Pork shoulder is an excellent cut of meat, but not so many know of this flavor-packed pork cut; low demand means your favorite grocery shop may run out of pork shoulders often than you would want.
So, what do you do when you want to whip up your favorite pork shoulder roast, and you can find your beloved meat cut? What are the best pork shoulder substitutes?
Boneless pork leg, beef shoulder, beef brisket, and pork butt are some of the closest alternatives to pork shoulder that you can use when you can’t find the real deal.
And the best part?
They all hit close to home, delivering similar taste and flavor you would get with pork shoulders.
What Is Pork Shoulder?
Pork shoulder is simply a cut of meat that is very versatile and can be paired with basically anything.
Pork shoulders have all the desirable qualities you would want in meat cut in terms of size, texture, and flavor.
When using substitutes, you need to be mindful of the option you opt for as not all recipes can accommodate a replacement; meat cuts also have different cooking times, so you would need to tailor your recipe to the type of meat cut you opt for.
How Long Does It Take To Cook Pork Shoulder?
A whole pork shoulder needs to be cooked at low heat for an extended period. This is to prevent drying out the meat and ensure it cooks evenly.
Crisp up the skin of the pork shoulder using any method of choice before placing it in the oven at 350˚f for 2–2 ½ hours. When the internal temperature of the shoulder reaches at least 145˚f, it is ready.
Best Substitutes For Pork Shoulder
Remember, each pork cut has its own way of cooking, which may be longer or shorter than pork shoulders, so adjust your recipe accordingly.
1. Pork Butt (Boston Butt)
Pork butt and shoulder come from the same cutout of the pig, but they are actually different. Boston butt is cut out from the upper part of the pig’s body, and it gets its name “butt” because of the barrels the pork is put into.
It is an excellent substitute for pork shoulder; in fact, some people argue it is even better than pork shoulder. Both cuts have a long cooking time and will need to be slow-cooked.
Pork butt is sold in big chunks that weigh up to 3 kilos; when you buy this cut, you get to remove the bone yourself and cut it into desirable sizes.
Pork butt can replace shoulder cut as they have similar fat marbling and shape; it turns out perfectly well in almost all slow-cooking recipes. Both cuts are sometimes sold together and can be used in braising, stewing, roasting, or grilling.
2. Center Cut Pork Loin Roast
Center cut pork loin roast is a cutout from an area between the pig’s back leg and shoulder. The meat is very tender and is a popular, boneless part of the pig. The meat tends to have an even shape with less fat compared to other cuts.
The bone is usually cut out of the meat before it is sold as it is more tasteful and flavorful. This is a lean cut that can withstand long cooking times at high temperatures without falling apart.
It is not an expensive cut and can be found easily in markets. This meat cut is gotten from the full pork loin and is also known as a roast because of its size; a single chunk can weigh up to 2-4 pounds.
Center cut pork loin roast is a great substitute for pork shoulder because they possess similar structures. When cooked right, it turns into soft and juicy meat.
This meat cut is best used roasted; this is due to its log shape, which is similar to a rolled pork shoulder; roasting also adds a touch of extra flavor to the exterior part of the meat.
This meat cut can be cooked in similar ways you would pork shoulders and is a great replacement option for steaks. It is also perfect for stewing meat and even ground pork meat.
Cooking this piece of meat whole follows a process very similar to that of pork shoulders. First, to crisp up the skin / outer layer of the meat, it needs to be cooked at high heat, about 400˚f, for 20-25 minutes.
When crisped up, the temperature should be reduced to about 350˚f and roasted again for about 40-50 minutes.
The actual cooking time for a pork loin cut depends on its size, but it generally cooks faster than a shoulder cut. This means you should always keep an eye on the meat as it cooks, especially when grilling.
3. Boneless Pork Leg
This is a flavorful meat cut, and it’s commonly used in many recipes and needs to be slow-cooked, just like shoulder cut. It is a triangular meat cut from the area above the pig’s front leg.
Pork leg is also known as ham, but this depends on the meat’s processing method; it shares very similar characteristics with shoulder cut.
The meat from the inside top of the pork leg is best for virtually any pork shoulder substitution. This is the part closest to the pig’s back and has a similar structure; you can get it with the bone-in or deboned.
But keep in mind that this meat cut piece becomes much dryer when cooked as it often contains a lot less fat compared to shoulder parts.
Pork leg makes an excellent substitute for whole pork shoulder, but you would need to keep an eye on the moisture levels and ensure it retains most of its juiciness.
Cooking this cut follows a similar method to that of top loin roast; simply roast on high heat for 25 minutes, then reduce the heat and continue cooking for about 40-45 minutes, depending on how large the cut is. A good rule of thumb is to cook 1 pound of pork leg meat for 25 minutes.
The meat of this leg is also great roasted and makes for excellent pulled pork meat. You can add some sauce to add extra moisture and juiciness to the pulled meat and hide the dryness.
4. Lamb or Beef Shoulder
If you do not consume pork, a great non-pork substitute for pork shoulder is lamb shoulder which is basically the same cut but from a different animal. Both meat cuts possess similar characteristics but differ in taste.
Lamb usually has a more gamey taste than pork, which not everyone likes. You can also use beef shoulder instead of lamb.
Lamb’s shoulder is a great substitute for all pork shoulder cuts and pairs perfectly with any recipe. It can be used precisely the same way and sold in similar forms and cuts, and can be cooked exactly the same.
Lamb has different flavors and generally contains less fat. So you may need to check the recipe to ensure it will work with lamb and make any necessary adjustments.
To add extra fattiness to the dish, you can include oil, butter, or cream; this also adds moisture. Depending on the brine and temperature used, it may take a whole lamb slightly longer than pork to cook.
5. Beef Brisket
Many people choose to use lamb instead of beef shoulder; this is because of the unique flavor that lamb has that is lacking in beef.
Beef brisket is an exception to that rule. When marinated in the right brine, it soaks up the flavors of the seasonings and ingredients very well; this enables you to achieve a very similar taste to pork shoulder. Still, you may need to do some experimenting with your recipe.
Beef is also harder to dry out compared to pork because of its higher moisture content. Beef shoulder cutout is much larger than that of pork shoulder, so opt for a cut that is more or less the same weight as the pork version the recipe requires.
You can use beef shoulder in the same dishes you use pork shoulder in; steaks, blades, ground beef, rolled beef shoulder, etc. Beef brisket can be shredded just like pork shoulder, making it a good substitute for pulled pork.
What Meat Cuts Cannot Be Used as Pork Shoulder Substitute?
Thin cuts do not make an excellent substitute for pork shoulder as they usually don’t contain needed fat or moisture and tend to cook faster.
Slow roasting pork shoulder or any substitute takes a long time to enable the flavors to emerge, combine, and develop; this method, however, is not suitable for meat that can’t cook for longer periods.
Examples of unsuitable thin cuts include loin steak, loin eye steak, fillet, valentine steak, or collar steak.