Can You Cut a Pork Shoulder in Half? The How and The Why

September 12, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

Yes, you can cut a pork shoulder in half lengthwise or widthwise. You can also opt to butterfly the shoulder by making a series of horizontal cuts along the meaty side of the shoulder.

Having worked as a prep cook in four barbecue restaurants, I have successfully prepared both cut and uncut pork shoulder for very keen bistro chefs. That said, I did find that it is easier and faster to handle pork shoulder when it is cut in half.

In this article, I will tell you how to cut pork shoulder in half and how to debone it. We shall also look at why you should cut it in half and answer some of your most pressing questions about pork shoulder.

Can You Cut a Pork Shoulder in Half

What is the Best Way to Cut a Pork Shoulder in Half?

If you are working with a frozen pork shoulder let it sit at room temperature for around 30 – 45 minutes before you start cutting. It will be easier to cut through.

Meanwhile, sharpen your boning knife. If you do not have one, I recommend this Victorinox Curved Boning Knife. Place the shoulder on a cutting board at an angle such that you will be directing the blade away from yourself as you cut.

Start By Trimming

Trimming excess fat allows the meat to cook more evenly and have a meatier bark instead of a very fatty one.

Using a gentle sawing motion, work your blade from the top of the cut and move along the entire length and width such that you end up with a separate blanket-like cut of fat. Preserve this for a different recipe that requires more pork fat like pork fat crisps.

Settle on a Direction

You can cut pork shoulder in one of three ways. You can cut it in half along its length, along its width, or you could opt to butterfly the shoulder. The choice purely depends on what you want to get from the pork shoulder.

Cut along the width which is against the grain of the meat to get two large chunks if you want to maximize on the tenderness that is needed when making pulled pork or pork stew.

Cut it in half lengthwise or along the grain of the meat to reduce the cooking time and you will end up with sturdy strips great for a recipe like pork strips or as a taco filling.

If the goal is to get a larger surface area for a more delicious outside bark after grilling, then cut horizontal strips along the shoulder and open it up like a butterfly.

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Can I Cut Bone-In Pork Shoulder In Half?

Yes. You can cut bone-in pork shoulder in half but it will not be easy especially if it’s your first time.

Place your meat with the skin down such that you can see the bone sticking out of both ends. Look out for the seam or membrane that runs horizontally throughout the cut.

With your fingers, carefully pull the meat aside with one hand, and with the other, make small cuts into it until the membrane pulls apart.

Keep up this cutting motion running from the wider side down to the end, flattening the shoulder and exposing the bone. Cut around and down the bone until you can hold around the big thick bone running through the length.

Tuck your boning knife into this nook and slide it down to detach the larger piece as demonstrated in this video. You are now looking at a boneless pork shoulder.

How Can I Cut Pork Shoulder Into Quarters?

You can also cut your shoulder into quarters by halving the halves. You will end up with 4 quarters of the cut.

I recommend keeping each piece between 2-2.8 pounds. Regardless of the size, it needs to cook low and slow because it is tough.

If you cut the pieces too small, the meat will burn during the cooking process before it has had enough time to break down the fat and connective tissue losing much of its flavor. Larger pieces are better for slow cooking.

How Can I Cut Cooked Pork Shoulder In Half?

If you do not want to handle raw pork, you can opt to cut it in half after it’s cooked.

Let the meat rest for around half an hour. Place it on your cutting board and run your boning knife straight through the middle. With the meat already tender, this will be much easier.

Alternatively, if you prefer to store a large chunk intact, use a carving fork to hold the shoulder in place and drag the pulled pork pieces that you need directly onto a plate.

I use the HENCKELS Carving Set.

Why Should I Cut Pork Shoulder In Half?

Here are 4 common reasons why people cut pork shoulder in half:

To Get More Bark

Cutting it is the best way to maximize surface area if you want a more delicious crispy bark.

To Cut Cooking Time

With an approximate cooking time of one and a half hours per pound, such a whole pork shoulder can easily take up to 14 hours on a slow cooker. Cutting it into smaller pieces will save you a lot of time.

To Serve a Few People

For a party of 3 or 4 people, a 9-pound cut of meat is too huge. It is therefore wiser to portion it into smaller pieces.

To Fit It Into The Smoker

Cutting your whole pork shoulder is the only solution if your smoker is too small to fit a whole picnic shoulder.

Roasted Pork Shoulder with Roasted Veggies

Is Pork Shoulder The Same As Pork Butt?

No. Pork shoulder and pork butt are two different cuts of meat. They come from the same area; the forelegs of a pig but they vary in texture and taste. Pork butts are more tender compared to the shoulder.

Pork Shoulder

The pork shoulder, also known as picnic roast or picnic shoulder, is a triangular cut of meat from the area right above the front hoof of a pig. It is a cheap cut that is most often sold with the skin on. It also contains a large layer of fat.

It is a very tough cut because the shoulder of a pig gets its fair share of exercise in its lifetime, thus strengthening the connective tissue and making it perfect for recipes that require firm pieces of meat like pork strips and taco filing.

Pork Butt

The pork butt also called the Boston butt, is the wider end of the front shoulder. The pork butt includes a shoulder blade and a lean butt. Pork butt has more marbling which means it has more fat.

For split pork butt, grab a sharp boning knife and start by trimming the fat cap and false cap from the pork butt before deboning it as demonstrated in this video.

Work your knife into the pork butt making small cuts around the bone until it is fully detached. Now you can slice your trimmed boneless pork butt in half. It is much easier to split raw pork butt than pork shoulder.

Pork butt can be cut in half lengthwise, width-wise, or butterflied as well. Pork butt has less connective tissue and thus smokes for a shorter time than the shoulder.

Pork butt is a great cut for making pork stew, ground pork, and sausages.

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How Long Does It Take to Smoke Pork Shoulder at 225 Degrees Fahrenheit?

At a low temperature of 225 degrees Fahrenheit, a pound of pork shoulder will cook for roughly two hours. It could take you between 12 – 16 hours to get a well-smoked pork shoulder based on how much it weighs.

To speed up smoking pork shoulder, keep the smoker temperature consistent and allow your shoulder to fully thaw before placing it on the grill. Cooking frozen pork shoulder will add to the cooking time.

Wrap your meat with aluminum foil to trap as much heat as possible. It promotes faster cooking.

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Alternatively, you could tenderize the pork with vinegar. Add two tablespoons of white vinegar to your preferred rub. Poke into the raw meat and rub it in generously. Let it rest for at least two hours before smoking.

At an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, your pork shoulder is done.

The Takeaway

The pork shoulder is one of the toughest cuts of meat but when handled right, can yield the most delicious tender results. Knowing how to cut it in half may not be easy but it is worth it. All the best!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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