I’m a butt man. That’s right, I said it loud and proud. I am very fond of legs and find the perfectly sized breast a temptation from which I have a hard time turning, but I cannot resist the butt.
Of course I am speaking of the Boston butt. The pork-puller. The part of the pig that fills my tamales, stuffs my barbecue sandwiches and occasionally gets sliced with carrots, potatoes and celery. The Boston butt was long dismissed as a less-desirable piece of meat that, in pre-Revolutionary War New England, was often packed for shipping into barrels called butts, hence the name.
The name Boston butt, therefore, has nothing to do with the anatomy of the pig. It has in turn renamed another part of Porky’s body, steering clear of his hind end and finding its home as the moniker for the upper shoulder nearest his spine. This is called the shoulder butt or blade shoulder, which preferably contains the bone of the region. The lower part of the shoulder is called the arm shoulder or picnic cut. This piece should always feature the bone, as it is the front leg of the pig.
For me the butt is the way to go.
I think I have cooked it using just about every method. The smoker is a great way, low and slow for that rich flavor. I have an old Brinkman that gets fired up from time to time, but recently acquired an electric smoker that should get some action soon. This is the route if you have all day. A 4-pound butt will easily take 7-8 hours holding that 200 F temperature steady. Is it worth it? Yeah, I’d say so, but you will be close to home for a long time should the fire need stoking and so forth.
Grilling is another great smoky option. You could even break that down into subcategories of gas, regular charcoal and lump charcoal like you would use in a Kamado Joe or Big Green Egg. If you are using gas it is best to cook over indirect heat, implementing a smoker box. These beautiful devices impart the smoke flavor from your wood chips of choice in the reusable $12 to $30 range. I’ve never spent more than $15 on one. Take care of it and it’ll last you a good while.
Of course, with charcoal there are hickory- and mesquite-flavored coals. I’m not against it. There are also the pellets that must be wrapped in aluminum foil, the cheaper version of the smoker box. The problem with the grill is the work it takes to keep that low and slow temp regulated. For best results the ceramic grills with lump charcoal work the best.
The Big Green Egg (I don’t have one but have used a friend’s) is the overachiever of grills. For Boston butts that statement still holds true. It’s so easy to keep it at your desired temperature for hours. I have cooked a 4-pounder at 300 F for a few hours and cranked it up at the end. I like the burnt ends and the crispy parts around the exterior of the bone.
The slow cooker is an easy way to reach pulled pork tenderness. Basically you season the butt and toss it in there. For best results you should find a way to lift the butt so it doesn’t cook in the fat drippings. A butt-lift could be a modified cooling rack, a punctured pie tin or wadded up balls of aluminum foil. Any non-melting, non-poisonous kitchen item could keep the fat rendering off of the meat. It’s another low and slow process.
So, I was in the mood for a nice butt. I picked a smallish one, about 3.6 pounds. But when I got home the rain set in. Hadn’t rained in weeks. Today there was a pretty good shower. Knowing the dodgy weather could delay my start time I canned the idea of the smokers. The boys and I simply fired up the oven.
At 300 F I started my butt burning around 1:15 p.m. This was after a good dry rub at room temperature. Coating every side and edge is key. I set it on a rack in a roasting pan with about an inch of water in the bottom.
You can read up, calculate, regulate and pontificate the best length of time it should cook. Some say 40 minutes per pound, and they are wrong. There is only one way to get it right and that’s with a meat thermometer. If you want a pork butt that is easy to pull then you must reach the magic internal temperature of 190 F You’ll see it get to 180 F and hold for a while. Once it climbs again, get ready to take it off the heat.
At the 180 F point (which is what I was looking for this evening) you’ll have a tender cut of meat that is very sliceable. The fat on the outside will be nice and crispy while the fat on the inside will be succulent. In my oven this took me roughly 4 hours. I needed another 45 minutes or more for pulled pork.
I don’t mean to brag but it was delicious. My almost vegan son tore into it. There was very little left at the end of the evening, and what was left will be gone by the end of breakfast. This was along with mashed potatoes, braised cabbage with green onion sausage, broccoli slaw with homemade dressing, deviled eggs and macadamia nut cookies for dessert. It wasn’t like we were just gorging ourselves on meat. But we couldn’t keep our hands out of it.
The Boston butt is surely one of the most foolproof dinners anyone can make. Just start the oven and cook until the desired temp is reached. The only variable from one to the next is the dry rub. I’ll lend you my tested version below. Simply take it in your hands and rub it all over your butt.
Dry rub ingredients:
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup salt
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp paprika