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pork shoulder vs pork loin

I have only cooked pork shoulder twice (a couple of attempts at pulled pork) and I found it to be very fatty. I trimmed away tons of surface fat but it was going all through it - blech! I have several recipes for pork shoulder that I would like to try that all involve very slow roasting. What I am wondering is can I substitute pork loin instead? It is less fatty but because it is less fatty will I end up with a slow roasted dried up hunk of jerky? Maybe it won't have enough fat?

I really dislike jiggly fatty bits in my meat. For that reason I'm a bigger fan of tenderloins but I try to be open minded.

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  1. Your suspicions are correct. No, you cannot substitute pork loin for pork shoulder and expect the same results. It sure sounds as if you have an aversion to pork fat. All you have to do is not eat it. Cook the pork shoulder and eat the meat and don't eat the fat.

    1. Don't substitute pork loin into a pork shoulder recipe - you'll wind up with hideously overcooked pork loin. The lack of fat is not the problem - the lack of connective tissue and collagen is. Pork loin does not make for decent pulled pork. If you want less fatty pulled pork, you'll just have to be meticulous about removing the fat from pork shoulder.

      Of course there's nothing wrong with pork loin. Just try to use a recipe made for pork loin so you cook it properly.

      1 Reply
      1. re: cowboyardee

        Very well stated, cowboyardee. Couldn't agree more. That smooth silky texture that comes from pulled pork, provided the majority of the fatty substance is removed in the process of "pulling", is gelatinized connective tissue. Without that, it's just another pork chop.

      2. Curious....On your two attempts at cooking pork shoulder...What was your cooking method???

        11 Replies
        1. re: Uncle Bob

          ...sigh....this will horrify you.... I don't have a smoker though one day.... Anyway the first time I used the slowcooker and the second time I did it in the oven uncovered. Both times they were cooked for about 8 hours. They fell appart nicely and the sauce was fine, I just don't like picking through the bits of meat to try to hunt out all the fatty bits. Maybe this is just a cut of meat that is not for me. The recipes always sound so good!

          1. re: julesincoq

            You didn't cook it long enough. Sure, it looked done, but it wasn't. Give it 10 hours (or more) at 250 and you will find that the meat and the fat are easily divided. You don't need to "pick through it" - just slide the fat and whatever connective tissue is still there away from the meat; takes about 5 minutes for a large shoulder.

            Loin is not well enough marbled with connective tissue to allow proper cooking via this method.

            1. re: julesincoq

              Maybe its not for you if you really don't like pork fat. Does you audience share your aversion? Me, I love it. And my teenage son and his friends go nuts for it.

              If your aversion is based on the notion that the fat is bad for you, you might want to reconsider. The common wisdom that eating fat is bad for you now seems overly simplistic and quite possibly counter productive. This is probably OT, but check out "The misguided war on fat may be making us sicker." http://www.slate.com/id/2248754/pagen...

              1. re: BernalKC

                Thanks for the tip but I have no fear of fat. Though animal fat is high in cholesterol and so not a healthy fat, that is not really my problem. I just don't like the feel. It seems icky and jiggly and gross - like undercooked fatty bacon - blech!

                1. re: julesincoq

                  if it looked like undercooked bacon then it def. hadn't cooked long enough

                  1. re: LaLa

                    For some people, bacon that isn't dark and crisp is undercooked. Only the skin on top of a pork shoulder is going to get like that. The rest of the fat will remain soft, unless you burn the meat. I happen to like that soft, but cooked fat (in moderation), but I can understand if others don't.

                    1. re: paulj

                      Nope don't like fat any kind any way. Not the chewy grisly stuff and not the soft squishy stuff. Blech. I desperately want to spit it out.

                2. re: BernalKC

                  Thanks for the link to that article BernalKC. This really helped me wrap my and my husband's head around my Dr.'s order to get more fat (60% of calories for the next 3 mo) into my diet. Funny as prior to diagnosis I thought using real butter and eating bacon or other fatty meat on the weekend was pushing it for healthy.

                3. re: julesincoq

                  That's not horrifying (even though I prefer cooking mine in the smoker). As someone else said, you didn't cook it long enough. I don't think pork shoulder/butt does well if it's not cooked to a "pulled" texture. Some people like sliced shoulder, but not me.

                  You should take the meat to an internal temperature about about 195(f) +/- a few degrees. How long that takes depends on temperature of your cooker, and size of your cut. Rule of thumb is 1.5-2 hours per pound, but as the old BBQ adage goes -- the meat will tell you when it's done. When you put your probe into the meat, it should offer practically no resistance. That should render nearly all of the solid fats and connective tissues in your shoulder.

