How much of the fat cap do you leave in place when trimming pork butt or pork shoulder for the smoker? And what should you do with the leftover fat afterward? Even if you’ve left most of the fat intact, is there any use for it once the meat is cooked?
Here, we’ll clue you in on our best-kept secrets on what to do with pork fat cap–both before and after smoking.
What To Do With Pork Fat Cap
The fat cap can contribute flavor and texture to the pork, but it’s important not to overdo it. We prefer to trim the fat cap to about 1/4 inch, then use the trimmings as a seasoning for other dishes. You can use what’s left of the fat cap to add moisture to the pulled pork after cooking.
How To Trim Pork Butt and Pork Shoulder
Before you add the meat to the smoker, consider trimming the fat cap. This should help you avoid the kind of flare-ups that will contribute a bitter flavor to the smoked meat.
For best results, trim the fat cap down until about 1/4 inch remains. That will leave enough fat to flavor the pork, while giving you a nice supply of trimmings as well.
Do You Smoke Pork Butt With The Fat Cap Up Or Down?
Experts continue to debate this question.
Some say it’s best to keep the fat cap on top, so the fat can “baste” the meat as it cooks. Others claim that the meat doesn’t really absorb the fat anyway, and this technique will rinse away the seasoning rub.
You also might flip the pork butt over halfway through the smoke, so you can benefit from both techniques. There’s also an argument for positioning the fat cap so that it faces the heat source, wherever that may be.
We usually put the pork butt on the smoker with the fat cap facing up. If the fat is directly above the heat source, it usually causes flare-ups, which will ruin the taste of the meat. This technique also allows the fat to render more slowly, so the pork can benefit from its rich flavor.
What To Do With Pork Fat Cap Before Smoking
Once you’ve trimmed the fat from the pork butt, you can use it to liven up a number of dishes. If you’re the type of chef who saves their bacon fat for later use, you should be able to appreciate what this practice has to offer. Here are some of our favorites.
Use It As A Base For Chili
The next time you make a pot of baked beans or a batch of hearty chili, melt some of the pork fat in the pan first. The full, savory taste will add another dimension to the dish.
Make Your Own Sausage
When you grind pork to make homemade sausage, you usually add cubes of chilled fatback from the butcher. If you have pork trimmings on hand, you won’t need to buy this extra ingredient. Use as much as necessary to give the sausage the texture you prefer.
Note: You don’t have to restrict its use to pork sausage. Venison and beef sausage will benefit from the flavor of pork fat as well. By the same token, trimmings from beef brisket can contribute a nice flavor to pork sausage.
Make Pork Scratching
This dish, which is popular in the UK, is made by seasoning the fat cap with the same rub you used to flavor the pork itself. Cut the cap into small pieces, add the spice rub, and then fry the pieces in vegetable oil, using a deep fryer or cast iron skillet.
Season Your Skillets
Speaking of cast iron, the trimmings can be used to season your pans after use.
Heat the clean skillet over medium-high heat, then add a small amount of pork fat, carefully rubbing it around with a paper towel as it renders. When you’re finished, the pan should be nice and shiny, with no visible puddles of fat remaining.
Create Homemade Lard
To make your own lard, dice the fat cap into tiny pieces. This task will be easier if you put the fat in the freezer for about 30 minutes beforehand.
Add the pieces to a slow cooker or a roasting pan. For a slow cooker, use the “Low” setting.” If using the oven, set the temperature to 225 degrees.
Slowly cook the pork trimmings until they’ve fully rendered. The lard is done when any cracklings have sunk to the bottom and then risen to the surface again. Note that if the lard is brown, it will still be safe to eat–it will just have a richer pork flavor.
Strain the lard over heatproof containers using a double layer of cheesecloth. Let it cool to room temperature. To store it, transfer it to the refrigerator, where it should keep for about a year.
What To Do With Pork Fat Cap After Smoking
Flavor The Pulled Pork
If you’ve left most of the fat cap intact, one good way to get rid of it is to add the drippings to the pulled pork.
After shredding the meat, take the leftover fat cap and squeeze it as hard as you can over the pork. Move from one of the pan to the other to ensure even coverage. Once you’ve wrung out the fat, discard what’s left of the cap and toss the pork with your fingers to distribute the drippings throughout.
Feed It To The Dogs
Those of us who have furry meat-loving friends will sometimes leave the fat cap in place so we can offer them a few tasty morsels after the barbecue. Cut the smoked fat cap into small pieces, and don’t give the dog too much at one time, especially if the fat was heavily seasoned.
The Bottom Line
Pork fat has numerous uses, and trimming the fat cap from a pork butt can help you take advantage of them.
While we like to leave at least some of the fat in place before smoking the pork, trimming the roast will help you avoid flare-ups. When the fat is trimmed to 1/4 inch, you shouldn’t have to worry about it rinsing off the seasoning rub, either.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!