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Can You Cut a Pork Shoulder in Half: How to Do It and Best Tips
Pork shoulder is one of the most versatile pieces of pork meat. You’ll find it used for preparing pulled pork, which is further used for taco filling, sandwiches, and whatnot!
When I used to smoke the whole pork shoulder, it’d easily take me more than 13 hours. Hence, I wanted to find a way to reduce the cooking time and realized that the best way to do it was by cutting the pork shoulder in half.
You can cut a pork shoulder in half by trimming the extra fat, deciding the cut direction, and then using a sharp butcher knife to cut through the meat.
If you want to know the steps in detail, stay with me till the end!
Is It Okay to Cut a Pork Shoulder in Half?
The pork shoulder is a big piece as it usually weighs between 12 and 18 pounds. So, cooking the whole thing can get tedious and time-consuming.
But, speaking from experience, you can cut pork shoulder in half. Another thing to note is that cutting it can even help you in many ways. Below are a few of them:
- Reduce Cooking Time
The biggest benefit of cutting pork shoulder in half is it significantly reduces cooking time. So, if you’re short on time, cutting the shoulder in half is the key to quick smoking.
The reason is quite straightforward. When you cut the shoulder in half, you’ll increase the surface area exposed to the heat. This way, the collagen in the meat will also break down quickly and lead to faster cooking.
You need to give at least two hours of smoking per pound of pork shoulder. If you’re smoking the whole pork shoulder, it can take more than 15 hours easily!
- Extra Crispiness
This is one of the reasons why I prefer cutting pork shoulder into two parts!
As I mentioned earlier, when you cut pork shoulder in half, the surface area exposed to the heat is more. Hence, you can apply more rub on it for an added delicious taste.
When you smoke it, this area will become crispier than the rest of the portion, and give you a beautiful bark.
- Best Option for Fewer People
Let’s be honest – smoking a huge pork shoulder for a small family, or just two to three people is both a waste of time and good meat.
Of course, refrigerating or freezing the smoked pork shoulder is an option, but it can ruin its flavor and texture. So, why not just cook less right from the start instead of worrying about storage?
When I had a small barbecue party with two special school friends, I decided to smoke just half pork shoulder. Trust me, I didn’t have to worry about storing any extra leftovers!
If you’re unsure, remember that as a general rule of thumb, one person consumes approximately 0.66 pounds (before cooking) of pork shoulder.
- Best for Small Smokers
Not everybody has a large smoker that can accommodate the whole pork shoulder (weighing between 12 and 18 pounds).
A few years ago, I also used to own a tiny smoker, so using half pork shoulder was a better option instead of stuffing the whole thing in!
How to Cut a Pork Shoulder in Half?
Now, let’s move on to answering your main question about how to cut a pork shoulder in half.
Believe me, the process is extremely straightforward as long as you have a sharp and powerful knife!
Step 1: Let the Pork Shoulder Rest for a Few Minutes (Optional)
Don’t cut the pork shoulder immediately if it’s frozen or refrigerated. The cold temperature will make it harder for you to get through the surface.
Instead, keep the piece outside for at least 20 to 30 minutes, depending on how cold it is. Once it returns to room temperature, you can follow the next steps.
Note: Don’t let the pork shoulder sit on the counter for more than two hours. If it hasn’t thawed enough after a few minutes, submerge it in cold water, and change the water at 30-minute intervals.
If the pork shoulder is frozen for too long, let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight.
Step 2: Trim Extra Fat
Fat is important to make your pork shoulder meat more tender, as it melts. However, let’s clear up a bit of confusion that you may have here.
When professional chefs and pitmasters say that fats add more flavor and tenderness, they’re specifically talking about intramuscular fat. This is present between meat muscles.
On the other hand, the extra fat present outside does more harm than good. It increases the cooking time and reduces the crispiness of the bark.
All you’ve to do to trim extra fat (thicker than ¼ inches) is gently cut through the pork shoulder both length-wise and width-wise. Pull on the skin and slice any fat beneath.
Step 3: Decide the Cutting Direction
There are three ways to cut pork shoulder in half – along the length, along the width, or through the butterfly cut.
If you want to reduce the smoking time and want long slabs, go for cutting the shoulder length-wise.
On the other hand, when you cut it along the width (against the grain), you can reduce the “stringiness”, responsible for less tenderness. So, I like to cut the pork shoulder horizontally when I’m planning to cook tender dishes, like pulled pork.
You can also cut the pork shoulder horizontally (butterfly cut) for a large surface area and more bark.
Step 4: Cut the Pork In Half
Once you’ve decided on the cut direction, place the pork shoulder on a flat surface or a cooking board. Then, press firmly on the meat’s surface as you cut through it, using a sharp knife. Ensure that you don’t accidentally cut your fingers!
How to Cut Bone-In Pork Shoulder?
Pork shoulder is available in both boneless and bone-in varieties at the supermarket. Now, if you’ve accidentally picked up bone-in pork shoulder, you can still cut it in half.
The only limitation? It isn’t easy to cut bone-in pork shoulder into half! If you haven’t dealt with tough bone-in meat before, I recommend going to a butcher and asking them to cut it in half.
However, you can try splitting it yourself by following the below steps once:
- Place the pork shoulder skin down on the counter. The bones should be visible from both ends.
- Locate the membrane located horizontally to the piece.
- Then, pull apart the meat from one hand, and make tiny cuts inside the membrane till you can pull on it.
- Continue cutting it from the wide side to the narrow side until the bone is exposed.
- Cut around the bone running across the length and detach the larger meat piece from the bone.
I suggest watching this video to get a clear idea about how to cut a bone-in pork shoulder in half.
Can You Cut Pork Shoulder in Quarters?
You can cut pork shoulder in quarters, as long as each section weighs at least 2.5 pounds if you’re planning to use an oven or a smoker.
On the other hand, it’s completely okay to cut and cook pork shoulder quarters, no matter the size, in a pot, sous vide, or slow cooker.
Just the way you halved the pork shoulder, you can further halve the two individual sections too.
You can turn smoked pork shoulder into so many things! But, you need to cook it low and slow, if you want it to taste juicy and tender. The best way to do this without spending a lot of time is by cutting the pork shoulder in half.
So, I hope this blog post helps you figure out how to cut the entire piece into equal halves!
Is pork butt the same as pork shoulder?
Pork shoulder can be divided into pork picnic and pork butt. The pork butt is the upper part of the shoulder, whereas picnic is the situated lower, near the knee. Pork butt contains more fat (more marbling) whereas pork picnic has higher muscle content.
Is pork shoulder a cheap cut?
Pork shoulder is one of the cheapest cuts of pork. However, it can taste as delicious as expensive meats, if you cook it low and slow.