A pork butt is not a butt. It’s a shoulder. And it’s often called a Boston butt, to make matters worse. Why? Why would anyone call something a butt if it’s not a butt? Meat cuts often have names that seem odd, or more than one name, but there’s usually a reason, even if it’s confusing. Read on.
A pork shoulder is one of the four primals we break from a pig. It weighs about 25 pounds, and is known for braising and sausage meat. It’s commonly broken into two main subprimals, the picnic (this is the lower shoulder) and the butt (this is the upper shoulder). The butt is best roasted, braised, or smoked, while the picnic can also be braised, roasted, or ground for sausage. Picnics are sometimes called picnic hams or picnic shoulders.
Apparently butts are named after the barrels pork used to be stored in around the time of the Revolutionary War; they were called butts. And the reason butts are often called Boston butts is because they were considered a New England specialty. Infrequently you see them called a shoulder butt.
We’d be happy to just call a butt the upper shoulder, but then most people wouldn’t know what we’re talking about. So butt or Boston butt it is. Just remember a butt is a shoulder and you’ll be good to go.