Roast Pork Butt

Pork butt is the name of the game today.  I was going over some old posts when I read an entry that included a Roli Roti mention and suddenly had an intense craving for roast pork with super-crispy skin.

Aside from the skin (mmmm, skin!), today’s pork is quite lean, which is one of the reasons I eat more of it than I do beef.  The flip side of this is that pork dries out and overcooks more easily and doesn’t always have that rich flavor it used to.  Not that I’ve ever had pork from ye olde times.  I just find that unless the pig was raised organically/free range and had its own Wall Street broker, it often tends to be a little too mild-flavored and dry for me.

How do I get the moisture and flavor I want?  I’m so glad you asked!  I apply the same technique I use for chicken and turkey:  brining.  This boneless pork butt weighed about 3 1/2 lbs and I submerged it in a large stockpot filled with salted water, bay leaf, sugar, crushed peppercorns, smashed garlic, and smashed fennel seeds.  I let the whole thing sit in the fridge overnight and the next day, I patted the skin dry, then slashed through it to the layer of fat below to allow some of the fat to render during roasting.  I left the roast uncovered in its pan in the fridge for a few hours while I ran errands–that allows the excess moisture on the skin to evaporate so that it cooks up really crisp.  I coated the surface of the roast with minced garlic.

And the result?

Roast Pork Butt

Roast Pork butt crackling

I know, I KNOW I’m going to go into cardiac arrest soon.  I don’t eat pork skin every day, I swear!

The sugar in the brine helps the skin brown and give it just the slightest hint of sweetness.  Feel free to substitute with brown sugar instead.

I cooked it the way I do turkey:  covered with aluminum foil for the first hour or so of cooking, then removed it for the rest of the cooking time.   I did this because steam heat helps the excess fat under the skin render out more efficiently (I learned this from my dad who says this is the secret to a fabulously crisp-skinned Peking duck).   It works for turkey, so why not pork?

I always under-cook large cuts of meat like this by about 5 degrees F because when the extra meat that’s been cooked to perfection the first time around is later reheated as part of leftovers or another dish, it ends up getting over-cooked.   A way to get around this is to serve only the ends of the roast (which are the first to cook through because more of the meat is exposed to heat), the middle part can be cut up and frozen/refrigerated.

Roast Pork butt closeup interiorLook how juicy it was!  This was cut from the end of the roast.

One thing I would do differently would be to omit the minced garlic because if you look at the middle picture, the garlic bits burned and makes the roast look a bit less appetizing and gives a slightly bitter taste.

The nice thing about cooking pork shoulder is the variety of dishes that can be made from it:  pulled pork, a bastardized version of tacos/burritos/empanadas carnitas, BBQ pulled pork, sliced thin into sandwiches, curry, stir fries, fried rice, spring rolls, and tossed into lentil soup.

Essential tools

  • Large stockpot
  • Oven thermometer
  • Instant-read thermometer
  • Roasting rack and pan

Roast Boneless Pork Butt

1/2 cup Kosher salt
2 cups boiling water
1 Tbs crushed peppercorns
2 tsp crushed fennel seeds (optional)
1 bay leaf
1/8 cup sugar (if using brown sugar, pack tightly into the measuring cup)
3 cloves garlic, smashed
3 1/2 lb boneless pork shoulder, tied (the butcher can do it if asked, or you can do it yourself)

Dissolve salt in boiling water.  Stir in all other ingredients except pork shoulder.  Allow to cool completely and add enough cold water to make about half a gallon in large stockpot.  Place pork shoulder in pot.  If necessary, add additional water so it covers pork by at least an inch.  Cover and place in refrigerator for six to eight hours or overnight.

Remove pork from brine, rinse briefly in cold water to remove bits of herbs/spices and place on rack set in roasting pan.  Pat dry and slash through skin and fat but not deeply enough to cut into the meat.  Place uncovered in refrigerator for three hours.

Preheat oven to 375 F (this will take about 25 minutes to achieve–use your oven thermometer to be sure).  Pour a cup of water (apple cider, white wine, or chicken broth are all excellent options).  Cover pan with lightly oiled aluminum foil and place in oven.  Cook for about an hour, then remove foil before putting roast back into oven.  Roast until center of pork shoulder reads 135 F on instant read thermometer.   Allow to rest for about 20 minutes before cutting.

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