With plenty of marbled fat to keep it juicy and flavorful, a pork cushion roast makes a tasty and tender main dish. Once you understand what it is and how to cook it, you can easily tailor your recipes to include it as the star of the meal.
Where the Cushion Comes From
To make pork cushion roasts, butchers trim boneless picnic roasts, leaving you with a smaller roast that typically weighs 2 to 3 pounds. The picnic comes from the same area of the animal as pork shoulder and Boston butt. The picnic -- and the cushion roast -- come from the foreleg area of the shoulder. Much like Boston butt, the meat has plenty of marbling and connective tissues, which leaves the meat incredibly tender and flavorful when it's cooked properly.
Ideal Cooking Methods
Cushion roasts can be cooked using the same methods you normally reserve for Boston butts -- "low and slow." This method -- also known as thermal tenderizing -- relies on the steady heat from cooking to break the connective tissues down. As the tissues and collagen break down, the turn to gelatin, infusing the pork with moisture and loosely holding the meat together. The end result is incredibly tender meat that you can easily pull apart with a fork. To optimize the texture and flavor of a cushion roast, aim to keep the heat at 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Some of the methods that optimize the texture and flavor of a cushion roast include:
- grilling the roast over indirect heat. Set your grill up by light one burner of a two-burner gas grill, or the front and back burners or a three- or four-burner grill. To set up a charcoal grill, arrange the coals on either side of the center with a disposable aluminum pan in the center to catch any drips.
- slow-cooking the roast. Let your slow cooker do all the heavy lifting for you. Add the roast, along with any aromatic vegetables such as onion and garlic. Place the lid on the crock and cook the cushion on low until it's tender.
- oven-roasting the meat at a low temperature along with a little stock or sauce to help keep the meat moist. Baste the roast occasionally to keep it tender.
No matter what method you use to cook the cushion roast, if you keep the heat at 325 F, it should take three to six hours. Use an instant-read thermometer to make sure it's done properly. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends cooking pork to a minimum internal temperature of 145 F. To maximize the thermal tenderizing, cook the cushion roast to a higher temperature of at least 185 F, or until it's fork-tender.
To infuse the roast with rich flavor, start any recipe by searing the cushion roast until it's golden on all side in a heavy-bottomed skillet or over direct heat on the grill. The flavor of pork makes it very versatile and well suited to using in many different recipes. The seasonings and ingredients you use along with the pork cushion make it easy to switch things up. Some ideas include:
- making pulled pork. Make your own smoky-sweet dry rub by combining salt, brown sugar, smoked paprika, garlic powder, chipotle powder, ground black pepper, dry mustard, ground ginger and ground cumin. Rub the mixture liberally over the roast and cook it until it's fall-apart tender. Shred the meat with two forks and toss it with your favorite barbecue sauce.
- making savory pork tacos by seasoning the roast with a Southwestern-inspired seasoning blend made with oregano, cumin, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook the roast in the oven or in the slow cooker along with onion, garlic and some chicken broth. Once it's done, shred the meat and stir it into the cooking liquid. Add it to warm corn tortillas along with your favorite taco toppings such as fresh cilantro, salsa and sour cream.
- slow-cooking the roast in a flavorful sauce of chicken broth, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, honey, garlic, salt and pepper. Add carrots, potatoes and onions to the slow cooker to make a one-dish meal. Slice the cooked roast and serve it atop cooked egg noodles or alongside mashed potatoes and sauteed greens.