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Pressure Cooking 101: Pork Shoulder / Pork Butt

Pork Butt / Pork Shoulder Roast

© 2013 ePressureCooker.com
 
One of the greatest benefits of using a pressure cooker is that you can cook less expensive cuts of meat — the ones that require long cooking times or braising — in a fraction of the time it would take using traditional cooking methods. Pork shoulder (also known as pork butt) is a prime example how you can save time, money and labor in making family meals with your pressure cooker. In this article, I will give you tips how to get the best deal on pork shoulder, as well as tips how to cook it in your electric pressure cooker.


Pork shoulder is one of the nicest pork cuts: whereas the more familiar pork chops and pork loin can easily end up overcooked, dry, tasteless or tough, not so with pork butt. It has a both a higher fat content and a lot of collagen in it, both of which add flavor and moistness, and become meltingly tender when cooked properly. Its also incredibly versatile: I will buy a whole pork shoulder, grind part of it up into ground pork (I make my own pork sausage, and since I trim the fat, its far leaner and healthier than commercial products.) I cook the rest in my pressure cooker, hand shred it, and use it for a number of different dishes: posole, hash, enchiladas, pea soup, pork tacos, and bean soup. You can also barbecue pork shoulder, or for a quicker weekday BBQ fix, heat some shredded pork in barbecue sauce and serve it on sandwich buns. Pork shoulder really is a versatile, inexpensive cut of meat, one which can be even more economical, if you know what you’re doing.

SHOPPING TIP One of the big secrets I’ve come to learn in the past couple of years is that meat prices take advantage of consumer ignorance. The same cut of meat is often cut up into different pieces and configurations, called a number of different names, and the prices charged can vary quite substantially. As you can see from this Chart of Pork Cuts and my own chart below, there are a lot of pork cuts that all come from the pork shoulder, but what you pay for them can vary considerably. Knowledge can help you save a lot of money on your weekly meat bill.

How to Get the Best Deal on Pork Shoulder


The least expensive way to purchase pork shoulder is generally by buying a whole, bone-in pork shoulder. (Don’t let the “bone in” part deter you, there’s only one bone in pork shoulder, its very lightweight, its pretty easy to remove, and if you’re cooking the meat in the pressure cooker, there’s no need to remove it anyway.) For those who live in Arizona, California or Nevada, Smart & Final usually has pretty good prices on both bone-in and boneless pork shoulder, and several times this year they had a 99 cents a pound sale. For smaller amounts, I can routinely purchase boneless pork shoulder, cut into “country style ribs” for $1.99 a pound at Costco.

SHOPPING TIP Shop strategically. Even if you aren’t planning on cooking pork shoulder in the immediate future, keep an eye on the sales, try to find out your market’s meat delivery schedule and know the butcher’s hours. My local Smart & Final gets their meat shipments once a week, on Wednesdays. Their sales end on Tuesdays, so by Tuesday evening, they are probably going to running low on meat. Even if I have no room in the freezer, I’ll go down Tuesday night, and most likely, they’ll be out of stock, and I can get a raincheck for the sale price – that locks in the sale price for me whenever I’m ready in the next 60 days.


Earlier today, I did a product and price check in the meat section of one of my local supermarkets. It’s illuminating: they charged $5.99 a pound for pork butt cut up into cubes (more understandable, given there’s labor involved), but whole pork shoulder was less than $2.00 per pound, and the various pork shoulder products ranged in price from $3.49 to $4.49, around double the price. I’d certainly be willing to buy in bulk and freeze some it for a 50% savings, wouldn’t you?

