When you’re planning your menu, the first thing you need to ask yourself is how much meat you need for the number of guests you’re expecting. Once you know that, you can start shopping. But will you need to buy more than one cut? How much does pork shoulder weigh on average, and how many people will it serve?
How Much Does Pork Shoulder Weigh?
A whole pork shoulder weighs between 12 and 18 pounds, but it’s usually divided into two sections: the pork butt and the picnic shoulder. Pork butt might weigh between 5 and 10 pounds, while a picnic shoulder typically comes in around 4 to 10 pounds. You can expect the meat to shrink down by 40 or 50 percent as it cooks.
Pork Shoulder: A Primer
Before you add pork shoulder to the shopping list, you should know exactly what you’re looking for. The term can be confusing, as it has multiple meanings and several aliases to boot.
A whole pork shoulder consists of the main section of the foreleg. It can be divided into two halves: the butt and the shoulder. Some butchers will sell it whole, but it’s more common to find one of the two subsections. Because it’s so large, you’ll need to have an oversized smoker in order to accommodate it.
The pork butt, which is sometimes called the Boston butt, is located right behind the animal’s head. The meat is rich, flavorful, and very fatty, with plenty of connective tissue. Most recipes for pulled pork will call for pork butt as the main ingredient, as the meat is delicious and tender when it’s cooked low and slow.
Here’s where things get confusing: The pork shoulder is located lower down, in the central section of the foreleg. The part that’s called the “butt” is closer to the actual shoulder than the cut that carries the name. You might also see pork shoulder referred to as “picnic shoulder” or “picnic roast.”
Pork shoulder also requires a long, slow cooking process, but the meat isn’t as well-marbled as the butt. It also has an irregular triangular shape, whereas the butt is more compact and rectangular. When pork shoulder is sold with the skin on, it’s a great fit for many Asian and Latin dishes.
How Much Does Raw Pork Shoulder Weigh?
If you can find a whole pork shoulder, you can expect it to weigh between 12 and 18 pounds. As we mentioned, you’ll be getting both the shoulder and the butt when you purchase this cut. Make sure the smoker is large enough to accommodate it. You can also attempt to cut it in half yourself, but it’s a better idea to have the butcher do it.
The shoulder portion itself weighs around 4 to 10 pounds, depending on whether it’s sold boneless or with the bone in. The boneless variety can usually be found in slabs between 4 and 8 pounds, while the bone-in cuts are slightly larger.
If you opt for the pork butt, expect the roast to weigh 5 to 10 pounds. These are sold both bone-in and boneless as well. It might be possible to find smaller portions, but we prefer to buy as much as we can fit in the smoker.
If you can’t find a single picnic shoulder or pork butt that meets your needs, consider buying two and smoking them together.
How Much Does Pork Shoulder Weigh After Cooking?
Don’t forget to account for shrinkage when you’re planning your cookout. The pork will lose a great deal of moisture as it cooks. Since raw meat consists of roughly 60 to 75 percent water, this means the weight will drop significantly.
Generally speaking, meat will shrink by about 25 percent as it cooks. For fatty cuts like pork shoulder, however, the number is closer to 40 percent.
Since we prefer to err on the side of caution, we estimate that the meat will weigh half as much after it’s cooked. This means you can expect an 8-pound pork butt to yield about 4 pounds of cooked meat.
Calculating Serving Sizes
When it comes to smoked meat like pork shoulder and pork butt, the rule of thumb is 1/3 pound per person. If you know you’ll be serving people with heartier appetites, aim for 1/2 pound per person. For casual afternoon gatherings, or parties that consist primarily of young children, you can plan on smaller serving sizes.
To help you determine how much pork shoulder to buy, use this formula as a guide. Multiply the number of guests by 1/3, then multiply the total by 2. If you’re expecting 12 guests, you’ll need 4 pounds of cooked pork. Therefore, you should buy 8 pounds of raw pork shoulder.
12 guests X 1/3 = 4 X 2 = 8 pounds
What’s That String Doing On The Pork Shoulder?
When you buy pork shoulder, you might find a thin white netting that surrounds the meat like a web. This material is in place to hold the pork shoulder together as it cooks.
Some butchers put the netting in place to mask the fact that the pork shoulder already consists of several smaller pieces. Even when the cut is sold in one big slab, however, the netting is a common sight.
It’s best to leave the netting in place until the meat is finished cooking. Without it, the meat might fall apart in the smoker. To remove it, just use a pair of kitchen shears or regular scissors to cut through the strings. The task should be easy enough, especially when you take shrinkage into account.
One caveat: If the netting is made of plastic or another material that’s prone to melting, take it off before adding the pork shoulder to the smoker. Otherwise, you’ll end up with contaminated meat.
The Bottom Line
Unless you’re the type of griller who enjoys a challenge, we would recommend buying either the picnic shoulder or the pork butt rather than the whole shoulder. If you need more product, you can always buy two smaller cuts and smoke them at the same time. They’ll cook more quickly that way, and they’ll be easier to fit on the cooking grate as well.