Butt... butt... it's not a pork loin.
December 21, 2011 10:17 PM   Subscribe

Can I make a pork roast for Yuletide from a pork shoulder butt?

I'm cooking a Yuletide meal this weekend and my plan is to make a pork roast, which I have never before eaten and never before cooked. I brought a lovely looking pork roast home, but upon inspection of the label I find that it is a boneless pork shoulder butt roast. The internet tells me that this cut is traditionally used for carnitas and pulled pork. This does not bode well for my vision, which was to roast it and slice it and sauce it with a fruited port wine reduction. As I look at recipes, I see that what I'm after is more traditionally made with a pork loin. Is it possible to do this with this cut of meat? If not, is there some other preparation that would be similarly festive? While I'm fine with braising or slow cooking it, I want it to hold together and look nice on the plate. If necessary, I'll throw it in the freezer and go shopping again tomorrow, but I'd rather not. Thoughts?
posted by Wordwoman to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Unfortunately, the cut of pork you have, while delicious, is not well suited to slicing as a whole roast. It contains a lot of internal fat and connective tissues that will not soften and reduce their gelatin until the meat is very well done, at which point it will not hold together. Cooked to 150 degrees, the pork will have a displeasing texture and taste. Braising or other low & slow techniques are the way to go. In my world, falling to pieces pork shoulder would probably be well-received as a festive meal, but it would be distinctly non-traditional. If you want a roast with wine-based sauce, I really think you need to look at a tenderloin or (even better) a pork rib roast. Rib Roast with the bones frenched down as a crown roast is probably the oldest of old school meats for the holidays.
posted by Lame_username at 10:35 PM on December 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you're set on a roast beast, this isn't the stuff you're looking for. On the other hand, if you're willing to braise, as mentioned above, one of the very best things I've ever he was the milk braised pork shoulder at the Purple Pig in Chicago. The braise the shoulder in a combination of milk and veal stock for roughly six hours at a very low temperature. It's so tender they give you a spoon to eat it. A spoon.

They serve it in mashed potatoes, which, if I were making it at home, I'd leave a little chunkier. The braising sauce is pretty much a step away from gravy as is.

But if you do want the roast, and your freezer has space, you'd be better off putting the shoulder on ice for when you want carnitas, chili, or pulled pork.
posted by Ghidorah at 12:46 AM on December 22, 2011

Is it a skin-on butt?
If so, you're in luck.
posted by The GoBotSodomizer at 4:53 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here's another Food Lab recipe for porchetta, if your shoulder isn't going to work out.
I am a fan of skin.
posted by The GoBotSodomizer at 4:57 AM on December 22, 2011

Best answer: I think it's possible that you could be successful in this. It's not the ideal cut for a roast, but it's not out of the question.

The first time I tried to barbecue a pork butt for pulled pork, I didn't ever get the internal temperature up high enough for the meat to pull like I wanted it to. It needs to be up around 190 - 200 degrees to shred easily. I got mine up to about 170 degrees, which was still fully cooked and safe to eat, just not pull-able. I had delicious sliced barbecued pork sandwiched instead.

So, that being said, I think you might be able to pull this off. I'd roast it at a low temperature (275 or so) for, well, as long as it takes. It's hard for me to estimate how long stuff takes to cook, especially cuts like this. If it's seven pounds, for instance, I would say you're looking at at least eight hours, possibly more, or possibly less. If you don't have one, get a probe thermometer so you can check the internal temperature. I think 170 degrees will be your magic number.

Unfortunately, it's not likely to look as nice as a proper pork roast. The butt is a shoulder cut, and is a location where a lot of different muscles come together- there's no nice, consistent grain. That's also why the butt lends itself so well to barbecue-type cooking: there's time for all the different muscles of different consistency to cook to the same degree.

