Assuming that you have a freezer big enough to accommodate a pork shoulder, you might want to consider storing some of it for a later date. But can you freeze pork shoulder without destroying the texture? And is it better to freeze it before or after cooking?
In our guide to freezing pork shoulder, we’ll tackle these questions, as well as several others that relate to the subject.
Is There A Difference Between Pork Shoulder and Pork Butt?
When you’re searching for information on pork shoulder, you might also come across the term pork butt or Boston butt. Although some sources use these terms interchangeably, that’s a bit misleading. Let’s clear things up so you can be sure which cut you’re getting.
A whole pork shoulder is huge—between 12 to 18 pounds. It consists of the entire shoulder and upper front leg of the hog, from the area behind the head all the way down to the hock.
Since this cut is so large, it’s often divided into two sections. The top segment is called pork butt, or sometimes Boston butt. It can be sold bone-in or boneless, and it’s shaped like a barrel, with plenty of marbling.
The lower segment just above the hock is called the picnic shoulder or pork shoulder, even though it’s just a portion of the shoulder primal. It doesn’t have as much marbling as the butt, but there is a nice fat cap attached. It also has a more irregular, triangular shape.
What’s confusing is that even though the pork butt is located closer to the shoulder, it’s the lower section that carries that label. When you see a cut that’s labeled as a whole pork shoulder, you should be getting both the Boston butt and the picnic shoulder.
Can You Freeze Pork Shoulder?
It’s possible to store pork shoulder in the freezer until you’re ready to cook it off. The process isn’t complicated, but since the cut usually weighs in at 4 to 10 pounds, you might have a hard time finding enough freezer space to accommodate it.
Pork shoulder should keep in the freezer for up to 12 months if you freeze it from its raw state. Leftover cooked pork shoulder should be thawed and reheated within 3 months for optimum results. It can be helpful to freeze the pork in portions. That way, it’s easy to thaw only as much as you need, which cuts back on waste.
Also, note that larger cuts take longer to thaw. For these reasons, we’ve included a separate section on tips for freezing pork shoulder and pork butt, which can be found below.
Can You Freeze Pork Butt?
It’s just as easy to freeze pork butt as it is to freeze pork shoulder. The cut typically weighs between 5 and 10 pounds, so make sure you have enough room in your freezer before you decide to add the whole thing.
You can also divide the pork butt into sections before you freeze it, which is one of the topics we’ll outline in Tips For Freezing Pork Shoulder and Pork Butt, below.
Does Pork Shoulder Freeze Well?
When you freeze and defrost raw pork shoulder, you shouldn’t notice any drop in quality. The meat might dry out a little bit as a result, but since this is such a fatty cut anyway, the difference is negligible.
For best results, thaw and cook raw pork shoulder within 4 to 12 months. The meat will retain its texture better if you cook it off sooner rather than later.
Cooked pork shoulder also freezes well, but the moisture loss is more noticeable in this case. That’s why it’s better to thaw and enjoy any leftovers within a 3-month period.
It’s safe to thaw and refreeze pork shoulder, whether the meat is raw or cooked. However, if you do this, the meat will lose more moisture than it would if you’d prepared it after the initial thaw. Try not to defrost the pork shoulder unless you can cook it right away.
Does It Matter Whether The Pork Shoulder Still Has The Bone?
The pork shoulder should freeze well whether you purchased it boneless or bone-in. That said, there are a few caveats you should be aware of.
Bone-in pork shoulder may be more flavorful and juicy than the boneless variety. This is true whether you freeze it or not. When the meat has been frozen, however, you should be particularly grateful for the extra moisture.
On the other hand, it’s harder to separate the pork into smaller pieces when it’s a bone-in cut. This won’t make as much of a difference if you cook the meat off first, but it’s bound to be an issue if you’re freezing raw pork shoulder.
Our advice would be to freeze the pork shoulder whole if it’s still raw, and divide it into portions when freezing cooked leftovers. This should help you avoid either of the issues we’ve mentioned.
How Long Will Pork Shoulder Keep in the Fridge?
Fresh pork shoulder and pork butt should stay fresh in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. If you can cook it off within this time frame, you may not have to freeze it after all.
Once the pork is cooked, you’ll have another 3 to 4 days to enjoy it before it needs to be either frozen or discarded. If you already know you won’t be able to eat it by the 4th day, it’s a good idea to freeze it as soon as possible to preserve the quality.
To help the pork stay fresh longer, store it toward the rear of the fridge. That way, it will be away from the door, which keeps it colder. In addition, ensure that the fridge temp is set below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Tips For Freezing Pork Shoulder and Pork Butt
Your initial step should be to check the temperature of your freezer. It needs to be set at 0 degrees or below in order to properly preserve the meat. Adjust the temperature and rearrange the freezer’s contents to make room for the pork shoulder, if necessary.
Freezing Raw Pork Shoulder
Set up a clean work station with a cutting board made of nonreactive material, a sharp boning knife, and the pork shoulder. If you need to de-bone the meat, first take out the shoulder blade, then locate the shank and remove it as well.
For cuts weighing over 6 pounds, divide the pork into segments, if desired. Make sure each one is roughly the same size. We would suggest splitting it in half, so that each segment weighs 3 to 5 pounds. That way, the pork will defrost more quickly.
Wrap each segment in plastic wrap or freezer paper, then add a layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Using a permanent marker, label each package with today’s date and the words “Raw Pork Shoulder.” You might also want to include the weight, so you’ll know how long to cook it.
Try to defrost and cook the raw pork shoulder within 12 months. Past this point, the meat will still be preserved, but the texture may suffer as a result.
Freezing Cooked Pork Shoulder
Depending on how much pork you have left over, you can either divide it into sections or leave it whole. We suggest freezing it in portions, so that you can defrost only as much as you need.
Don’t freeze the pork while it’s still warm. It needs to be cooled to room temperature, at least. Otherwise, the meat will steam in the package, which will lead to freezer burn.
Wrap the pork in plastic wrap and aluminum foil, or use a zip-top freezer bag. Label the package with the words “Cooked Pork Shoulder,” today’s date, and the number of servings inside. Thaw and enjoy within 3 months for best results.
How To Defrost Pork Shoulder and Pork Butt
When you’re ready to defrost the meat, place it in a container with sides high enough to catch any moisture that might escape. Set the container in the rear of the fridge, on the lowest shelf. The pork shoulder should thaw at a rate of 24 hours for every 5 pounds.
If you opt to thaw the pork shoulder in cold water, make sure the package is sealed tightly. Change out the cold water every 30 minutes. With this method, pork thaws at a rate of roughly 30 minutes per pound.
Remember not to thaw the pork shoulder on the counter. You should never store meat at room temperature for longer than 2 hours ( or 1 hour in hot weather). When you’re short on time, use the cold-water method.
The Bottom Line
Freezing leftover pork shoulder is an excellent way to preserve your hard work. When you freeze the meat raw, you can look forward to more grilling adventures at a later date. Either way, you can’t go wrong.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!
Hi there! I’m Darren Wayland, your BBQHost. My love of great barbecue inspired me to curate this site as a resource for all my like-minded fellow pitmasters out there. When I’m not researching and learning all I can about the latest tips and techniques, you can find me at the grill—that is, if you can spot me at all through the clouds of sweet-smelling smoke. And since you asked, yes, that probably is barbecue sauce on my face. Welcome to the party!