                4. re: Uncle Bob

                  Once tender, but before 'pulling', you can easily separate the meat from most of the fat. A pair of heavy duty rubber gloves would let you handle the meat while it is still somewhat hot.

                  In terms of optimal cooking methods, the loin is much more like the tenderloin than the shoulder.

                  1. re: paulj

                    PaulJ - Strange but true - I've always found the 'hand method' easiest to pull the meat from the fat, or bone, or whatever. It helps a lot. I can appreciate the OP's aversion to the fat 'feel' - it groddies (don't think that's a real word) me out too. Quivery, jello-y and just nauseating..

                5. I have found that when I have a lot of fat in my cooked pork shoulder, I haven't cooked it slow and long enough. If it's cooked right and long, most of the fat just melt away.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: jeanmarieok

                    Fully agreed. Most of my long hours braising recipes of pork houlder is not as fatty as veal breast or pork spareribs!

                    1. re: hobbybaker

                      Really? I don't like ribs at all because of the fatty bits. Maybe I will try to do the pulled pork again but plan to cook it longer to ensure all the fat is gone. Perhaps first I should go to a good Bbq restaurant and order it so I will know what the real deal should taste like. Then if I still don't like it I won't bother to keep trying.

                      What prompted this enquirey was a post on the cookware board about a doufeu cooking pot and someone provided a link to a really yummy recipe for pork shoulder. I thought I might try using pork loin instead but now I know I shouldn't. The recipe sounds great I'm just leary of all the fat in a shoulder. Maybe I just need to cook it longer.....

                      1. re: julesincoq

                        julesincoq, actually I am the person who posted the link of the pork shoulder in the doufeu cooking pot:) Glad that you noticed the post! The recipe requires 5-6 hours braising, so I am sure that it will become not as fatty as the meats I mentioned. I will cook that pork shoulder one soon maybe nextweekend. Let's see how it goes.


                        At the blog, she has very nice photos with Le Creuset with brisket. It looks great, too.

                        1. re: julesincoq

                          The folks who claim the fat is easily separated are not fat-o-phobes.

                          You can pretty easily remove the large chunks of fat but you will need to take some time and really pick at it if you want most all of it gone. A good deal of the fat and connective tissue is within the meat itself.

                          But it's a fairly easy task.

                          1. re: C. Hamster

                            Most of the fat is between muscles. If you pay attention to how they divide, it's a lot easier to separate fat and meat. The loin is mostly one big muscle, so there is less fat - and connective tissue.

                          2. re: julesincoq

                            I can't stand to get a piece of fat in my mouth either. But I'm newly converted to pork shoulder in the crock pot. I was VERY skeptical.

                            1. Get a sharp knife and go to town cutting off the fat. Not just the big slab, but look between the muscles. You may have to sacrifice some meat. I have had varying experiences with this. Once I had no more than 1/2 the original weight left, but earlier this week I bought a "picnic" and it was not terribly fatty.

                            2. Cook low and slow for 8 or more hours. Drain the liquid that shows up in the bottom into a fat separator. Carefully pick through the meat removing all the fat you see. this will effectively "pull" the pork. Put the meat back in the crock pot and just keep it warm.

                            3. Let the drippings firm in the freezer. You'll have a layer of fat to skim and gelatinized drippings below. I spoon some of those drippings back over the pulled meat to moisten and flavor.

                            I don't know what the recipe you want to try is like, but you might be able to use a similar method. If there isn't an opportunity to pick out and drain off fat, though...you may not be happy. I was never able to come to terms w/ porchetta, just too fatty, and when I tried it w/ pork loin, it was a bit dry and bland.

                            1. re: danna

                              I'd be hesitant to cut too much fat off the meat before cooking. Granted, when doing it in a crock pot under wet heat, you don't have to worry as much about the meat drying out under the long cooking time, but the fat does help to lubricate the meat as it cooks. Most of it does collect at the bottom, and you can get rid of it. I usually keep ab out a 1/4 layer of fat covering the top, and after it's done cooking, there's little fat remaining in the meat itself.

                              Remember that one of the allures of pulled pork is the well lubricated meat - well, that the the grilled exterior that gets cut into the meat when it's done on a cooker. But even in the oven, you can still get some bark, and the fat really helps lubricate it.

                              At some point, when doing it in a slow cooker, and getting rid of all the fat, and then adding a ton of BBQ, it's really not pulled pork anymore. I think you can keep the true quality of pulled pork without resorting to cutting out all the fat. Cook to an interior temp of 195-200, and you'll be in great shape.

