How to Choose the Right Cut of Pork for Pulled Pork

A Guide to Comparing Pork Cuts for the Perfect Pulled Pork when Catering For A Large Group.


Pulled pork is a popular, delicious, and flexible meat when feeding a small group or crowd.

The key to how much you need for each person is getting the right cut.

Choosing the right cut of pork is an essential first step to achieving tender, flavorful results.

This guide will help you compare different cuts of pork, understand their attributes, and make informed decisions when creating your perfect pulled pork dish.

Pork Cuts for Pulled Pork
Pork Cuts for Pulled Pork

Understanding Pork Cuts

Pigs, like beef and lamb, are divided into several primary sections or primal cuts, which are then further broken down into subprimal cuts or individual cuts or portions.

We will focus on the pork shoulder and pork loin, as they are the most suitable for pulled pork recipes.

1. Pork Shoulder:

  • Located at the front of the pig, the pork shoulder is a large, muscular section that can be further divided into two main subprimal cuts: Boston butt and picnic shoulder.
  • Boston Butt: The upper part of the pork shoulder, this cut is also known as the pork butt. Despite its name, it has no connection to the rear of the pig. Boston butt is well-marbled with fat, providing tenderness and depth of flavor, making it a popular choice for pulled pork.
    • Attributes: More flavor, tender, ideal for slow cooking.
How to Choose the Right Cut of Pork
How to Choose the Right Cut of Pork When Cooking For A Crowd

2. Picnic Shoulder:

Sometimes called a picnic roast. Situated below the Boston butt, the picnic shoulder is the lower part of the pork shoulder.

The shoulder meat is leaner than the Boston butt, with less marbling, and a little more connective tissue but is still suitable for pulled pork, resulting in a slightly firmer texture.

  • Attributes: Slightly cheaper, still suitable for pulled pork, can have a slightly firmer texture.
  • Another good option is a boneless pork shoulder; however, remember that a piece of meat with no bones tends to have less overall flavor.
  • For a big crowd you can also buy the entire pork shoulder.

3. Pork Loin:

  • The pork loin is a long, lean cut of meat running along the back of the pig, between the shoulder and the hind leg. It is further divided into subprimal cuts such as the blade end, center loin, and sirloin end.
  • Although the pork loin is tender and lean, it is not the ideal choice for pulled pork due to its low fat content. The lack of marbling can cause the meat to dry out during the slow cooking process, resulting in a less flavorful and less tender final product.
    • Attributes: Lean, can dry out easily, less flavor compared to pork shoulder.

This table below provides a clear comparison of the key attributes for each cut of pork, including fat content, texture, flavor, suitability for pulled pork, and other factors.

AttributeBoston ButtPicnic ShoulderPork Loin
LocationUpper part of pork shoulderLower part of pork shoulderAlong the back of the pig
Fat ContentHigh, well-marbledModerate, leanerLow, lean
TextureTenderSlightly firmerTender, but can dry out easily
FlavorRich, flavorfulGood, slightly less richMild, less flavorful
SuitabilityIdeal for pulled porkSuitable for pulled porkLess ideal for pulled pork
Cooking MethodsSlow cooking, smokingSlow cooking, smokingRoasting, grilling
PriceModerateSlightly cheaperVaries depending on cut
A Table Comparing What Type Of Pork is Best For Making Pulled Pork

This information will help you make informed decisions when choosing a cut for their pulled pork dish.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Cut

When selecting the ideal cut of pork for your pulled pork dish, it’s essential to weigh various factors that can influence the final taste, texture, and overall quality of your meal before you purchase.


  1. Boston Butt: Generally moderately priced, the Boston butt offers a balance between cost and quality. This is one reason why it tends to be more preferred – infact over 60% of Pitmasters I recently surveyed said they preferred Boston Butt (see table above for all the reasons).
  2. Picnic Shoulder: The picnic shoulder is typically slightly cheaper than the Boston butt, making it an attractive option for those looking to save money. The lower price point makes the picnic shoulder a budget-friendly alternative without sacrificing too much on taste and quality.
  3. Pork Loin: The price of pork loin can vary widely depending on the specific cut (e.g., blade end, center loin, or sirloin end) and the quality of the meat. In general, pork loin tends to be more expensive than the pork shoulder cuts due to its tenderness and leanness. However, it’s important to note that pork loin is less suitable for pulled pork, as its low fat content can lead to drier and less flavorful results.

“Prep Like a Pro: Expert Tips for Preparing Pork to Achieve Pulled Pork Perfection”

In conclusion, when comparing the cost of Boston butt, picnic shoulder, and pork loin, as a rule thumb Boston butt offers a balance between price and quality, while the picnic shoulder presents a more budget-friendly option. The pork loin, though often more expensive, is less ideal for pulled pork dishes.

Fat Content

Fat content plays a crucial role when selecting a cut of pork for pulled pork, as it directly affects the dish’s flavor, tenderness, and juiciness. Cuts with higher fat content, such as the Boston butt, have marbling that renders and melts during the slow cooking process, infusing the meat with rich flavor and ensuring a tender, moist result.

