The pork shoulder primal is a staple of barbecue restaurants from coast to coast. And while they might debate which style of barbecue is best, most foodservice professionals would agree that this primal offers delicious flavor, ample intramuscular fat, outstanding versatility and cost effectiveness.
Three popular subprimal cuts – pork shoulder, pork butt and pork cushion offer those attributes in varying degrees. And it’s their differences that restaurants should pay attention to when selecting cuts for their menus and guests.
The Pork Shoulder Primal
Located behind the head, the pork shoulder primal runs from the top of the leg down to the front of the foot. It contains muscles that are used for walking and seams of fat that run between the muscles.
Because of their fat content and connective tissue, cuts from the pork shoulder primal are best prepared with low, slow cooking methods such as barbecuing, braising and stewing.
All three cuts also can be used to make sausage, ground pork for meatballs, terrines and pâtés.
Good Things Come in Threes
Now that we’ve looked at attributes of the pork shoulder primal, let’s focus on the details of these three cuts.
CUT NAME: Pork shoulder, aka picnic shoulder
WHAT IT’S KNOWN FOR: This cut comes from the triangle-shaped end of the animal’s shoulder, just above the front leg. It’s often sold with the skin on, which can be crisped to add crunch and flavor.
WHEN TO USE IT: Pork shoulder is well-suited for slow-and-low smoking and roasting. It is the perfect choice for use with heavier and more intense spices blends. Marinades with a high sodium mix can increase moisture retention.
CUT NAME: Pork butt, aka Boston butt
WHAT IT’S KNOWN FOR: Cut from the upper part of the shoulder, pork shoulder also includes parts of the neck, shoulder blades and upper leg. It is typically sold with the fat cap intact, and has a higher amount of intermuscular fat than other cuts from this primal.
WHEN TO USE IT: Pork butt is a key ingredient in Spanish and Asian cuisines. It is rich in inosinate and glutamate, which are two major umami components. This cut offers a wonderful texture after slow braising and makes a great sliced item when first roasted and cooled. It also absorbs spices and marinades well.
CUT NAME: Pork cushion
WHAT IT’S KNOWN FOR: This triangle-shaped cut is the big lean muscle on the side of the animal’s shoulder. After deboning, it usually weighs three pounds. Pork cushion has a low overall fat content and a fair amount of connective tissue.
WHEN TO USE IT: With its low fat content and generous amount of connective tissue, pork cushion benefits from slow smoking, stewing or braising. Brining it in a high-sodium liquid before cooking or serving it with salsa or sauce can preserve or add moisture. This cut can also be portioned into cutlets, tenderized and then breaded before frying it in a shallow pan for crispy and tender results.
Pork Butt or Shoulder for Pulled Pork?
If you haven’t figured it out already, pork butt and pork shoulder are great for pulled pork; pork cushion works well too. It all depends on the flavors and cooking methods you want to showcase to differentiate your menu.
Let Your Cultural Influences Run (Hog) Wild
In many cultures, pork is an ultimate comfort food. And apparently, comfort food is something most people crave often, with 82% of consumers reporting that they indulge in comfort foods at least once a week and most often at dinnertime.1
As a comfort food, stew remains a popular choice. According to Chef Christophe Setin, “The pork shoulder primal is the perfect cut for stews because of its fat content and naturally occurring umami qualities. Adding salt-rich condiments such as soy, teriyaki, oyster or steak sauce as well as garlic and fresh herbs will help enhance the qualities of this cut.”
“Pork cutlets are also gaining in popularity among breakfast and brunch enthusiasts. They can be served with fresh salsas and eggs as an alternative to steak and eggs.” – Chef Setin
Breakfast Beyond Bacon
Of course, dinner isn’t the only daypart where pork can find its place.
Pulled pork’s inclusion on breakfast menus grew 10% over a recent 12-month period and reached 4.3% breakfast menu penetration by late 2022, according to a November 2022 report from Datassential.2
“Pulled pork, flavored multiple ways, can be a great substitute for eggs Benedict,” Chef Setin said. “Pressed sandwiches made with brioche or croissant dough, then topped with sunny side up eggs or scrambled eggs, can be exciting new menu items.
“Pork cutlets are also gaining in popularity among breakfast and brunch enthusiasts,” he said. “They can be served with fresh salsas and eggs as an alternative to steak and eggs.”
More Pork Menu Ideas for Foodservice
There is no shortage of ways to take advantage of pork’s versatility in foodservice operations. We’ve included links to menu inspiration at the bottom of this article to spark your creativity.
For more foodservice trends and insights, reach out to your Tyson Fresh Meats sales representative today.
1 Comfort Food: Defined, Datassential, February 2023
2 Breakfast Proteins, Datassential, November 2022