The Difference Between Pork Butt and Pork Shoulder

Pork butt is not from the rear of the pig. Pork shoulder is from only part of the shoulder. Confused? We’ll clear up the difference between these two cuts.

Published Aug. 17, 2018.

Pork butt and pork shoulder are frequently confused—and misleadingly named—cuts of meat. Both come from the shoulder of the pig, but pork butt is higher on the foreleg, while pork shoulder is farther down. As relatively tough and fatty cuts, both benefit from long, slow cooking methods such as roasting, stewing, and braising. But the cuts are different enough that we generally prefer pork butt. Read on to understand why.

What's the Difference?

Pork Butt
Pork Shoulder


Also known as "Boston butt"

Also known as "picnic shoulder" or "picnic roast"

Well marbled with intramuscular fat

Typically has less intramuscular fat and marbling

Often sold with fat cap intact

Frequently sold with skin on

Rectangular, uniform shape

Tapered, triangular shape

Sold as bone-in and boneless

If boneless, typically sold in netting; when netting is removed, meat "unfolds" into uneven layer

When to Use Pork Butt

Since pork butt has more fat marbling throughout the meat and a more uniform shape, it’s the best cut for stewing and braising as well as for making fall-apart-tender pulled pork for a barbecue or for tacos. If a recipe calls for a choice between pork shoulder and pork butt, we highly recommend choosing pork butt.

When to Use Pork Shoulder

Pork shoulder is our cut of choice when making a pork roast that calls for crackling-crisp skin (such as our Cuban-Style Oven-Roasted Pork), since the cut is sold with the skin on.

Try These Pork Butt Recipes


Spicy Mexican Shredded Pork Tostadas (Tinga)

Our version of the spicy Mexican shredded pork known as tinga boasts all the smoke and fork-tendernesss of good barbecued pulled pork. Even better, it cooks completely on the stove.
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Smoky Pulled Pork on a Gas Grill

We’ve always believed that a gas grill just can’t match charcoal when it comes to flavor. But after months of testing, our gas-grilled pulled pork didn’t just match charcoal—it beat it.
Get the Recipe

Indoor Pulled Pork with Sweet and Tangy Barbecue Sauce

We transform pork shoulder into smoky-tasting barbecue with a crusty exterior and tender interior without trading our indoor oven for an outdoor pit.
Get the Recipe

Spicy Pork Tacos (al Pastor)

These iconic tacos feature juicy, spit-roasted marinated pork that’s crispy at the edges and fork-tender within. Could we achieve that same trademark texture on the grill?
Get the Recipe

Chinese Barbecue Pork (Char Siu)

Sweet, salty, savory—char siu is the flavorful Chinese pork dish that has it all.
Get the Recipe


Italy’s rich herb-and-garlic-infused slow-cooked pork is one of the world’s best street foods. We wanted to transform it into a roast for company.
Get the Recipe

Try These Pork Shoulder Recipes


Cuban-Style Oven-Roasted Pork

Garlicky, citrus-infused pork is a natural for the backyard grill, and it's just as delicious when made in the oven. We cooked 200 pounds of pork to get it right.
Get the Recipe

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