Supermarket’s Description of Meat Cut Price Sale Price
Fresh Pork for Stew $5.99
Pork Shoulder Blade Country Style Ribs $3.99
Pork Shoulder Blade Country Style Ribs (Boneless) $4.49
Pork Shoulder Country Style Ribs (Extreme Value Pack) $3.99 $2.49
Pork Shoulder Country Style Ribs (Boneless) (Extreme Value Pack) $4.49
Pork Shoulder Blade Roast (Bone-In) $3.49
Pork Shoulder Blade Roast (Boneless) $3.99
Pork Shoulder Blade Roast (Whole) $1.87
Pork Shoulder Blade Steak $3.99

How to Pressure Cook Pork Shoulder / Pork Butt


Using traditional stovetop methods, it would take several hours to fully cook a large chunk of pork shoulder. Before I had a pressure cooker, in order to reduce the cooking time to an hour and fifteen minutes, I would take a pork butt, trim the excess fat, and cut the meat up into 1″ cubes. It was not an easy task for a home cook, in spite of having a good sharp knife, it would take me the better part of a half hour, and my hands and forearms would usually be sore at the end of it. Then I’d have to keep checking the simmering meat every 10 to 15 minutes to see if I had to add more water. I don’t have to do any of that with an electric pressure cooker.

PRESSURE COOKING TIP: If you have the time, brown the large pieces of pork shoulder before adding them to the pressure cooker. Browning the meat not only gives the outside of the pork an attractive color, but also allows what is called the Maillard reaction to take place, in which additional flavor compounds are created. I prefer to brown the meat in a good skillet on my stove, because much as I love my Cuisinart Pressure Cooker, one of the few things it doesn’t do well is brown large chunks of meat. For best results, put the meat out on a kitchen counter, covered, and bring it up to room temperature, dry the surface of the meat with a paper towel before cooking (surface moisture will cause the meat to steam, not brown), pre-heat a good skillet with a small amount of oil, don’t overcrowd the pan (brown in several batches, if necessary) and cook the chunks until a good brown color on all sides.

Browned Pork Shoulder

I usually don’t remove the excess fat on the outside, I just cut the meat up into 1 – 2 lb. chunks, leaving the bone in. If I have the time, I will brown the large chunks of meat before pressure cooking them (see Browning Tips). You can fit 3 – 5 lbs. of meat into a 6 qt. pressure cooker. I will cook the meat in either 2 cups of commercial beef broth or 2 cups of water with 1 tablespoon of either Ham Base or Pork Base (both of which add additional salt and flavor). You can add other things, like pepper, a tablespoon of wine, sliced onions or minced garlic, but since I cook different cuisines, I like to leave it plain and flavor the meat further in the next recipe. One of the great benefits of having an electric pressure cooker is that I can set it to cook on high pressure for 55 minutes, push start, and then leave to do something else. Unlike stovetop pressure cookers, I don’t have to turn the burner up high to start pressurizing, then reduce heat once pressure has been reached, and continue to monitor that pressure is maintained during the entire cooking process. I can virtually set it, and forget it.

PRESSURE COOKING TIP: Per Lorna Sass’ recommendation, never use quick pressure release on meats, always allow cooking meats to depressurize gradually. (If you’ve never read any of Lorna Sass’ Pressure Cooker Cookbooks, I highly recommend them, they are far more informative about how to cook under pressure than any of the “pressure cooking for beginners” books I’ve read, and they have, by far, the most information about pressure cooking in general, and detailed explanations and charts of cooking times for different pieces of meat that I’ve seen.) Lorna recommends always allowing pressure cooked meat to de-pressurize naturally because if you force pressure release, it could actually cause the meat fibers to tighten and become tougher. I’ve followed this advice with great success.

Additionally, once the pressure has been released, I turn off the “keep warm” function, take the lid off, and remove the insert from the machine to allow the meat to cool inside the broth, and reabsorb some of the juices. (Don’t be surprised if there is a great deal more liquid in the pot than when you started, this is normal – the meat releases juices during the cooking process, fat is melted, and unlike more conventional cooking methods, pressure cookers retain a lot more of the moisture.) Once the meat and juices have cooled down for a while (it doesn’t have to be completely cold, just give it fifteen or twenty minutes), I remove the meat from the broth and put it on a plate to cool down enough that I can shred it by hand. Do not discard the broth! I prefer to shred the meat by hand because its faster, and I find it easier to identify pieces of fat for removal. The pork will be soft, but still have texture, whereas fat may have a slightly different color, and it will definitely have a softer, slippery texture. There’s plenty of fat still within the meat to keep it moist and flavorful, I just remove and discard the excess.


