This roast pork butt, coated in a simple rub of brown sugar, paprika, cumin, and red pepper flakes, is incredibly easy to make and yields enough to feed a small army. It’s roasted low and slow until falling apart tender. Perfect for Super Bowl, weekend bashes, and weeknight dinners.
“This oven method for roast pork butt yields delicious pulled pork. (As does the slow cooker method for braised pork butt. My personal preference is for grilling it—see the grilled pork butt variation beneath the recipe. But I’ve roasted it with excellent results.) Honestly, I’ll take pork butt any way I can get it! Any way you choose, be sure to get a pork butt with the bone in and with a decent amount of fat in it. As the pork cooks, the fat will prevent the meat from drying out and the bone will flavor the meat nicely.”–Nick Evans
4 Tips When Cooking Pork Butt
We’ve learned a thing or three about pork butt (giggle…we said 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 (giggle) escapades.
Pork butt isn’t actually the butt
Pork butt is not actually pork butt. 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, and not just because it’s more fun to say. 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, according to Grandma Rose. Why mess with a good thing?”
The fattier your pork butt, the better
A lot of folks swear by bone-in as opposed to boneless pork butt for the best flavor. Others prefer the convenience of boneless pork butt. Shrug. Suit yourself. Honestly? We feel the same way our recipe tester, 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.” See, pork has been bred to be leaner and leaner over the years, which is not a good thing. Not a good thing at all. Our advice is to get yourself a nice heritage pork butt that’s well-marbled and has an obscenely thick layer of fat on it, just as God intended. Because as the pork roasts, the fat sloooooooowly 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. You won’t be sorry.
Smaller pork butts seem to remain moister
Size matters. Although exactly how it matters depends on your personal preference. We prefer to roast a couple modestly sized 3- or 4-pound pork butts side by side in the same roasting pan rather than a single 8-pound pork butt, only because they seem to remain moister. But that’s just us.
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 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 exterior of the pork butt is crisp and dry—this is what's referred to as "bark" in smoking circles. This will most likely take 4 to 8 hours, depending on your oven and the size of your pork butt. [Editor's Note: For us, this happened when the pork butt reached an internal temperature of somewhere between 170°F (77°C) and, as professionals and diehards usually recommend, 190° (87°C), although the internal temperature is less important than the undeniable presence of the bark. If you don't let the bark fully develop, the finished pork will be soft and a touch soggy on the outside rather than crisp.]
- Carefully wrap the pork butt in a couple layers heavy-duty aluminum foil and return it to the wire rack in the roasting pan. Continue to roast until the pork reaches an internal temperature of at least 190°F (88°C) and preferably 200°F (93°C). 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 pan from the oven and let it rest for 30 to 45 minutes before carefully unwrapping the foil.
- 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 exterior is crisp and dry—this is what’s referred to as “bark” in smoking circles. This will most likely take 4 to 6 hours, depending on your grill and the size of your pork butt. Carefully wrap the pork butt in a couple layers heavy-duty aluminum foil and return it to the grill rack. Continue to grill until the pork reaches an internal temperature of at least 190°F (88°C) and preferably 200°F (93°C). 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. Remove from the oven and let it rest for 30 to 45 minutes before carefully unwrapping the foil. Shred the pork as instructed above.
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.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
The roast pork butt 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. I recommend checking the pork shoulder at about 5 hours. If the rub still looks wet, check again in about a half hour. Somewhere between 5 and 6 hours, the bark should set and become crusty. As soon as this happens, pull it from the oven and wrap it TIGHTLY in aluminum foil. Put it back in your pan and pop it back in the oven. Check it in an hour. If the internal temperature is not 190°F, leave it in and check it in another half hour. When the pork hits 190°F, remove it from the oven and let it rest, wrapped in the foil, for at LEAST 30 minutes. From here, shred the roast pork butt by any means necessary (two forks works nicely) and top it with your favorite sauce, coleslaw, or, as I do, both.