So, you’ve got a big pork shoulder. If you don’t have the time to cook it whole, it won’t fit in your cooker, or if it’s too big for the crowd you’re cooking for, don’t stress.
Whether you have the prestigious pork butt or any other of the luxurious cuts from the pork shoulder, you can cut it in half, or even quarters to suit your needs.
Here is everything you need to consider when cutting your pork shoulder in half, what benefits it has, and how to do it depending on your cooking needs.
Can You Cut Pork Shoulder In Half Before Cooking?
If you’ve got yourself a hefty cut of pork butt or pork shoulder there might be more than a few reasons you want to cut it in half before cooking it. The good news, you CAN cut a pork butt or other cut of pork shoulder in half, without sacrificing juiciness or tenderness.
In fact, by cutting a pork shoulder in half you will:
Get More Bark
When smoking pork shoulder, I don’t think I’ve met someone who doesn’t like a nice, rich, dark black or mahogany bark. It’s hands down one of the most flavorful experiences in barbecue.
If you want to cook the whole pork shoulder, but you want to maximize the amount of bark you can get then you can cut your pork shoulder in half. This will increase the total surface area of the meat. What this means is that you will be able to apply more dry rub, it will absorb more smoke, and you will be left with more bark.
If you want to maximize the bark to meat ratio then you can actually butterfly the pork shoulder. You will still be left with incredibly tender pork but packed with way more flavor.
Cut Down The Cooking Time
When you’re going low and slow at around 225°F, your pork shoulder will generally take 60 to 90 minutes per pound to cook to your desired tenderness.
So, if you need to cook a 10-pound pork butt before dinner, and it’s already lunchtime, instead of reconsidering your menu you can actually just cut your pork into halves or thirds. This will drastically cut down your cooking time. This is due to the heat taking less time to reach the center of the meat and subsequently raising the internal temperature.
Feed The Right Amount Of People
As a rule of thumb, you’ll need 0.33 pounds of pulled pork per person. As pork can lose around 40% of its weight over the cook, you’ll need 0.66 pounds of raw pork per person. Knowing this, you can cut down your pork shoulder to size.
Always give yourself a little extra for second and third servings, and leftovers too!
Fit Into Smaller Spaces
If you’re dealing with limited space it’s good to know that cutting your pork down to size won’t take away from the amazing flavor and texture. Whether you’ve run out of space in your smoker or oven, or if you’re using an instant pot or an indoor smoker, cutting the pork into smaller chunks will help the meat cook in whatever space it’s in.
You’re not going to be able to sous vide a whole pork shoulder! And, although it might fit in a slow cooker whole, it will actually cook more consistently and better if you were to cut it in halves or quarters.
But, because you are cooking smaller pieces, be sure to cook it extra low and slow otherwise you may be left with tough pulled pork.
How To Cut Pork Shoulder In Half
Trim It First
It’s always easier to do the trimming of the fat before cutting it down to size. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but by removing some of the excess fat, it will help develop a stronger bark and also cook more evenly.
Remember, using a sharp, high-quality boning knife will make the job that much easier.
Watch below on how to trim a pork shoulder:
Length, Width, Or Horizontal Cuts
It’s entirely up to you in which way you want to cut down your pork shoulder.
For example, to maximize tenderness, cut it in half so it forms two large, square chunks. Or you can cut it lengthwise so you have long, thin, slabs.
In order to get the most surface area, you can cut in horizontally, butterflying the pork shoulder almost into thick-cut steaks. This will allow the meat to absorb maximum smoke, and produce the best bark to meat ratio.
When you’re cutting a pork butt, if you’re skillful enough you can actually keep the whole ‘money muscle’ intact, the prized piece of pork butt usually served in competitions. To us regular joes at home, it’s not necessary to consider, as you’ll be chomping the whole lot down anyway!
This same approach can be taken whether you have yourself a smoked pork shoulder, picnic shoulder, or pork roast.
Can You Cut A Bone-In Pork Shoulder In Half?
You can cut a bone-in pork shoulder in half, but it’s not so simple as you’ve got a big thick bone running through the pork!
It won’t be an easy task for a home cook, but if you do want a smaller bone-in pork shoulder you can ask your butcher and they should be able to prepare it for you no dramas.
Otherwise, you can either try cutting around the bone yourself to get the pork in smaller chunks, or debone it and then cut it in half. But, you’re not always going to win with this one.
What About Cutting A Cooked Pork Shoulder?
Once you’ve admired your cooked pork butt in all its glory it’s time to prepare it for serving. If you know you are not going to use it all in one sitting, then there are a few things you can do to portion it, retaining maximum moisture and its wonderful texture.
You can just simply cut it straight down the middle, or section it depending on how many people you are serving. Wrapping up the remaining half in tin foil will help keep the meat moist, and you can store it in the fridge for up to 3-4 days safely.
Your other option, which is what all great barbecue restaurants will do, is you can keep the pork shoulder whole and pull it to order. This way you are only removing the necessary amount of meat from the shoulder.
Can You Cut Pork Shoulder In Quarters
As pork shoulder is a tough, but fatty cut of pork, no matter the size the principle stays the same. It needs to be cooked low and slow. If the pieces are too small, they won’t be given adequate time for the connective tissue and fat to break down properly.
As a rule of thumb, you want each piece to be at least 2.5 pounds for the oven or smoker, but it can be less if you’re using an instant pot, slow cooker, or sous vide. So long as your pork shoulder pieces are around this size, you can cut it into halves, thirds, and even quarters, without losing that wonderful pork texture and flavor.