Large cuts like pork shoulder can be intimidating, especially for novices. Once you’ve gotten it home, can you cut pork shoulder in half? Or is it better to prepare it all in one go? Let’s find out.
Can You Cut Pork Shoulder In Half?
Yes. In fact, it’s a good idea to do so if you don’t have time to cook off a larger cut, if your smoker is too small to accommodate it, or if you just don’t need that much product. Cutting the pork shoulder in half is also a nice way to get more bark on the meat.
About Pork Shoulder
When it comes to pork shoulder, the terminology can be a bit confusing. The shoulder of a hog is located just behind the head, but it consists of two cuts that are sometimes sold together.
The upper portion of the shoulder is called the pork butt or Boston butt. This is a fatty, football-shaped cut of meat with tons of intramuscular fat. Because it makes superb pulled pork, it’s a popular barbecue staple.
Just beneath the butt is the portion called the pork shoulder, picnic shoulder, or picnic roast. Because it’s located farther down the foreleg, it has a more irregular shape than the butt. It also contains less marbling, although there is an impressive fat cap attached. This cut is often sold with the skin on.
Why Would You Want To Cut it in Half?
There are a few solid reasons for cutting a pork shoulder in half. Here are the most common ones.
It Reduces the Cooking Time
A whole pork shoulder—one that consists of both the butt and the picnic roast—can weigh up to 18 pounds. That’s large enough to give any budding chef second thoughts.
Even if you buy the shoulder alone, it may still weigh 6 to 9 pounds. Since you should smoke the meat for about 90 minutes per pound at 275 degrees—or even longer if the smoker is set to a lower temperature—this represents a big time commitment. Cutting it in half will reduce the smoking time by a considerable amount.
You’re Only Serving a Few People
You might end up with much more cooked pork than you need. The average per-person serving size for pulled pork is 1/3 pound. Since the raw meat will weigh about twice as much as the finished product, you’ll need to plan on 2/3 pound per person. Therefore, you can expect a 6-pound pork butt to feed about 9 people.
There’s nothing wrong with leftovers. In fact, when we’re planning a large gathering, we like to buy more meat than we need so we can be sure to enjoy it for a few days afterward.
That said, if you’re craving pulled pork (or any recipe that calls for pork shoulder) and there are only two of you, a 6- to 9-pound cut of meat may be too much. In this case, we understand why you might want to divvy up the pork and freeze half for later.
You’ll Get More Bark
When you cut the pork shoulder in half, there will be more surface area overall. Why does this make a difference?
When you smoke the pork, the exterior will develop a crisp crust known as bark. This improves both flavor and texture, especially if you’re making pulled pork. The more surface area you have, the more bark you’ll get, which is enough to entice many pitmasters to cut the meat in half.
Your Smoker Is Too Small
If the lid of the smoker refuses to close when you place the meat inside, or if the cooking grates are just a shade too narrow to accommodate it, cutting the pork shoulder into halves or even quarters might be the only solution. As a bonus, it will probably cook more evenly as well.
How To Cut Pork Shoulder In Half
1. Trim the meat.
It’s best to remove any excess fat before cutting the pork shoulder into smaller sections. For one thing, you’ll be helping it to cook more evenly. It will also develop a crisper bark if there are fewer fatty bits in the way.
2. Sharpen your knife.
This is one task for which you need the sharpest knife available. Use a quality boning knife from a reputable manufacturer, and sharpen it well before you get started.
3. Decide on a direction.
When it comes to cutting pork shoulder, you can divide it crosswise into square chunks, or lengthwise into long strips. Cutting it crosswise will help the meat preserve its tenderness, while lengthwise strips may take less time to cook.
If your primary goal is to get more bark per serving, you can butterfly the pork by splitting it either crosswise or lengthwise, without cutting all the way through the meat. Split it open as if you were opening a book, then season and cook according to your chosen recipe.
4. Split the pork shoulder.
Once you’ve chosen how you’d like to carve the meat, position it on the cutting board accordingly. For best results, hold it at a slight angle so you’re not dragging the knife directly toward yourself.
Start with the tip of the knife on the far side, then carefully pull the blade down the length or width of the pork shoulder, using a gentle sawing motion if necessary. Separate the pieces and pat them dry with paper towels.
If you’re freezing one half for a later date, now is the time to wrap it tightly, label it with the contents and date, and place it in the freezer.
Cutting Bone-In Pork Shoulder
This is a trickier prospect, as the bone gets in the way of the knife. If possible, ask the butcher to divide the pork shoulder for you when it’s sold with the bone-in.
If you want to undertake the task yourself, it’s best to either remove the bone first, or cut around the bone to carve the meat into quarters or smaller pieces (see Cutting Pork Shoulder Into Quarters, below). However, if you purchased bone-in meat because you wanted it to be more flavorful, removing the bone would defeat the purpose.
Cutting Pork Shoulder Into Quarters
It’s also permissible to cut the halves of the pork shoulder in half again. This should work fine if the original cut weighs 9 pounds or more.
That said, we wouldn’t recommend this for cuts that weigh less than 8 pounds to begin with. Pork shoulder needs to cook for a long time in order to tenderize the tougher meat and give the fat and connective tissue a chance to break down. If the pieces are too small, the meat will reach the optimum temperature before it’s fully tender.
Your individual cuts of pork shoulder should weigh at least 2 pounds each. If you’ve trimmed and cut the meat into quarters and they’re a bit smaller than that, you can put them in the slow cooker, but we wouldn’t recommend them for the smoker.
Can You Cut Pork Shoulder in Half After It’s Cooked?
It’s much easier to cut a pork shoulder in half once you’ve taken it off the smoker. This is a great technique if you know you won’t consume all the pork right away.
After allowing the pork to rest for at least 30 minutes, use a sharp carving knife to cut it right down the middle. Set one half aside, wrapping it in tin foil to preserve moisture, and store it in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days.
As an alternative, you can pull off as much of the meat as you need, leaving the rest of the shoulder intact. Many barbecue restaurants use this method, which ensures minimal waste and keeps the meat nice and moist.
The Bottom Line
It’s not difficult to cut pork shoulder in half, but it gets even easier with practice. Whether your smoker or your party is too small, or you’re just looking for a high bark-to-meat ratio, cutting the shoulder in half can be a game-changing technique.