Once I have completed shredding the pork, I bag it up in quart size Ziploc bags, refrigerate 1, and put the rest in the freezer. As for the broth, you could try to skim the fat by hand, but pressure cookers are excellent at rendering fat, there’s going to be a lot of it in the broth, and there’s an easier way to separate it out. First, before you remove the broth from the bowl, note how many cups of liquid you have. You want to have at least 4 cups of broth, and in the event you don’t have that much, add some water until you do. Strain the broth in a fine sieve to remove any small particles of loose meat or fat. Place the broth in a lidded container in the refrigerator overnight. During its overnight refrigeration, the fats will all float to the top and harden, and the broth will gelatinize underneath (this is a good thing, the flavorful collagen from the meat has gelatinized, and when cooled will give the broth a Jell-O like consistency, but it will revert to a liquid when heated again). The next day, remove the fat with a spoon, and store it in a ziploc bag for uses I’ll explain in further posts, and then use the broth either to make gravy, or I generally use it for a soup base, often with posole, or bean or pea soup.

16 Responses to Pressure Cooking 101: Pork Shoulder / Pork Butt

  • Appreciative Cook says:

    Thanks so much for this most informative instruction. I had checked on several different sites and found this to be absolutely the best! I am cooking half a pork butt (5#) in my stove top pressure cooker for the first time. (Previously I have cooked it via the slow & low tempo method but needed to save time.) Your helpful hints throughout are indeed appreciated.

  • Thank you so much for your kind words, I’m glad you found this page helpful. If you have any questions or problems, feel free to come back and ask – I’ll be around working on my site today and would be happy to help you.

    If you didn’t catch it, I’ve also got a detailed Pressure Cooker Pork Shoulder / Pork Butt Recipe that has even more detailed instructions, and, if you live at altitude, has a link to a site that uses Google Maps to determine your altitude as well as a chart with all the revised cooking times for cooking at altitude done for my visitors.

  • Appreciative Cook says:

    You mention books by Loren Sass. I googled and see that there are many from which to choose. If you were to pick only one, which one would that be? Thank you.

  • Appreciative Cook says:

    Thank you!

  • Yani says:

    I just pressure cooked my first 2# pork shoulder, and despite coming out cooked seemingly properly, it came out tough. I couldn’t find a recipe for what I wanted so I sort of winged it a bit. It was 2 pounds boneless (whole – not cubed) in an electric pressure cooker, for 30 minutes, with maybe a cup of liquids. What might I have done wrong?
    Thank you, and I look forward to soaking up your website!

  • ePressureCooker
    ePressureCooker says:

    Hi Yani, sorry to hear you had disappointing results. I’ve never made a pork shoulder that small, so I’m not sure how long exactly it should have been cooked, but I can help you figure this out. So, just to make sure I have all the correct info, it was a two not a three pound pork shoulder, right? (That wasn’t a typo, in other words). And you had it on high pressure (approx. 10 PSI) right? And you’re sure the machine came up to pressure properly (by that I mean, the counter started counting down, and you didn’t just come back 30 minutes later and the machine had switched to “keep warm”)? (You certainly had enough water that the machine should have come up to, and remained under pressure.) Did you have a lot of vegetables (potatoes, carrots, etc.) in the pot as well? Did you use quick pressure release or allow it to pressure down naturally? I suppose I should also ask, you don’t live at a high altitude, do you?