Cooking Method

  1. Slow Cooking: A low and slow cooking method, typically using a slow cooker, oven, or a covered pot, which allows the meat’s connective tissues to break down, resulting in tender and flavorful pulled pork. Ideal for pork shoulder cuts, such as Boston butt and picnic shoulder.
  2. Smoking: A method that involves cooking meat at a low temperature over indirect heat and hardwood smoke, infusing the pork with smoky flavors. Pork shoulder cuts, like Boston butt and picnic shoulder, are well-suited for smoking.
  3. Roasting: Cooking meat in an oven, uncovered, at a high temperature. This method is best for lean cuts like pork loin, which cook more quickly and require less time to become tender. Roasting is not recommended for pulled pork.
  4. Grilling: Cooking meat directly over high heat, usually on a grill or barbecue. While this method works well for lean cuts like pork loin, it’s not suitable for pulled pork, as the high heat can cause the meat to become tough and dry.
CutSlow CookingSmokingRoastingGrilling
Boston Butt✔️✔️
Picnic Shoulder✔️✔️
Pork Loin✔️✔️
Cooking Comparison for Different Cuts Of Pulled Pork

This table illustrates the suitability of various cooking methods for different cuts of pork. For pulled pork, slow cooking and smoking are ideal methods for both Boston butt and picnic shoulder, while roasting and grilling are better suited for lean cuts like pork loin.

Sourcing and Quality

The quality and sourcing of meat play a vital role in the taste, texture, and overall quality of your pulled pork dish. Choosing high-quality pork from reliable and ethical sources not only ensures better flavor but also supports responsible and sustainable farming practices.

Ethically and sustainably raised pork comes from farms that prioritize the welfare of their animals and the environment. These farms typically adhere to higher standards of animal husbandry, providing pigs with ample space, proper nutrition, and humane living conditions. Such practices result in healthier animals and, consequently, higher-quality and better-tasting meat. Moreover, sustainable farming methods minimize the negative impact on the environment, promote biodiversity, and reduce the overuse of antibiotics and hormones.

It can also become a talking point at your company event or party, especially if sustainable pork and good environmental practices are important to your guests.

Consumers are increasingly aware of the importance of supporting ethical and sustainable meat production, and organizations like the FDA and the National Pork Board in the United States work to promote safe and responsible practices in the pork industry. The National Pork Board, through its Pork Quality Assurance® Plus (PQA Plus®) program, provides guidelines for producers to follow in order to ensure both animal well-being and food safety. 

When selecting pork for your pulled pork dish, it is essential to consider the source and quality of the meat. Look for labels that indicate the pork is ethically and sustainably raised, and if possible, buy from local farms or trusted suppliers who share your values. By choosing high-quality, responsibly sourced pork, you can enjoy a delicious meal while supporting a more sustainable and humane food system.

We will cover Seasoning techniques like Dry rubs, marinades, and injections in a separate article as they are very important in the overall result.

Frequently Asked Questions

Best Cut for Pulled Pork

60% of pitmasters recommended Boston Butt.

What Cut of Meat Is Recommended as the Best for Making Pulled Pork?

Pork shoulder is commonly recommended for shredding. The ideal fat content of this meat results in a tender texture when cooked slowly to allow proper protein breakdown.

How Long Should Pulled Pork Sit Before Pulling

After cooking, it is recommended to let the pulled pork rest for at least 1 hour before pulling it apart. Allowing the meat to rest helps it retain moisture and redistribute the juices within the meat, ensuring a more tender and flavorful final product.

However, experts will say 2 or 3 hours is better if you have time.

During the resting period, you can tent the pork shoulder with aluminum foil to keep it warm and prevent it from drying out. After resting, the meat should be cool enough to handle, making it easier to shred without burning your hands. Use two forks, meat claws, or your hands (with gloves) to pull the pork into the desired texture.

Is Pork Shoulder or Pork Tenderloin Better for Pulled Pork

The Pork shoulder is better because it has more flavor, and the meat retains moisture better during the cooking process.

What Size Pork Shoulder Is Best for Pulled Pork

The ideal size of a pork shoulder for pulled pork depends on several factors, including the number of servings you plan to prepare, the size of your cooking equipment, and your desired cooking time.

A common size for a pork shoulder used in pulled pork recipes ranges from 4 to 8 pounds. This size is manageable for most cooking equipment and typically provides a generous amount of servings.

Should the Pork Be Skinless in Making Pulled Pork

When making pulled pork, it is generally recommended to use skinless pork.  The skin can act as a barrier, preventing the flavors from seasonings, rubs, or marinades from fully penetrating the meat.

By using skinless pork, you allow the seasonings to be better absorbed by the meat, resulting in a more flavorful dish. Furthermore, removing the skin also makes it easier to shred the cooked pork into the desired pulled texture.

In some cases, the skin may be left on during the cooking process to help retain moisture, but it should be removed before shredding the meat. If you choose to do this, be sure to score the skin to allow some of the seasoning to penetrate the meat, and remove it before shredding the pork.


Conclusion: Understanding and comparing the attributes of different cuts of pork is essential for making mouthwatering pulled pork. While pork shoulder is the popular choice, personal preferences and factors like budget and cooking methods play a role in determining the perfect cut for your dish. Experiment with various cuts and techniques to find the combination that works best for you.