Many people tend to confuse two completely different cuts of pork meat: pork shoulder and pork butt. Contrary to what many would believe, what is known as pork shoulder is located below the pork butt, on the foreleg area of the pig.
Pork shoulder, also known as picnic roast or picnic shoulder, is normally sold and prepared with the skin on, and it is an amazing choice for pork roast if you want to achieve that extra crispy layer of skin.
However, if you’re unable to find a good pork shoulder cut, or you’d simply like to try something similar, we’ve got great options for pork shoulder replacement!
The best substitutes for pork shoulder
Pork shoulder comes from the front area of the pig’s leg, and it is commonly a triangular cut. Usually, unless you ask for a different cut, you will get the pork shoulder with the skin and a layer of fat which makes it a great choice for pork roast.
Since the area the pork shoulder comes from is considered the active area (the pig uses its legs much more than other body parts), there will not be as much marbling as with other cuts. However, the layer of fat underneath the skin can make up for the lack of moisture.
Another thing to note about cuts from the most active parts of the pig is that they tend to be a bit more chewy and tough compared to other parts. This shouldn’t be too much of a problem, as long as you prepare the meat properly.
Being that the texture is rather tough, the best cooking method for pork shoulder would be slow cooking. Slow cooking allows for the meat to soften up and absorb the moisture so that it remains tender and flavorful on the inside.
Whether you’re braising, stewing, or cooking the pork shoulder any other way, this kind of meat benefits from a good marinade. It is recommended to keep the meat in a marinade for at least an hour before preparing it, but letting it sit overnight is the key to tender, juicy meat.
Another great method of preparing pork shoulder is using it ground. Since it isn’t too fatty, ground pork shoulder makes for a delicious lean burger, as well as meatballs and meatloaf, but you can also use it in pasta dishes such as bolognese.
When preparing a pork shoulder, if you’re preparing the whole cut without slicing it, it is necessary to take it out of the fridge at least half an hour before cooking it. In case you’re preparing it skinless, make sure to remove the skin prior to cooking.
Whether you’re roasting or braising the shoulder, we recommend you sear it beforehand. This will allow the cut to get crispy and golden on the outside, while the inside will cook during the roasting or braising process, and it will remain tender.
Regardless of the cooking method you choose, it is necessary to add some liquid that will provide the moisture this type of meat requires. By adding broth, water, or apple juice into the pan, you’re making sure the meat won’t dry out while cooking.
Slow-cooked pork shoulder with added moisture will turn out tender, moist, with a hint of sweetness. Are there any other meat cuts that will give you similar results? Let’s see what could be the best pork shoulder substitute.
1. Pork Butt
It is no surprise that pork butt would be the number one on our list of pork shoulder substitutes, as many people don’t even notice the difference between these two cuts. However, the main difference between the two is that pork butt does have marbling.
What this means is that pork butt normally won’t require much added moisture, as opposed to pork shoulder, as it is fatty enough to retain its moisture throughout the cooking process.
Another interesting fact is that the pork butt isn’t actually located on the bottom part of the pig, but it is taken from the shoulder area. It also includes certain portions of the neck, as well as the upper arm.
2. Pork Roast
Pork roast cut from the center is one of the most popular pork chops, especially if it is boneless. This substitute for pork shoulder is extremely versatile, as it is suitable for roasts, stews, as well as burgers, and meatballs when ground.
Since it is a rather lean piece of meat, it is prepared similarly to pork shoulder. You’ll get the best results by slow cooking it, making sure it is lathered in moisture so you don’t end up with a dry, flavorless, chewy pork cut.
Since it is so lean and easily cut, pork roast is an ideal piece of pork to get your pork steaks from. It is, therefore, one of the best pork cuts you can buy, since one large pork roast can yield both steaks and roasts.
3. Pork Escalopes
If you’re a fan of lean pork meat, you will definitely enjoy pork escalopes as an alternative to pork shoulder. This is a great solution if you’re looking for an even leaner pork cut than pork shoulders, as escalopes have little to no fat.
This pork cut is usually taken from the fillet, but it can also be the eye of the loin, surrounded by cling film. Pork escalopes are not marbled whatsoever, but they can include a thin layer of fat underneath the skin that can easily be removed.
However, when dealing with lean cuts such as this one, you want to make sure you’re preparing the meat properly to avoid a dry, dull texture. You will want to put it in a marinade prior to cooking it, as it will help the meat tenderize.
4. Beef Rib-eye Steak
Rib-eye steak is probably the number one option for many steak lovers out there, and it is definitely the best beef substitute for pork shoulder. This kind of steak is located in the rib area, and it isn’t too lean or too fatty, which makes it quite easy to prepare.
Depending on your preferences, you can get rib-eye steak boneless, or with a piece of rib bone in. Many people prefer to prepare this steak with bone, as it gives it a distinctive flavor and aroma.
Nevertheless, cooking the steak with the bone can be a bit tricky, as it doesn’t allow for an even distribution of heat, and the meat is often not cooked properly. Therefore, if you don’t have much experience with this cut, your best bet is to go with a boneless rib-eye steak.
5. Loin Steaks
This pork shoulder alternative is most commonly sold boneless, and it is also known as porterhouse or sirloin. These cuts often feature a thick line of fat around the lean part of the meat, which provides moisture and flavor and doesn’t allow for the meat to become dry.
Loin steaks can be slow-cooked just like pork shoulders, and they’re also a great choice for a BBQ. If you decide to slow-cook them or prepare them in the oven, it is best to pan-sear them on all sides to get a golden, crispy layer on the outside.
Similar to pork shoulder, loin steak will harden and become chewy if it’s not properly prepared. Therefore, it is recommended to cook it with an optimal amount of moisture – especially if the fat layer around it isn’t too thick.
6. Boneless Pork Leg
Pork leg, just like pork shoulder, is best prepared when slow-cooked. This kind of meat preparation allows for this kind of cut to tenderize completely and release all its juices and flavors, without losing all of the moisture on the inside.
Boneless pork leg requires added moisture since it doesn’t include much fat and it is a rather lean cut. Therefore, make sure to add some moisture when cooking it, whether it be broth, apple juice, or simply water which will keep the meat tender and juicy on the inside.
This pork shoulder substitute is a great choice for all kinds of stews, as it pairs well with veggies such as onions, mushrooms, carrots, and broccoli. It is also a delicious option for a traditional pork roast.
7. Beef Brisket
Yet another delicious beef substitute for pork shoulder is beef brisket, which is a lean meat cut, but when prepared adequately, it can be very tender and juicy on the inside. All you need to do is put it in a marinade beforehand and allow it to tenderize before cooking it.
If you’re afraid of the meat turning out dry and flavorless, beef is certainly a safer option as it contains more moisture than pork. Nevertheless, preparing the meat with added moisture and braising it is always works – especially if you’ve marinated the meat beforehand.
Beef brisket is extremely versatile, and it is a great choice for all meat-based dishes, including roasts, stews, pulled meat sandwiches, as well as burgers when used ground.
How to choose a pork shoulder substitute
If you’re looking for a juicier piece of meat and you don’t want to worry too much about moisture levels and adding the moisture yourself, you will love pork butt and loin steaks with a thicker layer of fat (make sure to emphasize this when buying the cut).
Also, beef alternatives, including rib-eye steak and beef brisket, are great options if you need a break from pork, or you simply want meat with a lot of natural moisture, as pork is generally drier than beef.
Pork roast, pork escalopes, and boneless pork leg are lean pork cuts that can easily get very dry and chewy if you don’t prepare them correctly. It is best to marinate them at least an hour beforehand and add moisture as they’re cooking to achieve that tender structure.