Pork offers wonderful variety in sizes, tenderness and texture of cuts. Varied names for specific pork cuts sometimes make substituting one cut for another confusing. Pork butt is a large roast, running from 3 to 6 pounds, from the top of the pig's front leg. The meat's coarse muscle fibers are interspersed, or marbled, with streaks of fat; the meat becomes fork-tender with prolonged braising. Only a few pork cuts share all the qualities of pork butt, making them more suitable if you're looking for a substitute.
Variety of Names
Before trying to find a substitute for a pork butt roast, check the meat case or ask your butcher for local names for this cut of meat. A pork butt roast may be labelled a Boston butt, Boston blade, shoulder roast, arm roast or some combination of these terms, depending on where you live or where your butcher learned his craft. Look for a large bone-in roast, with heavy marbling and an aitch bone -- part of the shoulder blade -- at the top. Locating what you want may simply be a matter of terminology.
Both front shoulders and hind legs contain roasts in the 3- to 6-pound range. Farther down the front leg, the arm picnic is stringier and slightly less marbled. The hind leg is usually divided in half, a top butt section and a lower shank piece. Meat on both is slightly more fine-grained than the shoulder butt and hind butt and hind shank are the source of fresh or cured hams. The other large roast is the sirloin. Meat is denser and less marbled than the legs.
Recipe Requirements - Braising
Cooking requirements for different cuts of pork are determined by tissue density and fat content. Meat tissue comprising the strong muscles needed for walking tends to be coarse and stringy. Moist cooking methods and long cooking times help soften these muscle fibers, making meat tender. Fat contributes heavily to meat tenderness, and marbling enhances tenderness during long cooking. Shoulder butt roasts, therefore, benefit from covered braising in a liquid, at 325 to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, allowing 30 to 35 minutes per pound. Arm picnic roasts and the shank, or lower-leg, hind leg ham, are also most tender when braised. Braising will produce meat that chops or shreds easily, making it useful for pulled pork, chili, stews and tacos.
Recipe Requirements - Roasting
A shoulder butt roast can be dry-roasted, at 350 F for up to 45 minutes per pound, allowing fat to tenderize the meat. For a similar roast, substitute fresh ham or sirloin roast, but adjust cooking times. The finer-grained meat of the hind butt, or ham, can be either braised or dry-roasted. Sirloin roast has the finest grain and lowest amount of fat-marbling. Because it comes from the back, not the legs, meat texture is less coarse than that of walking muscles. To prevent meat from drying out, hams and sirloin are usually dry-roasted like other loin meat, at 350 F for approximately 20 minutes per pound.
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