    Assuming the 2 wasn’t a typo, and you used high pressure (approximately 10 PSI) and the machine came up to and remained at pressure, there are three possible scenarios. What you’re describing sounds an awful lot like the texture of a slightly underdone or slightly overdone brisket. Pressure cookers denature meat proteins fairly quickly, but it takes much longer and higher temperatures for them to break down the connective tissues, and pork shoulder has a lot of connective tissue. Did you notice a lot of intact pieces of “gristle” or what would seem like large pieces of fat? That’s a sign that the meat may have been slightly underdone, appearances to the contrary, and those connective tissues can be really tough if they’re not completely broken down. If this is the case, you could put it back in the pressure cooker for say, 10 minutes using natural pressure release (don’t force pressure release, in other words) or you could cube the meat into approximately 1 inch cubes and put it back in for a minute or two, then let the machine depressurize naturally. When the connective tissues are properly broken down, the meat should be soft, and the broken down tissues will convert into gelatin, which will improve the quality of your cooking broth (which makes a great base for split pea or beacon with bacon soup or pozole – don’t throw it out!).

    Alternatively, if you slightly overcooked the piece of meat, you probably would have found less “gristle” or large pieces of fat (high heat doesn’t denature all the connective tissues, just a lot of them) and the meat would have seemed dry, stringy and a little bit lacking in taste. When you overcook meat in the pressure cooker, it causes the proteins to squeeze and compress too much, pressing the juices and fat out of the meat and into the cooking broth, and making the meat tough again. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do about this once the damage is done. If I thought this was what happened, I’d bring the broth back up to a simmer (not under pressure, just a simmer and with the lid off) and let the meat cook very gently in it for 10 – 15 minutes to try to get the proteins to loosen up a bit, then I’d turn the machine off, and let the pork rest in the broth. This is like resting a steak once you cook it. Letting the meat cool down in the broth will allow the protein to relax and reabsorb some of the fat and juices that were forced out of the meat. This should at least improve the texture and flavor by sending some of the fat and liquid back into the meat.

    A complicating factor is if you used quick pressure release. This is tremendously good advice I got from Lorna Sass’ pressure cooker cookbooks. Never use quick pressure release with large cuts of meat, roasts, pork shoulder, pork butt, brisket, chicken or turkey parts, anything like that, always allow them to depressurize slowly, naturally. The reason for this is meat proteins are very long, very tightly bound coils. When they are heated, they “denature”, that is, they unwind, they loosen, and in some cases, they break into smaller molecules. Some of them may wrap loosely around each other. When you change the pressure rapidly by forcing pressure release, it essentially “shocks” the molecules, and in some cases they may react to the abrupt pressure change by tightening up, coiling up again, and squeezing out a lot of the liquid and fat that was trapped amongst the protein.

    Its okay to use quick pressure release with fish/seafood, ground meats, and small cubes of meat because in the case of the former, fish and seafood have molecularly different (and shorter) proteins than land animals, and in the case of ground and cubed meat, the proteins have already been mechanically cut up and denatured by the knife, and the shortened meat fibers are also often surrounded by fat cells, which help separate the protein strands and prevent them from tangling up together as much.

    If using quick pressure release rather than natural pressure release contributed to the problem, there’s not a whole lot you can do to rectify the problem. You could try a gentle simmer of the pork in the cooking liquid, allowing it to cool and reabsorb some of the liquid and fat, that might improve the taste and texture somewhat.

    Hope that helps you diagnose the problem, but if it doesn’t, let me know and we’ll continue to talk until we figure it out. And by all means, soak up all of my website you like. I love helping people.

  • Linda C. says:

    Yani, I make a lot of pork shoulder and pork butt in my Instant Pot. I also use 2 Lb. boneless cuts. I generally brown it first, but then I leave it in there whole with a cup of water and set it on high pressure for 40 minutes. Then I let the pressure release naturally when it’s done. It comes out fall-apart tender every time. It’s actually my favorite pressure cooker meat to cook. I haven’t had much luck with leaner cuts like pork loin or beef round roasts. Would sure like to find some fool-proof cooking times for those cuts!

