I love to cook, but with just two of us in the house, I get tired of eating the same things over and over. My husband would be perfectly happy to eat the same thing day after day, but luckily he’s willing to try my more creative “recipes”, which are often a combination of whatever is in the fridge.
But in 2020, it’s my goal to actually plan meals, prep them on weekends and have food ready all week long. I know this would have been a big help after work in 2019 and will be an even bigger help in 2020 when our family grows by one this February!
Although I haven’t been great at pre-planning, my favorite strategy is to use one protein and see how I can add different seasonings and sauces to the leftovers so I don’t feel like I’m eating the same thing over and over. And it’s a big bonus that I always have a freezer full of meat to choose from.
There are two main pork ingredients that I like to use that have the most versatility: Pork Butt and Pork Sausage. I’m going to talk about the pork butt here.
If you're more interested in sausage recipes, click here.
You can really go a lot of different directions with a pork butt. It’s great for shredding but it can also be great if it’s sliced thin either before or after you cook it. But your end goal will determine how you treat it along the way.
Starting with the shred-able options: Pulled Pork, Carnitas, BBQ Pork, Pork Ragu, it’s up to you.
I really enjoy pulled pork and carnitas because the flavor of the pork can really shine through and isn’t masked by a sauce. And this way you’ll have a nice base to add other sauces to for dinner tomorrow and the next day. One dirty pan and a few hours in the oven could feed you several meals in a week and none of them would taste the same!
I made a delicious, pull-apart, fork tender roast for Christmas this year that was super simple. No special ingredients needed: 4 lb pork butt, salt, sugar, and some spices.
>>Skip the details, I just want the recipe.
The rub I used was what was leftover from my honey ham rub, but I’m sure that you could adjust it to your own liking or what’s available in your cupboard. And the best part is that I had shredded pork leftovers that I could dress up as carnitas and bbq pork sandwiches.
Sugar & Spice Rub:
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ tsp seasoned salt
¼ tsp onion powder
¼ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg or allspice
¼ tsp paprika
Preparing your Butt:
There are a couple of prep steps that I like when I’m roasting a pork butt. Ideally, you should allow your roast to thaw for 1-2 days in the refrigerator so that you don’t shock the meat with a microwave or other rapid warming method. If you didn’t get a chance to pull it out early, there’s a good chance it will still be frozen in the middle even if the outside is softened. You can speed up the process by allowing it to thaw under room temp water that is slowly running. I don’t suggest leaving your meat on the counter to thaw all day or overnight because that can give harmful bacteria and opportunity to grow, even if it’s still sealed and you plan to cook it. If your roast is partly frozen, you can still cook it but it could take 50% longer and you’ll risk drying the outside out while the inside catches up to temp.
Once your meat is thawed, you should trim the fat cap down to around ¼ inch thick and then cut hash marks through the fat so that your seasoning will penetrate. For the best flavor, I typically leave all that seam fat (fat between the muscles) attached until after cooking and then sort it out later.
Seasoning your Butt:
At this point, I coat all sides of the roast with salt using a shaker and rub it in. Then I coat it on all sides with my Sugar & Spice rub and rub it in and place it in an oven-friendly pan, fat-side-up so it basically bastes itself as it cooks. I don’t find the need to add any moisture to a high quality roast that has sufficient fat, but if you use a roast that is very lean or very pale in color, you will need to add some cider, juice, or beer to the pan.
I like to let it set for a couple of hours so that all the flavor from the rub has time to soak in a little. I left mine at room temperature which theoretically allows the meat to acclimate a little more but isn’t long enough to have a concern with bacteria growth. This step can be skipped if you don’t have time. A little internet research will teach you that people have strong opinions on whether acclimation at room temp helps with juiciness, but not everyone agrees of course.
Cooking your Butt:
About 20 minutes before you want to start cooking, pre-heat your oven to 450°F. You’ll cook the roast for 20 minutes until the fat begins to brown, but not burn and then drop the oven temperature to 250°F and cover the roast and continue cooking until it reaches 190°F internally. This takes about 5-6 hours on a 4 lb roast. I use a digital thermometer with a probe and wire inserted into the center of the roast (not touching bone) set to alarm when it reaches 190°F. You can cook it faster at a higher temp, but low and slow is the best way to get a fork-tender and super juicy roast. Low and Slow helps break down the connective tissue that would normally make a piece of meat tough. As the meat rises from 160-200°F, it will turn the collagen connective tissue into gelatin, which is part of what makes the roast moist and succulent.
When you pull your roast out of the oven, let it rest for at least 15 minutes. You can wait longer, but make sure it stays above 140°F until serving. I leave my thermometer in the roast as it sets to make sure I’m not risking letting it get too cool. This little rest period will help allow the juices to return to the center of the meat and take some of the flavor of the rub along with it.
Serving your Butt:
It’s really quite simple, the butt will be fork tender, so you can use a couple of forks to pull it apart. I did this right at the table in a serving dish because I wanted to show off how beautiful the roast was and let people have the option of grabbing some of the deliciously crisp fat from the top, but you can always shred it prior to bringing it to the table if you prefer.
Diversifying your Butt:
After you’ve served it once, you’ll hopefully have leftovers. My favorite leftover options for shredded pork are to make pulled pork nachos, carnitas tacos, or add bbq sauce and put it on a bun. And one that I haven’t tried but plan to is to make Banh Mi sandwiches.
Sarah grew up raising pigs on her family farm. She has spent most of the last 15 years studying and teaching about meat, animal welfare, and food safety. She has a passion for pigs, pork chops, and teaching. It is her goal to help meat eaters understand what they're buying and how best to cook it, all the while getting into the nerdy nitty gritty details about meat and animals.