Pork shoulder is the entire front leg and shoulder of a hog, usually used for making pulled pork.
Boston butt is a cut of pork that comes from the upper part of the shoulder from the front leg and may contain the blade bone. Smoked or barbecued Boston butt is a southern tradition. As a mainstay of Deep South cuisine, particularity in Alabama and Mississippi, it is often smoked and sold as a fundraiser on road side stands by charities and local organizations.
Selecting and Buying
The choice of meat at supermarkets has improved in recent years, but usually you'll have to settle for what's on the shelf or at the meat counter (if there is one). A good butcher is likely to stock a greater variety of cuts or be able to order what you want.
Butchers should also be able to give advice on preparing and cooking, and tell you where, and from which breeds, their meat comes from - as should producers at farmers' markets. Also worth considering are specialist meat mail-order companies, which can provide great choice and quality.
Pigs are brought to market young (at about five to six months old), so look for cuts that are moist and a healthy pink colour, not grey or red. Choose neat cuts with a fine-grained texture. Although pork is a lean meat there may be a slight marbling of fat (especially in traditional breeds) that should be firm and white. Avoid anything looking damp or clammy, or with oily or chalky-looking fat.
Two-thirds of pork imported into the UK is produced under conditions which would be illegal in this country. For higher welfare standards, look for Quality Standard Mark pork with its distinctive Union flag logo.
If your budget permits, there's also free-range, organic pork and rare-breed pork. If you're concerned about the provenance of your pork, check the labels carefully for country of origin labelling, and remember that 'packed in the UK' does not always mean 'produced in the UK'.
Preparation and Use
After trimming a pork butt, apply a generous amount of dry rub to the meat and cook immediately, or apply the rub, wrap the meat in Saran Wrap, and refrigerate overnight. The rub does not penetrate the meat during refrigeration, at least not deeply, but it does form a moist layer of seasoning that adheres well during cooking. You can also apply a bit more rub before putting the meat in the cooker.
Low and slow is the trick to cooking this meat. I also recommend adding an acid to any sauce or to the pan drippings when making gravy to counter the high fat content.
I subscribe to the preparation method I learned at the Paul Kirk Pitmaster Class in 1997, which is to remove the fat cap and any large areas or pockets of external fat that can be easily trimmed away, then apply the rub. The logic behind this method is that:
* Smoke and rub won't penetrate the external fat.
* It takes more time and fuel to cook a pork butt with all the fat intact.
* Unlike a brisket flat, which is quite lean and benefits from the protection that a layer of fat offers, a pork butt contains a tremendous amount of intramuscular fat, so the roast essentially "self-bastes" from the inside out.
* After many hours of cooking, much of the external fat renders away, and you're not going to eat the fat that's left--you're going to cut it away and discard it.
* Removing the external fat allows for the formation of more dark, flavorful outside meat that people enjoy so much.
You'll need a large, sharp knife to trim a pork butt. Don't try this with a paring knife, a utility knife, or any knife that is dull. You may wish to invest in a butcher's knife, but a large, very sharp chef's knife will do.
Conserving and Storing
Store meat in the coldest part of the fridge. Cover and store raw and cooked foods separately and store raw foods below cooked foods in the fridge. If it's already packaged in a cling-filmed tray, leave it like that until you're ready to use it. If not, put the meat on a plate, loosely wrap in greaseproof paper or foil and store in the fridge away from cooked meats. Pork will keep for three to five days in the fridge. Mince, offal and smaller cuts are best eaten on the day you buy them or within one to two days. Joints, chops and steaks will keep for two to three days and large roasting joints up to five days.
Quickly freezing pork reduces the chance of damage to its texture or succulence. Smaller pieces and large joints freeze successfully. Use frozen pork within six months. Defrost, loosely wrapped, in the fridge allowing five hours per 450g/1lb.