                      2. I make fabulous pulled pork which is inhaled by a fat-o-phobic family.

                        All you need to do is be very vigilent to remove the fat while shredding or pulling it. It's not that hard.

                        Do not attempt pulled pork with a loin.

                        1. I usually prefer using a Boston Pork Butt instead of a whole pork shoulder for pulled pork. Less fat but no pork skin for cracklings.

                          Here is a link to a post about making "pulled pork" successfully from pork loin:


                          1. I have only worked with pork loin for pulled pork sandwiches, chili, and carnitas. I never work with pork shoulder. It's not that I detest it. It's just I rarely buy pork that when I find pork loin on sale I make sure to find a use. ;)

                            I really should try it with shoulder since I'm sure it's a better price than loin. I always cook the loin in my slow cooker and it is such a torture smelling it all day cooking. :D

                            4 Replies
                                1. re: Crockett67

                                  oooh...good news. I'll try that next!

                                  1. re: danna

                                    Yeah just throw it in with olive oil and rough chopped onions on the bottom, 2-3 cups water, and whatever spices / seasonings you want. I cook it at least 6 hours on low. Shred it up and place it back in with the onions and juices.

                            1. Usually when I smoke a Pork Butt {shoulder butt} it takes a good 12 - 14 hours at 225'ish. It will stall at 165'ish for a few hours. Once it hits 200F internal, you foil it and rest for 30-40 minutes, or up to an hour. The "Wiggle Bone" is a built in thermometer..... if the wiggle bone dont wiggle out with light pressure.... it aint gonna pull.

                              "Bear Paws" are the preferred tool these days for pulling/ shredding. They also come in handy for lifting a big hunk of meat, http://www.onestopjerkyshop.com/bear-... I also use them instead of the pokey fork thing when slicing big hunks of meat.

                              Its possible to slice pork butt.... but having a less than perfect Gallbladder.... meat that greasy is not my thing.

                              Pork Loin or "Amazon Brown Snake" is lovely sliced. Especially in the form of Canadian Bacon. You just need some Nitrate ... Tenderquick, Prague powder... or supposed no nitrate nitrate in the form of celery juice... some brown sugar {or MAple Sugar} and about 10 days in the fridge. For Pork Shoulders, my preference is Butt Bacon. And obviously the best use for Beef Brisket is home cured Pastrami.

                              1. don't worry! I think substitutions are a great idea for when you're trying to be health concious. Let's be honest - food loaded with fat tastes great, but you can't eat like that every day.
                                I think whether or not you can sub pork loin for shoulder also depends on what your purpose is. For example, I want to make a soup that calls for pulled pork shoulder. Well, I have pork tenderloin on hand and I've successfully made nice juicy pulled pork from this tenderloin in the crockpot - you just need enough liquid so it won't burn.
                                In these recipes, can you use something with less fat while preserving the juicy and tenderness of the meat?

                                1. If you want rich flavour and don't want the fat try look for pork that is dark in color. Another thing you can do is to cut the pork thinly, apply some corn starch and salt and a little liquid, the starch will help the meat to retain moisture and prevent the meat fibers to tighten up. It works very very well but only suitable for some recipes. Also, try to find a place with a large selection. The fat content can vary dramatically. I have found pork belly with nearly nothing but fat and pork belly with nearly all muscle and no fat and everything in between. the light colored lean cuts simply cannot withstand prolonged cooking. Also notice the fat distribution, if the fat is mostly in large blocks between muscles you can remove it easily. If the fat is within the muscle it will require very low and slow cooking to render it all out. For example, duck is extremely fatty but almost all the fat is right between skin and meat, you can simply peel all of it off after cooking.

                                  1. 4 years late, but I disagree with not substituting. I too cannot handle biting into anything but lean meat. I have had great success with using pork loin - not to mention better health benefits and NO acid reflux as a result of the fat content. If interested, here is what I do . . . and my friends and family can't get enough.

                                    Salt and pepper the pork loin and roast in the oven (~3.5 hours) with ~ 1/2-inch of water in the bottom of the pan. Don't let the pan dry out during roasting. When the loin has a nice golden crisp outer layer, remove and place on a cutting board. Pour the drippings from the pan and set aside to separate, or put into fridge to coagulate. Discard the top layer of fat.

                                    Peel the outer fatty layer off and discard. With a couple of forks, start pulling the meat apart (shredding length wise) and place into slow cooker/crock pot.

                                    Add the desired recipe for pulled pork, hot wing sauce, bar-b-cued pork, or your favorite seasonings for carnitas. Add a little water to the pot, and the separated brown drippings from the pan. Cook on medium to low for 2+ hours in your slow cooker, and I promise you'll have a pot full of irresistible, lean and mean pork!