When cooking Boston butt, one kitchen adage holds true: The bigger the meat, the more stable the heat. Boston butt is a large cut of meat in any kitchen; an average size butt typically weighs 8 to 10 pounds before cooking. And, with their uneven shape and long cooking time, they need cookware that maintains heat in a uniform manner — exactly what a Dutch oven does best.
Trimming and Seasoning
Boston butt has a wealth of flavor on its own and doesn’t require a lot of spices. If you choose to marinate the pork or apply a spice rub, do so 12 to 24 hours before cooking it. If you intend to shred the meat and slather it with barbecue sauce, stick with simple salt and pepper.
Trim the pork of all extraneous pieces of fat. Fat is flavor, but Boston butt has so much intramuscular fat that the loose, hanging pieces contribute nothing to the overall flavor and moisture.
Liberally season the Boston butt all over with kosher salt 24 hours before cooking it. Seasoning tough meat early gets the connective-tissue breakdown process started early, similar to brining but without the water. Place the meat in a shallow dish and let it stand, covered in the refrigerator until about 1 hour before you want to cook it.
The only way to get that prized and caramelized crusty brown texture on the surface of pork shoulder is with a dry pan and high surface heat.
Let the pork sit at room temperature for about 1 hour. During this hour, the meat surface will reach room temperature — essential for a uniform sear.
Heat 2 to 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in the Dutch oven on the stove using medium-high heat. Then, lay the pork shoulder in the Dutch oven and let it sear to golden brown. It takes about 4 to 5 minutes of searing on each side to fully develop a caramelized crust.
Adding Aromatics and Cooking Liquid
Including aromatics, such as carrots, onions and garlic, are optional. However, if you plan to make a sauce with the pan drippings and remaining cooking liquid — and why wouldn’t you? You’ll never find a more fitting sauce base for meat than its own rendered fat and cooking liquid, so you should add them.
Take the pork out of the Dutch oven after it sears and set it aside. Deglaze the Dutch oven with 1 cup of stock and scrape the bottom to dislodge the flavorful bits of pork stuck to it. Next, add 1 to 2 cups of chopped onions, carrots and garlic and saute them until aromatic, about 5 minutes.
Return the pork to the Dutch oven and add enough liquid to cover the Boston butt by three-fourths. Water or stock both get the job done, but if you plan to make a sauce, use stock. Cover the Dutch oven.
Cooking and Maintenance
You can finish the Boston butt over medium-low heat on the stove or in a 250-degree-Fahrenheit oven — you’ll get the same results either way. If you need the stove space, use the oven, but if you want to keep the kitchen cool and you have the space, use the stove.
Cook the Boston butt on the stove or in the oven for 8 hours. Check the liquid every 2 or 3 hours and add more as needed to keep the meat covered halfway. Turn the meat over every 2 to 3 hours, as well. When the meat freely pulls apart by hand, take it out of the Dutch oven and set it to the side. Shred the pork when it cools enough to handle.
Pan drippings and cooking liquid are premium sauce ingredients — superior to anything you could get at a supermarket. In fact, you could simply reduce the cooking liquid, skim off most of the fat and use that as the sauce.
To make a barbecue sauce with the pan drippings and cooking liquid, strain them through a sieve and into a saucepan. Discard the vegetables. Set the saucepan over medium heat and reduce it to about 1 1/2 cups. Next, add about 1/4 cup of tomato paste or ketchup for every 1 cup of liquid. Season the sauce to taste with Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar or molasses and apple cider vinegar. Simmer the barbecue sauce until it coats the back of a spoon and. add kosher salt to taste.
References and ResourcesThe Kitchn: Technique: Slow Cooking Without a Slow Cooker
Serious Eats: Memphis-Style Barbecue Sauce