butt...butt...it's a shoulder.
December 10, 2011 8:59 AM   Subscribe

Pork problems - I just found out that a pork butt is really a shoulder. I'm living in Germany, and I asked for a pork butt using the German "hinterschinken" and pointing at my own butt for reference. The butcher asked her boss, then went into the back and pulled out a piece and sold it to me. Now I'm pretty sure I have the wrong cut of meat for the carnitas I'm making tomorrow, so I went out and got an actual shoulder. Now my question is - what do I do with the actual butt piece I now have? Is this a ham? Obviously, I'm pretty clueless when it comes to meat cuts. Please help me make my mistake delicious.
posted by monkey!knife!fight! to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's a ham. As long as it's uncured, your carnitas (cooked low and slow, right?) will still be delicious.
posted by supercres at 9:06 AM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Anatomically, your hind leg of pig is a ham, but culinarily it's just raw pork. Ham conventionally refers to smoked and/or cooked meat. What you have is a nice chunk of pork that can be roasted whole (which is where the whole "ham" tradition started) or cut into chunks and stewed, maybe even into a second batch of carnitas.

If you need further recipe suggestions, give us some clues about what you like.
posted by Quietgal at 9:09 AM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

While I don't know what you actually got because I can't see it, pork shoulder is also sometimes called pork shoulder butt. Chances are you basically bought two extremely similar pieces of meat because you were worried about your German or where the cut actually came from on the animal, as opposed to the condition of the cut itself. Are/were both pieces fairly indistinguishable in terms of fat marbling? Then they're basically interchangeable.

It's a fatty cut, right? I'd suggest roasting/braising.
posted by axiom at 9:11 AM on December 10, 2011

What you've got is fresh ham. It's the butt cheek and thigh of a pig. Some combination (depending on the style of curing) of soaking it in a brine with sodium nitrate, packing it in salt and drying it, or smoking it will, over time, turn it into ham as we know it. This is a pretty good recipe for curing ham (I'm curing a ham with it right now).

It's perfectly fine for carnitas, or any other long-cooking, low heat braise, like barbecue.
posted by Jon_Evil at 9:11 AM on December 10, 2011

As others have said it can be ham if cured properly, otherwise it's just "pork" as is.

It's surprisingly like shoulder -leaner though. It should cook fine even if you use the traditional method for making carnitas.
posted by Max Power at 9:57 AM on December 10, 2011

My mom used to roast fresh ham, pretty much the way you would roast any pork. So my vote is roasting, although I also like Jon_Evil's idea of curing your own ham if you feel up to it.
posted by cabingirl at 11:20 AM on December 10, 2011

Best answer: Mexican here. I LOVE carnitas. You can make carnitas out of pretty much any part of the pig.

The concept of carnitas comes from slow cooking the parts of the pig that got left over after the better cuts have been taken. To use a specific piece, like a shoulder, is in my opinion a more "sanitized" version of carnitas, so as not to end up with carnitas with a lot of fat or skin or other nasty bits in them, which in my opinion defeats the whole point of actual yummy carnitas.

TLDR: pork butt/pork anything is good for making carnitas.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 11:30 AM on December 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

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. Alton Brown uses it in a pulled pork recipe, so I can't see why it couldn't be used for carnitas. In fact this recipe prefers Boston Butt, stating "Our choice for cut of meat is the pork butt. (Not to be confused with the actual pig's butt.) The pork butt is actually a shoulder cut, and it can be purchased with bone-in or out"
posted by Gungho at 12:25 PM on December 10, 2011

If it's a leg with skin on (sold as fresh ham around here), it does very well with a long, slow roast. The skin keeps the meat juicy, and you can get some great pan drippings for roasting root vegetables in.

One other thing to do with it that sounds odd, but is actually amazingly good is to braise it in Coca Cola. All you do is sear the roast, pour a 2 liter bottle of Coke or Dr. Pepper in, add a little salt, and braise low and slow until the pork is falling apart tender. Trust me, it tastes NOTHING like Coke when it comes out, the cinnamon and nutmeg flavors infuse the pork and turn it into something incredibly delicious.
posted by TungstenChef at 12:48 PM on December 10, 2011

I don't know if it's the same in Germany as it is here in Switzerland, but in the future pork neck (schweinehals) also works very similarly to pork shoulder and seems to be cheaper and more common. Lots of good fat for braising, roasting, or whatever your favorite slow cooking approach is.
posted by Schismatic at 2:30 PM on December 10, 2011

I think most cuts of pork are pretty similar. You can't substitute tripe for ribs, obviously, but a big hunk off the bottom is about the same as a big hunk off any other place. You can carve your ham into thick slices and pan-fry them like pork chops, or slice it thinly for stir fry, or cube it for stew, or bake it whole like a roast, or simmer it for pulled pork, or grind it up for sausage, or dice it fine for hash...
posted by d. z. wang at 2:45 PM on December 10, 2011

This PDF shows the cuts. The butt is not the hind parts, but closer to the shoulder
posted by arveale at 4:28 PM on December 10, 2011

If you're making carnitas, you actually WANT the shoulder meat. Other cuts will dry out and get tough during long cooking. The shoulder thrives in the slow cooker or slow roasting. It's kind of a tough bit of meat to begin with, because of the connective tissue. The slow cooking will break down that tissue during cooking and it will end up contributing flavor and the toughness will be gone.

There's a good recipe at America's Test Kitchen (email signup required).
posted by hippybear at 8:44 PM on December 10, 2011

Best answer: Just for the Googlers, apparently in this instance "butt" does not come from the term "buttocks" (both of which derive from a more generic Old English word for "end"). It refers to various end cuts of the shoulder meat, most now obsolete.
posted by dhartung at 9:49 AM on December 11, 2011

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