There are a lot of pork cuts available, and some of them are more widely used than others. If you’ve never heard of pork cushion meat, you’re not alone.
That said, as long as you’re willing to branch out beyond your comfort zone, this is a nice cut to add to your repertoire. What is pork cushion meat, and what is it used for? Let’s take a look at this lesser-known pork product.
What is Pork Cushion Meat?
Pork cushion is a triangular-shaped cut that’s taken from the anterior side of the picnic ham, which is also called the picnic shoulder. While pork butt can be sold either boneless or bone-in, the cushion is always boneless. The exact shape and size may vary, depending on how the meat is butchered.
About Pork Cushion
The pork cushion comes from the shoulder region of the animal—specifically, the segment known as the picnic shoulder. It’s cut from the anterior side and usually takes on a triangular shape, although this may vary depending on how the butcher carves up the spoils.
This cut is taken from a portion of the hog that gets a good regular workout. As such, the meat has plenty of flavor, though it also comes with a great deal of connective tissue. This makes it a better fit for stewing or braising than for quick-cooking methods.
A typical pork cushion will weigh between 2 to 3 pounds. That’s a generous size, but it’s more manageable than a whole pork butt, which usually weighs in at 8 to 12 pounds. The meat can be prepared the same way, but it’s important to keep an eye on the internal temperature so that you don’t overcook the smaller cut.
Pork Cushion vs Pork Butt
Although pork cushion and pork butt both come from the animal’s front leg, there are a few notable differences between the two.
First of all, the pork cushion is actually cut from the area just beneath the butt. When the hog is still alive, this muscle sees a great deal of action. In fact, the term “cushion” is used to refer to the muscle itself.
The pork butt, meanwhile, is not a highly utilized muscle. As such, the meat has a great deal of marbling, with plenty of intramuscular fat.
Because the pork cushion gets a lot of exercise, the meat has less fat. It’s also denser and tougher as a result. This means it may require a longer cooking time before the meat is tender enough to shred.
Where to Buy Pork Cushion
Some larger supermarket chains, such as Safeway, will stock pork cushion meat. If you can’t find it on the shelves, ask a sales associate for help.
In rural areas, pork cushion might be more difficult to find. This is when a good relationship with a local butcher comes in handy. Ask them if they can make a special order, and be sure to stress that you’re planning on making these dishes often. Chances are, they’ll be happy to help a customer who’s as enthusiastic about meat as they are.
How To Cook Pork Cushion Meat
As we mentioned, low-and-slow cooking applications are the best way to go, especially if you’re preparing pork cushion for the first time. The pork should be cooked to an internal temperature of 205 degrees Fahrenheit to make it tender and succulent.
One option is to cook it in a grill or smoker as you would pork butt, then use the meat to make pulled pork. This is the most obvious method, and one that many beginners will use to familiarize themselves with the cut.
Making Pulled Pork With Pork Cushion Meat
To make pork cushion pulled pork, start with 3 pounds of meat. If you’d like to speed the cooking process along, you can cut the meat into 3 separate chunks before you apply the rub.
In a small bowl, combine kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, cumin, brown sugar, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, and chili powder. Pat the pork cushion dry with paper towels.
Coat the pork cushion with a thin layer of yellow mustard. Use both hands to press the seasoning rub into the surface of the meat. Make sure that the pork is well-coated on all sides. If the spices don’t adhere, try adding a bit more mustard.
Place the meat in a bowl, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put the bowl in the fridge. Let it rest overnight, or for at least 12 hours.
Once you’re ready to start cooking, fire up the grill or smoker to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow the pork to come to room temperature before adding it to the grill.
Set the pork cushion on the cooking grate and close the lid. Let the meat cook until it registers 205 degrees Fahrenheit on an instant-read thermometer. At this temperature, this should take between 6 to 8 hours, depending on the reliability of the smoker.
Because pork cushion is leaner than Boston butt, you should spritz the meat periodically with liquid so that it doesn’t dry out. Use apple cider, apple juice, beer, chicken stock or just plain water.
When the pork is fully cooked, remove it from the heat. Wrap it in aluminum foil and let it rest for one hour before shredding the meat.
Mix the shredded pork with barbecue sauce, if desired. Serve on toasted bulkie rolls. Always be sure to refrigerate any leftover pulled pork within two hours.
Other Ideas for Pork Cushion Meat
Although the meat can be tough and chewy if it’s not cooked properly, there are ways to tenderize pork cushion so it can be enjoyed in multiple ways.
Before bringing your pork cushion meat home, ask the butcher to carve it into chops or medallions. Alternatively, you can perform this step yourself, but this will save you some time.
Once the meat has been cut into pieces, pound them to 1/4-inch thickness with a meat tenderizer. At this point, you can bread them and fry them up to make jaeger schnitzel or any other dish that calls for pork cutlets.
Another option is to marinate the cutlets. This will also have the effect of breaking down the connective tissue, which is what makes the meat less chewy when it’s cooked.
Pan-sear the prepared cutlets over medium-high heat for about 2-3 minutes per side, or until the meat is cooked through.
It’s possible to treat pork cushion as a regular roast, and prepare it in the oven at a moderate-to-low temperature.
In these cases, it’s better to cook the meat as you would a standing rib roast or other large cut of beef, rather than pork. That’s because normal pork roasts are made from leaner meat, so they require less cooking time.
For best results, roast the whole pork cushion at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour, then lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Continue to cook until the pork registers at least 145 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. This could take 45 minutes to 1 hour per pound, so make sure to plan accordingly.
In the Slow Cooker
Pork cushion works well in the slow cooker because you can add in a decent amount of braising liquid right from the beginning. The liquid will baste the meat as it cooks, so you don’t have to worry about dry meat.
Coat the bottom and sides of the slow cooker with cooking spray, preferably one that’s made from a neutral oil. Add a layer of onion slices, along with a few cloves of garlic, if desired.
Mix together your liquid ingredients. Chicken stock or broth is a reliable option, but you can mix it up and add soy sauce, vinegar, ketchup, or any other ingredients that work well with the other flavors you have in mind. Heat the ingredients for about 5 minutes in a small saucepan to allow the flavors to blend.
Season the pork cushion meat with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, then add the meat to the slow cooker. Pour the liquid on top and add in a handful or two of root vegetables, such as carrots or potatoes, if you’d like.
Set the slow cooker to low and let the pork cook for 7 to 8 hours. When it’s finished, the meat should be tender enough to fall apart when you touch it.
Unsurprisingly, the dense and flavorful meat of the pork cushion is a natural partner for hearty winter stews. Just cube up the meat and substitute it for the pork or beef in any of your favorite stew recipes.
To make a quick stew, use the leftovers from a pork cushion roast. Wait until the meat has cooled completely, then cut it into cubes. Add it to the slow cooker along with some aromatic vegetables, chicken stock, and dried herbs. Set the slow cooker to low and cook for 2 to 3 hours until the vegetables are tender and the flavors have blended together.
It’s important to wait until the meat has cooled off before cutting it into cubes. If you take this step too soon, the pork will shred when you cut into it.
You can prepare pork cushion meat in a variety of different ways, just as you might with any other cut of pork. However, remember that the meat consists of a lean piece of muscle that requires extra care. Otherwise, it might turn out tough and chewy.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!