So if you really don't want to have to go shopping again, I think it's worth a try. It won't be the ideal pork roast, but I think it could be pretty tasty.
posted by Shohn at 5:20 AM on December 22, 2011

Best answer: I would put it in the freezer. There's some things you could do that will come out beautifully but there is a high likelihood of frustration and, if you're anything like me, tears of impotent rage. And even in the best of times it's not going to be attractive in the way you're hoping for.

If you get the roast - a rib roast would be great if you can find one - it becomes a much much simpler matter of seasoning it and then cooking to the right temperature while you worry about your sauce.
posted by ftm at 5:34 AM on December 22, 2011

When I do BBQ, I typically smoke it at around 225-250F for 12-18 hours. Internal temperature really needs to hit 190-205F for the connective tissue to really truly break down, but you probably don't want it to be totally gone. As long as you get the meat to 170F and you do so slowly enough, it'll be tender enough. The lower the final temp, the more structural integrity it'll have, so I might shoot for 180. You NEED a good instant read thermometer for this to be anything close to accurage.

Salt, sugar, pepper a day before roasting. It wants nice moist heat, so braise it, roast it over a pan of liquid, or wrap it in foil. Cook at anything under 300F and plan on around 8 hours. You'll need to handle it CAREFULLY at that point.

Take it out and put it on a rack with a drip pan far beneath it so air can circulate around it, get the oven HOT and then blast it until slightly crispy.

It may not be solid enough to slice cleanly at this point unless your knife is razor sharp, so you could cool it in the fridge (maybe 5-8 hours?), take it out, slice it, and reheat those slices before serving.

You could also skip the blast furnace step and instead remove the skin (it'll pop right off after roasting), chill the butt, slice it, reheat those slices in a shallow pan with some cooking liquid, then top them with little strips of pork skin fried in, uh, I guess just themselves since there will be lots of fat left on the skin.

The big issue with large roasts is food safety. It takes so long to heat up and cool down that it's inevitably in the 40-140F 'danger zone' quite a bit. I either have it in the fridge or in the oven the whole time, except for the half hour immediately after roasting to let it settle down a bit...
posted by pjaust at 5:36 AM on December 22, 2011

If you decide to freeze it for later, let me know. I have some pretty spectacular recipes for pulled pork AND carnitas that are also really easy.

can't help you for the fancy though.
posted by domino at 6:27 AM on December 22, 2011

Best answer: While pjaust and Shohn are correct that you can cook a shoulder to a lower temp and get something that superficially resembles a roast, there are going to be problems with this that may or may not trouble you. The first is that when you purchase a deboned shoulder, they really hack it up dramatically as they separate the muscles and carve out the bone. Slicing bone-in shoulder is notoriously tricky, but possible. Slicing deboned shoulder into normal slices is simply impossible. When you slice a deboned shoulder, it is going to disassemble itself into subparts based on which muscle it was, because the stuff that held it together was torn asunder by the butcher when they took out the bone in the first place.

The second is that you have a delicate balancing act with this cut between chewy and gross and falling apart. As a roast, you are going to encounter some big pockets of gloppy fat that aren't the prettiest things. You'll probably need to pull it around 175, as suggested above and it will be OK, but if you can fit freezing it and getting a more suitable cut into your budget and schedule, I think you'll be much happier. And then you can roast it to 145 and have an amazing juicy roast and use the shoulder for carnitas or BBQ later!
posted by Lame_username at 11:10 AM on December 22, 2011

Go ahead and make carnitas. People will be so busy gushing over your delicious carnitas, they won't even think to ask "where's the roast?". I make this recipe about twice a month.

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posted by humboldt32 at 11:13 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Pulled pork with fruited port wine reduction sounds fantastic and festive; and you can roast the meat well ahead of time. Buy round bread - boules - and cut in wedges, or really great rolls, to sop up the sauce. It may be messy. Buy some really cheap washcloths, get them really damp(lemon a nice addition), and roll them up. Microwave them, and put them on the table so guests can tidy up.
posted by theora55 at 7:52 AM on December 23, 2011

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