    • ePressureCooker
      ePressureCooker says:

      Linda, I’m afraid I’m not surprised you’ve had some difficulty with pork loin – its particularly poorly suited to the pressure cooker. Pressure cookers work best with “working” cuts of meat, those involved in locomotion or weight bearing, from the neck, shoulder, or legs, that have a lot of connective tissue, and the pork loin comes from the least worked area of the animal, with little fat, little connective tissue, etc. If you still want to use pork loin in the pressure cooker, the best thing would be to brine it for several days before cooking, the salt takes quite a while to permeate to the center of the roast, and the salted water helps move it into the roast – the salt with both denature the meat proteins, making it more tender, and its presence helps the pork loin roast retain moisture as well. And you have to be very careful about cooking it just enough, no more.

      By “beef round roast” do you mean top round? That can be cooked just like a pot roast would. The fat content is lower, but other than that, its quite similar.

  • Yani says:

    Wow, so much more of a response than expected — thank you so much!!!

    Based on what you said, I think I fit a bit into both scenarios, but more so it sounds like I fit into the slightly over cooked scenario. It was edible, and tasted great, it was just a bit dry/tough. I was expecting juicy and falling apart, but we needed a steak knife on it.

    Since asking my question I’ve figured out that my 8-qt cooker gets a 12 psi! and only operates at High. Oh, also we browned the meat first. And yes, 2 pounds – 2.14 actually. We did natural release, and probably let it sit for a bit longer since we had a 3rd friend visiting. We decided it was done because my meat thermometer read 170, which I read was the proper temp for pork. I live close to sea level. The machine did get to pressure, then cooked for 30 minutes, I then turned warming off, and let release naturally. (Wow, so many variables!)

    I think our biggest downfall was trying something off-the-page on my first use of the machine, instead of sticking to a tried and true pressure cooker recipe, and we (my mom & I) couldn’t find specific info, so took bits of info here and there and guessed the rest of the way. I suppose considering our tactics, I should be happy! But I think I better follow some recipes first, and get the hang of things before I start winging it! :)

    Thanks again for your great response!!

  • ePressureCooker
    ePressureCooker says:

    Just out of curiosity Yani, what brand of electric pressure cooker do you have that reaches 12 PSI? First time I’ve heard of one that gets that high. Interesting.

    Yeah, browning, plus 30 minutes at 12 PSI probably was too much, it probably was overcooked. Definitely if you had to use a knife to cut through it. If cooked the right amount, you should be able to get it to fall apart with a little prodding with a fork, and hand shred it when cooled enough to handle with just your fingers. With my 10 PSI machines, you can do 4 – 5 pounds of pork butt in about 55 minutes, I should think 2 pounds in it would be 25 – 30 minutes, so if you try again, I’d stick to 20 minutes with the browning.

    And just FYI, what I told Linda re brining also works well on other kinds of roasts, including pork shoulder. Next time, if you brine your pork butt or pork shoulder for a few days ahead of cooking, it helps the meat retain moisture even when its overcooked. So that might be a little insurance policy in case you overcook again.

  • Yani says:

    Mine is an “Elite Platinum by Maxi-Matic”. My mom got it for herself, decided it was too big, and gave it to me. Then she bought herself another one! Another site said that anything below 13 was too low of a psi, so what I’m learning is that there are just a ton of variables. I thought this was going to be an easy journey, but I’m figuring out there’s a learning curve. That’s okay, I’m still excited!

    Thank you again!

  • ePressureCooker
    ePressureCooker says:

    You should be excited: once you start realizing how many things you can do with your machine, its going to open up a whole new world of things to you – the things that a pressure cooker does to tomatoes, oh yum, yum, yum, you have no idea how delicious tomatoes can be. And how quickly you can make ribs or pot roast. Note to self, check out Yani’s 12 PSI 8 Quart Pressure Cooker in future.

