What Exactly is Pork Butt?

A butcher's chart showing different cuts of pork pork butt is in red.

: ilonitta

Pork butt isn’t actually the butt or backend of the pig. That’s the ham. Pork butt is a squarish cut that comes from higher on the shoulder of the pig and has lots of fat. It’s also known as Boston butt

Now, pork shoulder is the lower, triangular portion of the shoulder and is more muscular. 

Where things get confusing is many stores use the terms interchangeably. Luckily, both cuts work in this recipe, but opt for the butt (and its fat) when you can. 

What You’ll Need to Make This

Ingredients for roast pork butt --pork shoulder, salt, cumin, paprika, light brown sugar, red pepper flakes, black pepper.
  • Diamond brand kosher salt–When it comes to salt, particularly kosher salt, weight matters. The weight of 1 tablespoon varies from brand to brand, so I recommend that you weigh your salt and use 9 grams for this recipe. If you don’t have a scale and aren’t using Diamond brand, use 2 teaspoons to avoid oversalting the meat.
  • Red pepper flakes–If you are sensitive to heat or cooking for those who are, use 1/2 tablespoon of pepper flakes in your rub. If you love a little extra spice, use a full tablespoon.
  • Pork butt–I recommend using a well-marbled cut of pork butt or Boston butt for best results.  Pork shoulder will also work here, but it can be a bit more sinewy and gristly. If your pork comes with the skin on, remove it before cooking.

How to Make This Recipe

A man's hands mixing a bowl of spices; a baking sheet with a pork butt, a man's hand rubbing in spice mix.
  1. Stir together the salt, sugar, paprika, pepper flakes, cumin, and black pepper in a small bowl.
  2. Rub the pork all over with the spice mixture. It should be coated on all sides.
A pork butt wrapped in plastic on a white plate; a cooked roast pork butt on a rack over a baking sheet.
  1. Wrap the pork in plastic and refrigerate overnight.
  2. Roast the pork, fatty side up, on a roasting pan until the internal temperature reaches 190 to 195°F. Let it rest for 15 minutes.
  3. Use two forks to shred the pork. Serve alone or with your favorite barbecue sauce, if desired.

Common Questions

How do I buy a pork butt?

When buying a pork butt (Boston butt), look for one around eight to ten pounds. You can find them trimmed down to five or six pounds, but they usually 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 (sometimes labeled as a picnic butt or shoulder butt roast). Regardless of the method you use, the bone gives the meat much more flavor as it cooks. It also conducts and retains heat exceptionally well, allowing the meat to cook at such a low temperature.

Do I really need to use a meat thermometer for this recipe?

Absolutely. This recipe is almost impossible to pull off without a meat thermometer.

You can’t judge the pork by sight or feel. A thermometer is the only way to know. I 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 make sure it’s not touching the bone, or you’ll get a false reading.

Once you get the hang of it, you’ll use your meat thermometer for other roasts such as homemade pastrami, classic corned beef, and roast chicken, to name a few.

Can I make this on the grill?

Yes. Preheat your grill to 250°F (121°C). We highly recommend using an oven thermometer above the grill surface to make sure your temperature is as close to 250° as possible.

If you’re using a gas grill, this means turning off all the burners except one and turning that burner on from 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’ll likely have to add charcoal a few times throughout cooking 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. 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, wrap it tightly in a couple of layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil, and let it rest for 30 to 45 minutes before carefully unwrapping it.

Shred the pork as instructed in the recipe. Be forewarned: If you’re an aficionado of the crisp bark, it’ll soften when wrapped in foil.

What can I serve with my roast pork butt?

This Boston butt recipe is stupendously magnificent on its own. Although, some would say 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).

Helpful Tips

  • Letting the pork sit overnight after rubbing it with the spice mixture is optional but highly recommended.
  • Make sure to let the pork butt rest before shredding it. It will be hot!
  • The pulled pork will store well in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 4 days. If you’re freezing it for later, divvy it into 1-pound servings and freeze it in storage bags for up to 3 months. Reheat in a 300°F oven until warmed through.
  • This recipe is suitable for gluten-free and dairy-free diets.
A partially shredded roast pork butt in a roasting pan with a fork nearby.

More great pork butt recipes

Write a Review

If you make this recipe, or any dish on LC, consider leaving a review, a star rating, and your best photo in the comments below. I love hearing from you.–David

I made this recipe a month ago, and my whole family loved it! Now that my nephew’s in town, and because we all had it on our minds, I decided to make it again. I almost cried when I thought I lost the recipe! Thank you so much for sharing!

