Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder

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This is so simple it almost shouldn’t be allowed. But it is. Put a seasoned pork shoulder in a heavy pot, cover it tightly with a lid, and put it in a low oven (it can be as low as 200°F/93°C or as high as 275°F/135°C—the lower the temperature, the longer it will take). As the pork slowly heats and the fiber tenses up, water and juices are squeezed from the meat, filling the pot with liquid and vapor. So dead simple, it almost seems like cheating—as long as you think ahead (at least 4 hours, but the initial cooking can be done a day or two in advance and finished as needed). Once the shoulder is done, it can be taken in any number of directions—here, the American South, Mexico, Eastern Europe, and Asia. (You can also use a beef shoulder cut, typically sold as a chuck roast, with the same cooking technique; see Hungarian Beef Goulash.) One of my favorite ways to finish a slow-roasted pork shoulder is with barbecue sauce, for an East Carolina or Lexington-style BBQ. But it can also be turned into a chili or a pozole.

As a rule, a bone-in pork shoulder will give you a better result, but they’re often sold boneless, and these work fine as well. This technique works with any size shoulder (it may be called pork butt or Boston butt at your grocery store or butcher’s). I usually plan on 8 ounces/225 grams per serving, so a 4-pound/1.8-kilogram bone-in shoulder will be enough for eight people. If you’re using a boneless shoulder, count on 6 ounces/170 grams per serving. Leftovers will keep for up to 5 days in the refrigerator and also freeze well, so I find that making extra is never a bad idea. A larger shoulder will need closer to 6 hours in the oven.

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Ingredients

  • 1 (4-pound/1.8 kilogram) bone-in pork shoulder, or 1 (3-pound/1.36-kilogram) boneless pork shoulder
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method

Preheat your oven to 275°F/135°C.

Give all surfaces of the pork a generous coating of salt. Put the pork in a Dutch oven or other large pot, cover it, and put it in the oven for 4 hours (or a little less for a boneless shoulder).

Remove the lid and check to see if it’s tender by shredding it with two forks. If it doesn’t pull easily, cover the pot and return it to the oven for another hour, or until it does.

If you’re in a hurry, you can cook the shoulder at 300°F/150°C for about 3 hours; or cut the pork into large chunks, add ¼ cup water, and cook it at that temperature for 2 to 2½ hours. If, on the other hand, you’ve got plenty of time, cook the shoulder at 225°F/107°C for 6 to 8 hours, or at 200°F/93°C overnight.

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