Pork shoulder is inexpensive, easy to cook and a good source of protein. Although it's a tough cut of meat, by gently boiling pork shoulder on the stovetop, the result will be a tender and flavorful roast that's just perfect for a picnic lunch.
Low and slow is the key to boiling pork shoulder. Simmering it for a long will tenderize the meat.
What Is Pork Shoulder?
As the name implies, pork shoulder is the cut of meat that comes from the front shoulder. It's fairly tough, which is why the American Meat Association recommends using low- and slow-moist heat cooking methods.
The upper part of the shoulder, known as blade shoulder or Boston butt, can be bone-in or boneless. It is often used for ground pork meat and sausages, according to the National Pork Board. Picnic shoulder comes from the lower portion of the shoulder. It is sold boneless or with the bone, which is called arm picnic.
Pork is classified as red meat because it contains more myoglobin than white meat, such as chicken. Myoglobin holds oxygen in the muscle and influences the color of meat, states the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Cooking fresh pork causes it to become lighter in color.
Read more: Is Pork Better Than Beef?
Pork shoulder is a tougher cut of meat with more fat and fibrous connective tissue than leaner, smoked ham. Therefore, gentle boiling will render the fat and make the meat tender and juicy. This is because heat breaks down the protein collagen, which is responsible for the toughness of the meat. A January 2018 article in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety reports that cooking the meat enriches its taste, softens its texture, increases its safety and improves nutrient digestibility.
Cooking Boiled Pork Shoulder
If you are preparing a less tender cut of fresh pork, such as picnic shoulder or shoulder blade Boston butt, it's recommended to cook it in a liquid, according to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Cooking pork shoulder on the stovetop by simmering it in water may require several hours at a lower temperature to make it tender — or even longer if you're cooking Boston butt on the stovetop to make pulled pork.
When cooking pork shoulder on the stovetop, you can sear the meat first to cultivate the flavor. The National Pork Board recommends cooking the roast over medium-high heat in 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil until browned evenly on both sides. Then, add enough liquid to slightly cover the sides of the pork.
To make the meat more flavorful, add salt, peppercorns, garlic, ginger, rosemary or other herbs and spices. Cover the skillet and heat the water until it simmers.
Pork Shoulder Cooking Temperature
Keep the water temperature between 100 and 175 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the range where muscle fibers contract and break down collagen to form a gel-like substance that tenderizes the meat, according to the Institute of Food Technologists.
Avoid letting the water reach a full rolling boil (212 degrees Fahrenheit). When water exceeds 195 degrees, meat proteins toughen, says the American Meat Science Association (AMSA). The FSIS lists the cooking time for a 3- to 6-pound boneless shoulder butt as two to two and a half hours.
Cook the meat to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit to eliminate disease-causing parasites and bacteria. Undercooked pork may cause trichinosis, according to the FSIS. Plus, pork may carry other microorganisms, such as salmonella and listeria, which are destroyed by cooking.
Use a meat thermometer to confirm that the boiled pork shoulder has reached a safe temperature. Remove the meat to a cutting board and allow it to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming, advises the AMSA.
After the meat cools, you've got the makings for a delicious boiled pork shoulder sandwich. One tasty idea is to pair it with whole-grain mustard, caramelized onions, lettuce, mayo, pickles and Swiss cheese on fresh crusty bread. A side of coleslaw makes your picnic complete.
Nutritional Benefits of Pork Shoulder
Pork compares favorably for calories, fat and cholesterol with many other types of meats and poultry. A 3-ounce serving of cooked pork shoulder picnic roast contains 194 calories, according to the USDA. Of the 10.7 grams of total fat in 3 ounces of pork shoulder, 3.7 grams consist of saturated fat. The Dietary Guidelines recommend you limit your consumption of saturated fat to less than 10 percent of your daily calories.
Pork shoulder delivers 80.8 milligrams of cholesterol in a 3-ounce serving. While the Dietary Guidelines don't give a definitive recommendation for cholesterol intake, you should consider eating as little cholesterol as possible in a healthy diet, according to the USDA's Choose My Plate.
Like most types of meat, boiled pork shoulder is a good source of protein and iron. This mineral is necessary for the production of healthy red blood cells. As reported by the USDA, pork also provides B-complex vitamins, which your body needs for energy, as well as calcium, phosphorus, and potassium. It is an excellent source of zinc and selenium too.
Read more: Pork Butt Nutrition
- USDA: Food Safety and Inspection Service: "Fresh Pork from Farm to Table"
- Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety: "Domestic Cooking of Muscle Foods: Impact on Composition of Nutrients and Contaminants"
- University of Nebraska Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources: "Pork Cuts ID & Cooking Recommendations - Boston and Picnic Shoulder"
- National Pork Board: "Pork Cooking Times and Temperatures"
- Institute of Food Technologists: "The Science Behind Sous Vide Cooking – And How To Explain It To Your Friends"
- American Meat Science Association: "Meat Cookery: Methods of Cooking Meat"
- USDA: "Pork, Fresh, Shoulder, Arm Picnic, Separable Lean Only, cooked, Roasted"
- Dietary Guidelines: "Appendix 7. Nutritional Goals for Age-Sex Groups Based on Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines Recommendations"
- USDA ChooseMyPlate: "2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines: Answers to Your Questions"
- National Pork Board: "Purchasing Pork - How to Identify Pork Cuts"