Melissa
A partially shredded roast pork butt in a roasting pan with a fork nearby.

Roast Pork Butt

4.73 / 289 votes
This roast pork butt, coated in a simple rub of brown sugar, paprika, cumin, and red pepper flakes, is an easy recipe to make and yields enough pulled pork to feed a small army. Perfect for Super Bowl, weekend bashes, and weeknight dinners. Best of all, it can me roasted in the oven.
David Leite
CourseMains
CuisineSouthern
Servings16 servings
Calories305 kcal
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time9 hours 40 minutes
Total Time10 hours

Ingredients 

  • 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 (Boston butt), or pork shoulder or two 3 1/2- to 4-pound pork butts
  • Your favorite storebought or homemade barbecue sauce, (optional)

Instructions 

  • 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 on a plate, and refrigerate overnight to let the flavors mingle.
  • Preheat the oven to 250°F (121°C). Place a wire rack in a roasting pan. (To make this on a grill, see the instructions in the FAQs above.)
  • Place the pork butt, fat 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.
  • Remove the roast from the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes.

    ☞ TESTER TIP: If you’re craving super-moist meat for pulled pork, remove the pan from the oven, tightly wrap the pork butt in a couple of layers of 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 of forks, evenly mixing the crisp, dry edges with the insanely moist, tender pork inside.
    You may want to slather the pulled pork with barbecue sauce to impart flavor and sauciness, but I urge you to try it naked first.

Notes

  1. Rest--Letting the pork sit overnight after rubbing it with the spice mixture is optional but highly recommended.
  2. Cool–Make sure to let the pork butt sit before shredding it. It will be hot.
  3. Storage–The pulled pork will store well in the fridge for up to 4 days. If you’re freezing it for later, divvy it into 1-pound servings and freeze it in storage bags. Reheat in a 300°F oven until warmed through.
  4. Dietary–This recipe is suitable for gluten-free and dairy-free diets.
    Love Your Leftovers Cookbook

    Adapted From

    Love Your Leftovers

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    Nutrition

    Serving: 1 servingCalories: 305 kcalCarbohydrates: 1 gProtein: 43 gFat: 13 gSaturated Fat: 5 gMonounsaturated Fat: 6 gTrans Fat: 0.1 gCholesterol: 136 mgSodium: 588 mgFiber: 0.2 gSugar: 1 g

    Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

    Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
    Recipe © 2014 Nick Evans. Photos © 2023 David Leite. All rights reserved.

    Recipe Testers’ Reviews

    The roast pork butt is excellent. I rubbed it on and then refrigerated the pork shoulder overnight so the flavors would meld.

    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 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 an essential 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 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 great, 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.




    About David Leite

    I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.


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    463 Comments

    1. I have a 15lb pork butt that I am going to be cooking. Do I just leave the butt in the oven for double the time or will this dry it out?

      1. Tim, I’ve never made a butt that large. (The largest was 10 pounds.) You might want to cover the butt with foil earlier in the cooking and then remove it so that the crusty outside forms.

        1. 5 stars
          Thank you for your response, chef. I usually smoke my pork butts on my Weber kettle, but this thing is far too large to manage for a 20-hour cook. Cheers.

          1. Tim, first, I’m not a chef, just your friendly neighborhood food writer. And second, I hear you. Way too big for the Weber.

    2. This recipe is every bit as fabulous as your Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe. I made this a few weeks back and shared with lots of family and even froze some (which was just as delicious thawed and heated). I doubled the rub recipe to make sure it had plenty all over it. I have another one rubbed and resting right now. The last one was 8 lbs. and roasted a little over 10 hours. The aroma drove us mad while it was in the oven. I double wrapped it and let it rest for 45 minutes and then shredded it. It was incredible. This one is also 8 lbs. and I doubled the rub again. I only had 1 T of Paprika so I used Smoked Paprika for the 2nd T. I don’t know if it will make a difference or not, but I can’t wait to find out. Thank you for the recipe. It is truly mouth watering!

    3. I could only find boneless pork butt. Should I change the cooking time? Will it turn out just as tender without the bone?

      1. Renee, this will work with a boneless pork butt and should still be extremely tender. There shouldn’t be much change in the cooking time, but as always with this recipe, the only way to monitor it is with a thermometer.