BBQ Meats: What is Boston Butt?
If you’re just starting out in your barbecue career, Boston butt is one of the best choices you can make for an impressive cut of meat that tastes amazing and is easy to manage on the grill. It’s cut from the hog’s shoulder (if you’re looking at a hog wondering what on earth could be called its “shoulders”, we’re talking about the front of the leg). The Boston butt comes from the top half of the shoulder, and it’s perfect for pulled-pork sandwiches.
Boston butt is good for beginners because it’s very hard to go so far astray that you can’t save it. For one thing, it has a high fat content, which means if you accidentally cook on too low or too high a temperature, you won’t completely destroy the tenderness of the meat. It won’t dry out easily and it also won’t burn easily. If you’ve been in the South for any period of time, you’ll know that Boston butt is a Southern tradition that’s often sold at fundraisers or given as a housewarming gift to new neighbors.
Where does the name “Boston butt” come from? Barbecue used to be broken down by the best cuts of meat, which went to the wealthiest people, and the less valued cuts of meat, which went to the poor folks. That’s where we get the expression “eating high on the hog”. Interesting fact: many of the cuts of meat that were considered “low” on the hog are now considered the most delicious cuts for barbecue – like Boston butt. The low-valued cuts were packed into “butts”, or barrels. The folks in Boston used to cut their shoulders in a certain way that became the common way to cut up a hog, and we now call it “Boston butt”.
How to Find a Good Boston Butt
With a Boston Butt, you’re looking for most of the fat to be already trimmed. Once you get it home, you want to trim the fat to about 1/8 of an inch, so if you can get the store to do the work for you, you can save yourself a little time and trouble. You’re looking for fresh meat, of course, and you’ll generally get the best results from a local butcher when it comes to Boston butt.
Remember that you’ll be cooking a Boston butt for quite awhile. Often your butcher will sell them standard at 7-10 pounds, but that size can take anywhere from 12-14 hours to cook. Your best internal temperature should be about 190 degrees for a Boston butt, which can take quite awhile to achieve, so if you’re not prepared to devote a day to the project, you’ll want to find a smaller cut. In our store, we sell a 3-lb Boston butt that takes much less time.
Barbecuing Boston Butt
A full-on recipe for barbecuing Boston butt is a subject for a whole new post, but here are a few tips to start you out: you’ll want the connective tissue and fat to break down while you smoke, so you’re looking for an internal temperature of 190. Usually Boston butt will “plateau” at around the half-way cooking mark, which means it will stop rising in temperature and hold steady at 160 degrees or so. This is completely normal and it will start rising again, so don’t try to increase the heat or you’ll burn your meat. Expect to cook for about 2 hours per pound of meat.
A good way to tell if your Boston butt has been cooked all the way through is if the bone pulls out easily. If you struggle to get the bone out or if meat is still clinging to it, you’ll want to let it cook longer. After all, a pulled pork sandwich doesn’t work very well without pork tender enough to pull apart, does it?