Pork Butt vs Pork Shoulder


When buying and cooking pork butt vs pork roast, you’ll want to know the differences for each one, what they’re best used for, how to select the best cut, and how to store them. We’ll walk you through each one to help you be the most successful.

pork butt
pork butt

The Difference Between Pork Butt and Pork Shoulder

The difference between pork butt and pork shoulder can be a challenge to understand if you haven’t done a bit of research. 

Pork butt is not from the rear of the pig, like you might conclude from its name. Pork shoulder is from only part of the shoulder. Confused? We’ll clear up the difference between these two cuts.

Where Do Pork Butt and Pork Shoulder Come From?

Pork butt and pork shoulder both come from the same area of the pig, including the front leg and shoulder area.

diagram of pig pork butt vs pork shoulder
pork butt vs pork shoulder

What is Pork Butt

Pork butt is also known as Boston Butt and it comes from the upper cut of the front shoulder area of pork. Pork butt is a desirable cut of meat for pulled pork and BBQ pork.

What is Pork Shoulder

Pork shoulder is also known as Picnic Shoulder and it comes from the lower leg or shoulder portion of the front area of pork. Pork shoulder is a desirable cut of meat for pork roast and sliced pork.

When to Use Pork Butt

Since there’s a difference in pork butt vs pork shoulder, you’ll want to know the best ways to use each one. Pork butt is best for:

pulled pork

When to Use Pork Shoulder

Pork shoulder, being a tougher cut of meat and somewhat drier in consistency is best for:

pork roast
sliced meat

pork shoulder with spices
pork shoulder with spices

Pork Butt Vs Pork Shoulder: Which One Is Best? (4 Big Differences)

In comparing pork butt vs pork shoulder, there are 4 main differences. Those differences have to do with content, shape, uses, and flavor. We’ve outlined each of the differences below for comparison purposes.

Fat Content & Marbling

In our opinion, pork butt is the preferred cut of choice because the butt contains more fat and therefore tastes better. On the other hand, pork shoulder is leaner and tougher after it’s been cooked.


There is a difference in the shape of the cut for pork butt vs pork should. The shoulder is triangular in shape and the butt is rectangular in shape.


There are different uses for the two cuts of meat as far as what they excel in.

Pork butt works well for pulled pork, and as shredded meat with a delicious flavor.

Pork shoulder tends to be tougher, so it is best served as slices and shreds for ramen and tacos. 


In our opinion and the opinion of the culinary world, fat equals flavor as far as meat is concerned.

Obviously, you don’t want to consume the fat in your meat, but a slight marbling of fat will result in a noticeably delicious difference in flavor improvement.

BBQ pulled pork sandwich
BBQ pulled pork sandwich

Storing the Meat

When storing meat, you’ll want to use proper food handling to keep it as fresh as possible and for food safety reasons.

Refrigerator. When storing pork butt or pork shoulder that has been cooked, keep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator and plan to eat it in a day or two.

Freezer. Pork shoulder or pork butt can be stored in the freezer whether cooked or uncooked for up to 2 months.

When storing pork butt or pork shoulder that’s been smoked, leave it whole as it will stay moister and more flavorful.

When storing pork, allow it to cool completely before putting it in the refrigerator for the best results.

Fresh Meat is The Best Meat

As is true with any meat, fresh meat is the best meat. It has the best outcome in quality as well as flavor.

We recommend only buying fresh meat as opposed to frozen meat, whenever possible.

Where Can You Buy Pork?

Pork can be purchased in the meat section of most grocery stores as well as your local meat market and butcher shop. 

Roasted Pork Butt Shoulder
Roasted Pork Butt Shoulder

Pay Attention to The Dates on The Packages

When buying pork, pay attention to dates on the packages. You don’t want to purchase meat that’s past its best if used by date.

You’ll also want to take into consideration if you plan to use the meat right away or if you’ll be freezing it. If you plan to use the meat in its fresh form right away, then take the best if used by date into consideration according to when it will be cooked and consumed. 

Once pork is purchased, it should not be left to sit in the refrigerator for more than 2 days, assuming the best if used by date is still good.

If you notice any key indicators of spoilage on the pork before it’s purchased, do not purchase it. Or if you notice signs of spoilage after it’s purchased, throw it away and do not risk eating it.

What to Look for When Buying Pork Butt or Shoulder?

When buying pork, you’ll want to look for meat that has the following qualities:

some marbling of fat
pinkish-red in color
don’t buy pale meat
don’t buy meat that is discolored or has dark spots on the fat

Frequently Asked Questions

Following are frequently asked questions regarding pork butt vs pork shoulder. If you have a question that’s not answered here, feel free to drop it in the comments box below and we’ll be happy to answer it.

If the recipe calls for pork butt, can I use pork shoulder?

Yes, pork shoulder can be used to replace pork butt, however the results will be slightly drier and not as flavorful.

shredding pulled pork butt
shredding pulled pork butt

Is pork butt better than shoulder?

In our opinion, pork butt is better than pork shoulder because it is a better cut with more fat marbled through and as a result is more flavorful and moist.

Is pork shoulder the same as pork butt?

No, pork shoulder and pork butt are two different cuts. Pork butt tends to be a preferred cut that has more fat marbled through which results in a more desirable outcome of flavorful and moist meat.

Is it possible to make pulled pork from any cut of pork?

Although pork butt is the preferred cut for pulled pork, pulled pork can be made from other cuts such as pork shoulder, butt, pork steaks, and pork tenderloin. The outcome, however, will be slightly different depending on the cut used.

Pork Recipes:

Pork Ribs
Pomegranate Glazed Pork Ribs
How to Tell if Pork Chops are Done
Pork Loin Braised in Cider
Wendy’s Pulled Pork Sandwich Copycat Recipe
Smoked Pork Loin

pork butt vs pork shoulder pinterest pin
pork butt vs pork shoulder pinterest pin

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Sarah is known for her extra fancy yeast breads, melt in your mouth pies, and everything salads. She has won awards as a home cook, and is passionate about helping others feel smarter in the kitchen. Sarah is the cooking genius of the sister duo.

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