Pork Shoulder vs Pork Butt – Aren’t They The Same?

Hey there my fellow pellet smoking fiends and welcome to my post where we will take a look at something I have recently been made aware of – the old pork shoulder vs pork butt conundrum. Well maybe not really a conundrum as such but for those of us living here in the land down under, we watch a lot of BBQ ‘how to’s’ that come out out the United States.

Pork Shoulder vs Pork Butt - Header

You see, the Americans talk a lot about smoking Pork Butt, but when we go to our local butcher, we are told that they are called Pork Shoulder here and it is the same. And for all intents and purposes, we go on our merry way smoking them to our heart’s content.

However, it is all a farce – they are not the same cut! Yes, they are from the same part of the beast, and apparently behave the same way when thrown in a smoker, but they are not the same cut none the less.

So I had to check it all out…

What is Pork Shoulder?

I’ll start here as that is what I have been working with for most of my smoking life. A pork shoulder is a large, triangular cut that comes from the lower portion of the pig’s shoulder. It also often called the Pork Picnic Roast and as with any four legged animal, this is a hard working muscle which means it has a lot of connective tissue – that breaks down as it is cooked slowly.

This cut is known for its rich flavor, is incredibly versatile and can be used in a variety of dishes such as pulled pork, stews, and carnitas. It is also often sold with the skin on, which is great for crackling – in fact, the shoulder will roast in a hot oven quite well too.

What is Pork Butt?

One thing I did know here is that despite its name, pork butt does not come from the rear of the pig. Rather, it is cut from the upper part of the shoulder – right next to the section that the pork shoulder above comes from.

Also known as Boston butt, this cut is also well-marbled with fat, and a staple in American barbecue, especially for making pulled pork, due to its rich marbling and tender texture after long hours of smoking or slow roasting. Its higher fat content, is excellent for roasting and barbecuing as well.

Pork Shoulder vs Pork Butt - cuts

So, what’s the difference then?

As above, I was always under the impression that they were the same cut of meat, so I really had to do my research here. As it turns out, whilst both cuts come from the shoulder of the pig, their location, texture, and fat content set them apart. So, I got me a hunk of each and tested it all out…

Test 1- The Meat

So, in an effort to keep this all fair (not that I think it is a real competition), I managed to get a hold of both cuts at around the 2.5kg/5.5lb mark. Both have had their bones removed and I have trimmed the fat.

I would agree with my research above that the the pork shoulder does look a bit leaner. The pork butt also appears to have more marbling, which should means it’s more moist and tender, even when cooked for long periods.

However, as both are known to produce excellent pulled pork when the fat renders down and flavors the meat throughout the cooking process, this is how I will test them out.

Paul’s Note: I am sorry, but I forgot to take a picture of the raw product side by side but here they are with some rub on them…

Pork Shoulder vs Pork Butt - rubbed shoulder and butt

Test 2 – The Cook

Now comes the fun part, the cooking! As above, both are around the same size and I am going to cook them in the same pellet smoker at the same time. Details are as follows:

  • Rub: I used my own rub that consists of Garlic and Onion powders, Cumin, Paprika (I like the smoked option), Salt, Pepper, a lot of chili powder and a butload of brown sugar.
  • Temp: 107°C /225°F
  • Spritz: Apple cider vinegar and water every 30 – 60 minutes

As is my go-to method here, I will smoke until the meats start to come out of their stall at around the 75°C/167°F mark then cover and return to the smoker until they get to around 105°C/220°F.

I will then rest.. and then let the tasting begin!

Pork Shoulder vs Pork Butt - shoulder and butt in the smoker

Smoking Pork Shoulder vs Pork Butt

Ok, so let’s run through the behaviors of both cuts as we went through the smoking process:

  • Initial Internal temperatures: Both went into the smoker at around 8°C/46.4°F. The internal temp of the shoulder rose faster than the butt and hit its stall after around 2.5 hours and around 30 minutes before the butt (60°C/140°F ish).
  • Stall: Even though it took longer to get there, the butt actually came out of the stall first after around 1.5 hours. However the shoulder was only a few degrees behind so I wrapped them both at the same time.
  • Pull Temp: After the wrap, both pieces increased in temperature at a steady pace and actually hit their final temp at the same time. I removed them from the smoker at 103°C /218°F , wrapped them in a towel and rested for 1.5 hours.

After this time, both pulled apart like a dream – in fact they both literally collapsed under the claws as I pulled them apart.

So all in all, even though they are not the same cut, in my experience (i.e. 1 cook haha), they behaved almost identically throughout the cook process. The temp differences and the rest times were the same and to be honest, both pulled extremely easily.

The only real difference that I would highlight is that the butt was definitely a little more moist than the shoulder as it was pulled.

Pork Shoulder vs Pork Butt - pulled shoulder and butt

But How Do They Taste?

Amazing! Is the short answer. As I mentioned above, the butt was a little more moist leading to slightly ‘silkier’ and stronger taste than the milder shoulder. The shoulder was still moist and really good on its own but the butt is just little more… something… I don’t know how to describe it…. porky??

So, in terms of the final result, and I am not sure if it just the novelty of not getting my hands on a pork butt very often, I am going to go just slightly over to the butt side of things. That said, if you like your meats a little milder, then go the shoulder for sure…


Can pork butt and pork shoulder be used interchangeably?

At the end of the day, I think you can for sure. Just keep in mind that their differences in texture and fat content can affect the outcome of your dish. Pork butt contains more fat content and marbling than the leaner pork shoulder.


So there you have it, my input and experimentation into the pork butt vs pork shoulder thing. I hope it has been of assistance but as usual, if you have any questions please do not hesitate to reach out by commenting below.

And of course I would also love to hear below about your experiences here as well.

Are there any other products you have been looking at but want to know more about? If so, please comment below and I will do my best to get some details for you.

Until next time

Have fun and get smoking!


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