Just to clear the tittering from the dinner table, a boneless pork butt roast comes from closer to a pig's head than its tail. This meaty shoulder-cut, usually between 3 and 6 pounds, is striped with some intramuscular fat, and, unlike a number of slenderized cuts of pork, still requires a good old-fashioned long cooking until tender. Dressed with Latin, Southern or Asian flavors, its succulence makes it well worth the wait.
In spite of its size, boneless butt can be traditionally dry-roasted in a shallow pan. This skinless, fat-capped roast is rolled and tied, then placed on a rack to prevent dripping fat from soaking the bottom of the meat. Slow-roast it between 275 and 325 degrees Fahrenheit, allowing at least 45 minutes per pound. You can both season this thick cut and help seal in juices by coating the roast with a paste of garlic, aromatic herbs and oil or mustard. When the meat has come to 180 F when tested with an instant-read meat thermometer, it's ready to come out. Let the roast sit for 10 minutes before carving, so that meat will be juicier and not shred when sliced.
A rolled, tied pork butt can be browned lightly in a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed roasting pan, then braised in liquid and finished with the addition of vegetables. Brown all sides of the meat in a little oil, season as desired and add 2 to 3 cups of water or broth. Add onion slices and other aromatics as desired. Cover the roast, and cook at 350 F for approximately 3 hours for a 5- to 7-pound roast. Take the pan out of the oven, and add potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables, cut into chunks. Recover the pan, and bake for another hour, or until vegetables and meat are tender.
This is a favorite method for cooks who want meat tender enough to create pulled pork. While boneless butt is often sold with skin removed, slow roasting begins with a skin-on cut. Some cooks prefer a bone-in butt, but the goals of ultra-slow cooking are tender meat and uniquely crispy skin, which can be achieved with a boneless cut as well. For an ultra-slow roast, seasonings can be as simple as salt and pepper, or as complex as your favorite barbecue dry rub. Set your oven to 250 F, allow up to an hour per pound and remove from the oven when the internal temperature reads 180 F. Add barbecue sauce to individual servings, or shred the meat and skin, then stir in sauce.
Boneless Butt Flavor Profiles
Whatever your roasting strategy, boneless pork butt works particularly well with tart and fruity flavors. For a pre-cooking marinade, choose the Portuguese mixture of vinegar and garlic known as vinha d'alhos, a simple salt brine or a mixture of wine and citrus juices, in imitation of the sour orange juice used in Spanish and Caribbean cooking. Allspice, fennel and peppers add flavors that blend well with and cut through the fattiness of the meat. Vary with Asian barbecue sauce or one of America's tomato-based classics. Boneless pork butt travels serenely through the thorny thickets of barbecue opinion, benefiting equally from red, white and brown variants. Vary the classic buns for pulled pork with corn muffins, spoonbread or rice. Corn on the cob or corn pudding and dark leafy greens, from steamed collards to spinach-orange salad make your meal a feast. Leftovers go great in whole grain wraps with coleslaw and a bit more sauce.