Pork Shoulder Primal Cut – Boston Butt, Picnic Shoulder

pulled pork

Pork Shoulder Primal Cut

The pork shoulder is the primal cut IMPS Item No. 403, Pork Shoulder. This includes the Boston shoulder and picnic shoulder. These cuts are well marbled, and low and slow cooking methods will break down connective tissues resulting in perfect pulled pork barbecue.

Boston Butt

The Boston butt has a curious name since it doesn’t even come from the back end of the animal. Boston butt comes from the upper part – or “butt end” of the arm. The name Boston butt comes via a bit of history. According to the Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book from the USDA, the name Boston butt came from Colonial New England butchers who would store and pack this cut of meat (barrels were called ‘butts’, and they came from the general area, thus “Boston butts.”).

From the Boston butt, which can be bone-in or boneless, you’ll get the roasts of the same name along with blade steaks and a portion of fat back and lard.

Boston butt is IMPS Item No. 406 – Pork Shoulder, Butt, Bone-In, the entire pork shoulder with the picnic removed. Breaking this down, you get the Boston butt boneless (406A, all bones, cartilage, and skin removed) and the lean butt (406B, M. trapezius muscle removed and trimmed of surface fat).

Picnic Shoulder

The picnic shoulder contains the picnic (boneless or bone-in), arm pork roast, and the shoulder cushion. It is the lower portion of the shoulder, and the term “picnic” cannot be used unless accompanied with the primal or subprimal cut. This is also called the shank end of the shoulder as it has the shank bone. This part has more connective tissue so cuts here work well with low and slow barbecuing, roasting, stewing, and braising techniques. When cured and smoked, the picnic shoulder becomes the picnic ham.

The picnic is Item No. 405 – Pork Shoulder, Picnic – the shoulder with the butt removed. Options for this primal are 405A (boneless picnic) and 405B (the shoulder cushion). The shoulder cushion is a boneless and very lean cut consisting of the M. triceps brachii muscle. The cushion can be barbecued whole, or cut up for stew meat or cutlets.

Image of Pulled Pork courtesy Pork Checkoff.


Renee’s love for tri tip almost surpasses her love for cake. Almost. Really, it’s a tough call here. When she’s not tasting BBQ and dipping in the sauce, Renee can be found at PastrySampler.com.

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