    The recipes here are generally written for 10 PSI, so you’ll have to cut down the time, and I’m afraid the hardboiled eggs recipe as written is right out if you can’t find a low pressure setting – your eggs would do very funky things – but most of the recipes here you could just adjust the time down a little bit. My Cuisinart model has been tested by America’s Test Kitchen as reaching 241° F (its billed as 10 PSI but apparently it actually spikes over 10 PSI and then settles back, which is why the first year I had it, I didn’t even realize it wasn’t 15 PSI, I was able to follow regular pressure cooker recipes without problems) and according to my calculations you should be able to get 244° F at 12 PSI, assuming sea level, so you should be just a little bit above one of my machines and closer to the 250° F of regular stovetop machines.

  • Linda C. says:

    Thanks for the tip on brining the pork loin, EPC. I’m going to give that a try. In this area of Northeast PA where I live, our stores carry top round roast, bottom round roast and eye round roast. I’ve always purchased either the top or eye roasts for roasting (the bottom ones are always tough). But I’ve tried the top round in my Instant Pot on High for 50 minutes with natural release and the meat was chewy. Thought I overcooked it so the next one I did for 40 minutes and it wasn’t any better. Any suggestions?

  • ePressureCooker
    ePressureCooker says:

    Good, try wet brining the pork loin first, be very conservative on the time you pressure cook, its better to put a pork loin under pressure too little time than too long, and then simmer additionally if you need to. You might also want to consider a gravy variation on my Mashed Potatoes and Gravy Recipe, where you start with either chicken broth or water with salt added as your cooking broth, add a little bit of baking soda to change the pH slightly and make a richer cooking broth, which you can then make into gravy for the pork loin slices.

    As for the beef cuts you mentioned, all of those come from the rump of the cow and as muscles involved in walking and weight bearing they might be far more suitable for stews and braising than pork loin is. Funny, I’d been thinking for a while now I wanted to write an article or two about the lesser used cuts that most people aren’t as familiar with as pot roast, but that are economical. Seems the stores are featuring cuts they never used to as their loss leaders because in this economy, people need to save money on their meat bill, but there aren’t many recipes for those cuts, people don’t know what to do with them. I’ve been playing around with 7 bone roasts, and right now I’ve got some beef chuck cross rib “steaks” in the fridge I’ve been trying to decide what to do with.

    According to that page I linked to, the top round (which is what you tried) is the least tough of them. Do you remember how much the pieces you tried weighed? What’s the PSI on your pressure cooker? The only one of those cuts I’ve used is the bottom round (sometimes sold as London Broil) and I’ve successfully cooked it in the pressure cooker, just like I would a pot roast, same length of time, and it came out almost the same as pot roast, though it had less fat than pot roast does.

    Aha! I just had a moment of inspiration, and checked my favorite pressure cooking cookbook, Pressure Perfect, which is a GREAT resource, and lo and behold, found some useful advice on this subject: “Bottom round rump roasts have enough marbled fat to work well in the pressure cooker. Top round and eye of round roasts are a lot leaner and the cooked meat is rather dry. I don’t recommend pressure cooking them unless you are partial to their taste and texture.”  So it doesn’t sound like you did anything wrong, that’s just the way they are.

    Though if you have any more in the freezer or you really wanted to try it, I’d dry brine them (you want to wet brine poultry and pork, dry brine beef) several days in advance to give the salt time to permeate the meat and denature the proteins and you might want to consider “larding” them – that is cutting small holes in the surface and adding some fat in the holes, that would certainly improve the juiciness and mouthfeel of the meat.

  • Yani says:

    Before you check out the Elite pressure cooker, it does not have the option to do High and Low. It only does High. If I were to buy a pressure cooker with what I know now, I would look for one that does both High and Low.

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