Pork shoulder has become more common in the past number of years thanks to the surge in popularity for pulled pork. To help you include more pork shoulder in your diet, we’ve created our ultimate beginner’s guide to the cut.
As part of our Back to Basics series, we’re going to be looking at some common ingredients to help make sure our readers are making the most of the great produce that we have access to here in Ireland. Previously we looked at scallops, housekeeper’s cut of beef and chicken thighs; today we're looking at pork shoulder.
Pork shoulder comes from just above the front leg of the pig. It is a relatively inexpensive cut that can be sold bone-in or boneless. Covered with a layer of skin and fat, this cut is jam-packed with flavour. Pork shoulder is also known as pork butt in America, but they actually come from two different parts of the shoulder. Shoulder comes from the thinner end and is a little less fatty, whereas butt comes from the thick, fatty end of the shoulder.
As the shoulder is used constantly by the pig, the area is full of muscle, but not a lot of marbling, meaning that it will be quite tough unless cooked correctly. When cooked low and slow, pork shoulder becomes tender and juicy, perfect for shredding which is why it has become so popular for pulled pork. Pork shoulder also works really well when roasted as the fat can crisp into crackling like pork belly, while the meat becomes tender and juicy.
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Pork is the most widely consumed red meat in the world, particularly in eastern Asia, but its consumption is forbidden in certain religions, including Islam and Judaism. While there is a layer of fat on top, pork shoulder is high in protein, as well as being a good source of thiamin, selenium, vitamin B12 and iron.
When purchasing pork shoulder, your first stop should always be to a good craft butcher. Depending on what way you plan to cook your pork shoulder, it might need to be rolled and tied or you might want the fat scored. If you're unsure about these steps, your butcher will gladly help you. Pork shoulder takes very well to marinades, so your butcher might be able to give you some tips and ideas too.
Make sure you look for shoulder that's a pink/red colour without any dark spots. Like beef, pork is best when cooked from room temperature, so take it out of the fridge about half an hour before you plan to cook it. While the skin makes great crackling when roasted, it's unnecessary if you're making pulled pork, so make sure to remove it before you pull the meat.
A common way of cooking pork shoulder now is to use a slow-cooker. The pork can be added into the cooker with your choice of liquid, sauces and spices, then cooked for eight hours on low, resulting in perfectly tender meat. Simply pull the pork, mix through the sauce, check for seasoning and serve. To roast the shoulder, it's best to drizzle the scored skin with olive oil and salt then place in a tray on top of carrots and onions. Roast at 220ºC/425ºF/Gas 7 for about half an hour then turn the oven down to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas 4 and cook for about 30 minutes per half kilo until fully cooked. It's pretty difficult to overcook pork shoulder, so this is an easy cut of meat for beginners to start with.
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Pulled pork began to rise in popularity in 2010, before peaking in 2014/2015. This dish originated in the southern states of America, where pork shoulder is cooked low and slow over outdoor barbecues or 'pits'. The shoulder is usually smoked over wood, then shredded and mixed with some sort of barbecue sauce before being served in rolls as a sandwich.
Looking for some recipe inspiration? This pulled pork with celeriac slaw and homemade barbecue sauce from Niall Hill (formerly of The Butler's Pantry) is easy to make and super flavourful, as well as making enough to feed a large group of people.