You’ve just taken your perfectly cooked pork roast off the smoker. It’s the right temperature, the bark looks temptingly crisp, and it smells fantastic. You know you need to let it rest, but it’s hard not to dig right in.
At this point, you’re probably planning on shredding the meat to make the delicacy known as pulled pork. But how does that differ from chopped pork? Is one dish better than the other? In this guide, we’ll fill you in on the answers.
Chopped Pork vs Pulled Pork
The difference between chopped pork and pulled pork is largely textural. The latter is prepared by “pulling” cooked pork into strings, while the former consists of larger chunks of meat. When you venture into the American South, particularly the Carolinas, you’re bound to notice regional differences between the two terms as well.
What’s The Difference?
Pulled pork is made from a large, fatty cut of meat, usually the Boston butt. To make it, you slow-cook the pork until it’s tender enough to be shredded with a pair of forks, or even with your fingers.
By contrast, pork shoulder (also called the picnic roast or picnic shoulder) is the standard ingredient for chopped pork. Some chefs even substitute ham when making this dish. The meat is typically boiled in seasoned water, then chopped into coarse pieces.
About Chopped Pork
You’re most likely to come across chopped pork in the American South, where the dish is quite popular. It’s a versatile ingredient that lends itself well to an array of flavor choices, from tamari-seasoned Asian dishes to beer-spiked German-style sandwiches served on pretzel rolls.
You can use whatever seasonings you prefer when cooking off the pork shoulder. Salt, pepper, sugar, bay leaves, garlic powder, onion powder, and cayenne are traditional, but every chef is welcome to put their own spin on the dish.
To make a barbecue chopped pork sandwich, you would add diced peppers and onions to the chopped meat and saute them together until the veggies are softened. Add barbecue sauce to the mixture, heat gently, and serve on toasted bulkie rolls.
About Pulled Pork
Pulled pork is versatile in its own way, but it differs from chopped pork in terms of texture. After seasoning the pork butt with a spice rub, you cook the meat over low heat in the oven, slow cooker, or–best of all–the smoker or grill. When it’s reached the optimal temperature, you let it rest before “pulling” the meat into shreds.
You can use pulled pork as a sandwich, taco, or burrito filling, a nacho or pizza topping, or the centerpiece for a main course. It goes well with corn bread, cole slaw, and baked beans, especially when mixed with your favorite style of barbecue sauce.
Chopped Pork vs Pulled Pork: A Guide
The first thing you’ll notice about chopped pork vs pulled pork is the texture. Chopped pork is cut into cubes, while pulled pork is shredded.
Preparation is another factor. While pulled pork needs to cook for a long time, you can prepare this version of chopped pork in a hurry. That’s what makes the latter dish such a popular choice for busy households.
As barbecue enthusiasts, we would also argue that pulled pork has more flavor. The bold seasoning adheres to the meat, which makes it more intense. As a bonus, the low-and-slow cooking technique gives the pork a rich, almost candy-like quality. This is true especially if you prepare it using a grill or smoker.
Now that we’ve talked about what sets the two dishes apart, let’s take a look at what they have in common.
Both, of course, are made from large cuts of pork. Moreover, the cuts that are typically used for each are both taken from the foreleg section of the pig. While pork butt refers to the upper portion of the shoulder, the picnic roast is cut from the lower region, toward the shank. This makes a slight difference in terms of texture and cooking times.
Chopped pork and pulled pork are both popular sandwich fillings, especially in the South. The former is often less messy, because the meat is cut into larger pieces. That makes it easier to pick up the sandwich without worrying about the ingredients falling out.
Is Pulled Pork Better Than Chopped Pork, Or Vice Versa?
As is the case with many ingredients, the answer is a matter of preference. Both dishes have their advocates, and some people would be hard-pressed to choose between them. The good news? They’ve both been around for a long time, and neither recipe seems to be in danger of falling out of favor.
As we’ve pointed out, we would give pulled pork the edge in this race. In addition to having more flavor, the meat is incredibly juicy when it’s done right.
By contrast, chopped pork can be dry until it’s blended with the sauces and veggies. Of course, it’s also possible to customize the flavors, which is a definite plus.
Can You Chop The Pork Butt Instead Of Shredding It?
Since chopped pork is easier to eat than pulled pork, can’t you dice the pork butt into small chunks instead of shredding it? Possibly–but it depends on how long the meat was cooked.
To make authentic pulled pork, you want to cook the meat until it comes apart under gentle pressure. When it’s this tender, it can be difficult to cut it into uniform pieces. Therefore, it’s often faster and easier to pull it into shreds.
If you want to try chopping the pork butt, pull it from the smoker when it achieves an internal temperature of 185-190 degrees Fahrenheit. At these temps, it will still be fully cooked and tender, but it may be easier to cut into cubes than if you’d allowed it to cook to 195.
When you venture into the American South, you might hear the term “chopped BBQ” thrown around a lot, particularly in the Carolinas. In this region, pitmasters prepare whole hogs on the barbecue–a seasonal rite of passage that’s been a tradition since the land was settled.
When the hogs are done, the chef chops the meat and mixes it with a blend of cider vinegar, crushed red pepper, and salt. Because the pigs are cooked whole, this brand of barbecue contains skin, fat, and other portions of the animal that get left behind when you only prepare one cut at a time.
Pulled pork is more common in the Southern regions outside the Carolinas. Pitmasters in these areas prepare only the pork butt, discarding the fat cap when the meat is tender enough to shred easily. Fans of chopped BBQ often bemoan the difference in texture, but an experienced chef will pull the meat to order to ensure its quality.
The Bottom Line
Although chopped pork and pulled pork can be considered two different dishes, they share plenty of enticing qualities as well. If you’ve only ever tried one of them, we would encourage you to branch out by preparing the one you haven’t tasted. You might be surprised to learn which version you prefer.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!