix the crisp, dry edges with the insanely moist, tender pork within. You're probably going to want to douse the pulled pork with some barbecue sauce to impart some flavor and sauciness. Use the pulled pork in sandwiches or store it for use in other recipes or just stand there at the counter and nosh on it. (The pulled pork will store well in the fridge for 7 days. If you’re freezing it for later, divvy it into 1-pound servings and freeze it in storage bags.)
Grilled Pork Butt VariationPreheat your oven to 250°F (121°C). We highly recommend using an oven thermometer on the grill surface to make sure your temperature is as close to that as possible. If you’re using a gas grill, this will probably mean turning off all the burners except one and turning that burner on medium-low to low. If you’re using a charcoal grill, prepare your grill for indirect heat and build a good coal base before adding the pork. You will most likely have to add charcoal a few times throughout the cooking time to maintain a nice even heat. It’s also not a huge deal if your grill gets hotter or cools off a bit. Just do your best to keep it low and steady. Place your pork butt, fatty side up, directly on the grill rack. Cook the pork at 250°F (121°C) until the internal temperature reaches 190 to 195°F (88 to 91°C). By this point the exterior should be crispy and dry. [Editor’s note: This recipe is almost impossible to pull off without a meat thermometer. You really can’t judge the pork by sight or feel. A thermometer is the only way to know. Personally, we prefer a digital probe thermometer that can be left in the pork as it roasts or grills. When you insert the thermometer, stick it into the thickest part of the pork butt, and be sure not to have it next to any bone or you’ll get a false reading.] You absolutely need a meat thermometer to make sure it’s done. This will most likely take between 7 and 10 hours although we’ve had it take up to 14 hours on a finicky charcoal grill. For super-moist pulled pork, remove it from the grill and wrap it tightly with a couple of layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil and let it rest for 30 to 45 minutes before carefully unwrapping the foil. Shred the pork as instructed above.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
The roast pork butt is excellent. I rubbed and then refrigerated the pork shoulder overnight so the flavors would meld properly. The hands-on time is minimal—about 15 minutes to assemble the spice mixture and rub it all over the pork butt. I used about 1/2 the stated amount of red pepper flakes because I thought 1 tablespoon would give too much heat for my taste. My bone-in pork shoulder weighed 4 pounds and took 6 hours in a convection oven set to 225°F. I served the pork with the classic coleslaw recipe and a bit of barbecue sauce on a soft roll. The pork definitely needs some kind of sauce.
Sometimes we either don’t have access to a smoker or just can’t commit 6 or 8 hours to low and slow cooking on a grill. And while slow cookers can make WONDERFUL pulled pork, one thing will be missing and for me, that’s a VERY important part of pulled pork—the BARK! (When you rub a piece of pork with a spice rub and cook it, low and slow, on a smoker, grill, or in an oven, after several hours, the rub mixes with the hot fat and juices and eventually gets a hard crust called a BARK.
For my money, this is the VERY best part of ANY barbecue! Anyone who loves meat surely must LOVE a crisp, spice-rubbed exterior.) This bark can be achieved in your oven and, as long as you have a clock and a thermometer, you can create a fine and crusty bark on your pork butt with this recipe. The rub mentioned here is fine, but if you have your favorite rub on hand, by all means, use it.
From here, shred the roast pork butt by any means necessary (two forks work nicely) and top it with your favorite sauce, coleslaw, or, as I do, both.
Originally published Jun 30, 2015