How to Cook Pork Shoulder
Learn how to braise or slow cook pork shoulder to yield tender, succulent meat that's delicious sliced or pulled. The Taste of Home Test Kitchen demonstrates a foolproof method with step-by-step photos and pro tips.
By Kelsey Mueller, Senior Digital Editor and James Schend, Food Editor
Pork shoulder is my back-pocket dinner. I buy a big piece at the Saturday market, throw it in a pot with some herbs and wine and cook it until it's fork-tender. Braising pork shoulder is foolproof and mostly hands-off—plus, it's hugely versatile, setting me up for a week of dinners: sliced with polenta and topped with sauce, sandwiched in a baguette with julienned veggies, stirred into pasta, tucked into tortillas with avocado and transformed into soup with chopped vegetables.
Learning how to cook a pork shoulder is simple. Follow along with our step-by-step guide, complete with tips from our Test Kitchen. We'll walk you through the stovetop method (a classic braise) and a slow-cooker method.
How to Braise a Pork Shoulder
Braising is a method of slowly cooking food in a little liquid in a closed pot. It's ideal for cooking hard-working muscles, like shoulder, because the meat breaks down slowly, becoming meltingly tender.
- 1 boneless pork shoulder butt roast (3 to 4 pounds), in chunks or whole
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1-1/2 to 2 cups beef or chicken broth, beer, wine or water
- Aromatics such as an onion, garlic or carrots, chopped; herbs and spices such as bay leaf, oregano or thyme
- Salt and pepper to taste
Step 1: Prep the Ingredients
Take the roast out of the fridge a half-hour before cooking. This helps it cook evenly and keeps the meat tender.
Chop some vegetables. You can use whatever you'd like, really. Think onion, celery, carrots, parsnips or garlic. These add flavor to the meat and sauce. Also consider adding dried or fresh herbs. For a classic flavor, use bay leaf and thyme. For a spicier twist, add cumin, coriander and oregano. Have a couple carrots but no onion? No worries! Hate celery? Skip it. This recipe is super flexible and forgiving.
For now, set the aromatics aside.
Step 2: Brown the Meat
Pat the meat dry with paper towels. This helps it brown nicely.
Set a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Let it get nice and hot, then add oil. When the oil is hot (it'll flow quickly across the bottom of the pan), add the meat. Cook until the meat is thoroughly browned. This can take several minutes. Flip and repeat browning on each side.
Test Kitchen Tip: Browning meat caramelizes its exterior, yielding extra flavor. If you're short on time, however, you can skip this step.
Step 3: Add Aromatics to the Pot
Remove the meat (carefully!) to a plate. Wipe any black spots from the pan with a paper towel, but leave the browned bits in there—they'll add tons of flavor.
Add the chopped vegetables and aromatics to the pot, along with a dollop of oil if the pan looks dry. Saute until the veggies take on a bit of color, scraping the pan as you go.
Test Kitchen Tip: If you'd like, pour a splash of wine or beer into the pot, and let it boil until it reduces by about half. The alcohol will burn off, leaving rich flavor in its wake.
Step 4: Add Meat and Liquid
Return the meat to the pot, along with any drippings from the plate. Add your liquid until it comes about halfway up the sides of the meat. You really can use any liquid: Water will take on the taste of meat and veggies; broth or beer will add even more flavor.
Cover the pot tightly. (Seriously!) If the lid doesn't seal well, place a piece of parchment under the lid.
Step 5: Get Your Braise On
Bring to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer. Let the meat bubble away until it's fork-tender. (A fork will easily glide into the meat. For pork shoulder, this takes two to three hours.) Slices go well with potatoes, roasted vegetables or sandwiches. If you plan to pull the pork, you'll need to cook it an additional 30 to 60 minutes. Pulled pork is delicious in tacos, pasta or sandwiches with BBQ sauce. It's tough to go wrong.
Test Kitchen Tip: Resist the urge to open the lid to peek inside. Doing so will allow moisture escape and lengthen the cooking time. Start checking after 90 minutes or so.
Second Test Kitchen Tip: You can do this in the oven, too. Bring the liquid to a boil on the stovetop, then slide the pot into a 325º oven. The cooking time will be about the same.
Step 6 (Optional): Make a Sauce
If serving immediately, move the meat to a serving dish and tent with foil.
Strain the cooking juices (the vegetables won't have any flavor anymore; they gave it all to the sauce). Using a spoon, skim the fat from the surface. Bring the liquid back to a simmer and cook until it has thickened. If needed, add a little cornstarch to help the sauce thicken: Whisk a couple tablespoons of cornstarch with water and add this mixture to the sauce, whisking until it combines. (Dumping starch directly into the pot will create clumps.)
If serving later, let the meat cool in the broth to keep it moist. Whenever you're ready to serve, remove the meat and then make your sauce.
Step 7: Eat!
Slice the pork with a carving knife, or pull the meat into shreds with two forks. Either way, be sure to trim off any fatty bits.
Serve the pork with some juices or sauce dripped over. Pork is delicious on its own, and it makes mighty fine leftovers. Enjoy!
How to Freeze Leftover Pork Shoulder
Braised pork shoulder freezes really well.
Let the pork cool completely. Freeze it right in its sauce in freezer-safe plastic containers or baggies.
To use, defrost in the fridge. Heat in a covered saucepan, adding a splash of broth if it's running dry.
How to Cook Pork Shoulder in a Slow Cooker
Using a slow cooker makes this recipe even easier. Just set it up, carry on with your day and come home to a meal.
The method is almost exactly the same as for braising, above. We break down the few differences below:
Step 1: Prep the Ingredients (as above)
Step 2: Brown the Meat
Most slow cookers can't get hot enough to sear meat, so brown your meat in a pan on the stovetop.
Note: You can skip this step to save time (and dirty dishes!).
Step 3: Add Aromatics to the Pot(as above)
Step 4: Load the Slow Cooker
Put the meat in the slow cooker and pour the sauce and vegetables over it. Add the liquid until it comes about halfway up the sides of the meat.
Step 5: Cook!
Cover the slow cooker and cook on low until the pork is fork tender, six to eight hours.
Once you master the basic method, it's easy to experiment with new flavors (lemon peel and thyme, perhaps?), different vegetables, and the many ways to use pork shoulder, like in taquitos and on pizza. Enjoy!