Pork butt just might be our favorite cut of meat, especially when we’re firing up the smoker. The rich, fatty meat tastes as good as candy when it’s done right.
It’s also a cut that goes by many different names. For example, have you ever seen a cut that’s labeled as “dry pork butt?” What is this, and how does it differ from “regular” pork butt? We were wondering the same thing, which is why we put together this guide.
What Is A Dry Pork Butt?
“Dry pork butt” is a term we’ve come across on labels at big-box stores, specifically Kroger. As far as we can tell, it means that the butt has 5 to 6 inches of the leg bone attached, so it also includes a portion of the shoulder.
About Pork Butt
In spite of the name, which leads some novices to believe that this cut is taken from the rear of the hog, the pork butt is part of the shoulder.
A whole pork shoulder consists of two sections. The upper part, which is located behind the animal’s head, is called the pork butt. It might be labeled as “Boston butt.” The name refers to the barrels that butchers used for storing this cut back in the early days of barbecue.
The lower section of the shoulder stretches down toward the leg. This is the part that’s labeled as the “pork shoulder,” even though the upper portion is closer to what we would think of as the shoulder. It’s also called “picnic roast” or “picnic ham.”
Because the whole shoulder weighs around 15 to 18 pounds, it’s more common for butchers to split it into these subprimal cuts. But which one is better on the smoker?
Both are good choices, but we think pork butt is better for pulled pork because the meat has more intramuscular fat than the lower shoulder. Meanwhile, the shoulder is a good option if you want to carve the meat into neat slices for a dinner party.
It’s not always easy to tell the two apart, but you should be able to once you’ve seen them often enough. The butt has a rounded, compact appearance, similar to the barrels that gave it its name. It also has a generous cap of fat on top, with lots of marbling.
When pork shoulder is sold with the skin on, it’s easier to distinguish it from the butt. Even when the skin has been removed, though, the cut has a more lopsided shape. Though it should also have a decent fat cap, there isn’t as much marbling laced throughout.
What Is a Dry Pork Butt?
When we first saw this term, we assumed that it meant the meat didn’t have enough fat on it to give it that rich, juicy texture. However, “dry pork butt” is actually a label that some big-box stores like Kroger will use on their products.
If you inspect a dry pork butt, you’ll see that the cut includes a few inches of the lower shoulder, or leg bone, in addition to the barrel-shaped butt. That means it will probably weigh more than a traditional butt, which translates to a higher price.
The reasoning behind this creation is unclear. Perhaps the butchers are simply trying to offer a larger cut, especially if the hog was on the smaller side.
Or maybe they want to create an interesting contrast in texture and flavor, similar to what you would get when you smoke a whole beef brisket. Either way, you can expect a dry pork butt to be larger (on average) than a regular Boston butt.
Why Is It Called “Dry?”
The inclusion of the word “dry” is another mystery. For barbecue enthusiasts, the word “dry” has negative connotations. It indicates that the meat was either overcooked or didn’t spend enough time on the smoker to break down the connective tissue. So why “dry?”
Here’s our best guess. As we pointed out, the lower section of the pork shoulder doesn’t have as much marbling as the butt. So by including this segment, the butchers want to indicate that the finished product might not be as rich and fatty as you’d expect.
Again, it’s unclear why anyone would think this was a good thing, particularly anyone who’s in the meat-packing industry. But butcher terminology can be a confusing road to navigate at times, and this is just another instance.
One final thought: “Dry” might also mean that the meat wasn’t brined or injected before it was packaged for sale. But most of the time, these same labels also say things like “salt water added,” so this explanation is less likely.
How Much Does Dry Pork Butt Cost?
The price on dry pork butt seems to fall in line with what we’d expect to spend on Boston butt. A per-pound price of about $2 per pound is typical, but you might find it for as low as 89 cents per pound when it’s on sale.
Is the price worth it? We’ve talked to pitmasters who were turned off by the sight of the leg portion, particularly when the skin was attached. These individuals would be better off seeking out a regular Boston butt.
On the other hand, if you aren’t bothered by the odd appearance, you should be able to season and prepare a dry pork butt according to your favorite recipe. Just remember to take the extra weight into account when you’re estimating the total cooking time.
What If The Meat Turns Out Too Dry?
First of all, you might want to trim the meat less when you’re working with dry pork butt. Ordinarily, we suggest removing all but 1/4 inch of the fat cap. In this case, you should leave a bit more of the fat on the meat to compensate for the leaner portion.
If you’ve smoked a dry pork butt and found that your pulled pork wasn’t fatty enough for your liking, you can attempt to compensate by adding some lard or bacon fat when you reheat the leftovers. We’ve tried this even with regular pork butt, and it works well.
Leftover pork drippings can also help to rehydrate dry meat. Whenever you smoke a large cut of pork, save any excess juices and freeze them in an ice cube tray. Then you can pull them out and add them to your leftovers as needed.
The Bottom Line
As far as we’re aware, dry pork butt is not a common label, and you’re likelier to come across it at big-box stores. If you’re concerned about what it might mean for your barbecue, it should be easy enough to find an old-fashioned Boston butt elsewhere.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!