{meet the meat} Pork Shoulder

I’m not shy about my love of meat.   Some poor misguided soul recently confused me with someone who does “Meatless Mondays” on a regular basis.

Um… no.

Don’t get me wrong.  I do enjoy a nice veggie meal once in a while (I’m looking at you, mujaddara), but more often than not, what I look forward to is enjoying a nice hunk of meat.

When I realized that I could get a box of tasty, frozen, pastured meats once a month from West Wind Acres, I jumped at the opportunity.   I could not be more thrilled with the quality of the meats from them.    Like nothing I’d ever had from the grocery store.  AH-MAH-ZING.

The best part?  I have no idea what I’m going to get each month.  One month it was bacon, a whole chicken, ground beef, some steaks and some beef shanks thrown in as an “extra”.  The next was sausage and short ribs and a picnic section of a pork shoulder.  That’s what is inspiring me to start a {meet the meat} series.  With all the different cuts I’ve had to do a lot of research on what they are, where they come from and how to cook them.
Pork shoulder picnic cut

I’m not gonna lie.  I totally squeed when I saw the pork shoulder.   It’s probably my favorite hunk of pig.   The shoulder is the front section of the hog, usually sold in two separate sections the “Boston Butt” which is the top section and the “Picnic” which is the lower section, often sold with the skin on and with the bone in.  (Caveat: sometimes it’s sold boneless, skinless and rolled just to make things confusing).

When I’m making sausage or pulled pork, my “go to” cut is the butt. It’s marbled with fat which means after roasting, it shreds beautifully and stays moist.  The fat to meat ratio  is about 70% lean to 30% fat which means that you have to add less fatback when grinding for sausage.  You should know that I am not making those numbers up. I got them from Meat:Identification, Fabrication, Utilization by Thomas Schneller

(Side note: Chef Schneller is an amazing butcher and a wonderful teacher. If you ever get a change to take his Enthusiast classes as the CIA, I highly recommend you go)

But when I want carnitas or pernil, I go for the bone in picnic cut.  It’s a tough muscle that requires long roast, but it holds together more than the butt because it’s leaner.  By leaving the skin on with a nice layer of fat means that it stays moist without having to add any liquid.  I never cut the bone out because I think that roasting with the bone adds flavor, just as if you were making stock.

I was first introduced to pernil while working in an office with several Puerto Rican ladies.  We had a potluck and Miriam brought in a fantastic pork dish that was garlicky and savory and melt in your mouth delicious.   At the time, I was not really interested in cooking much of anything that didn’t come from a box so I enjoyed it, thanked her for a fantastic dish, and tucked that memory in the back of my head. The 40 year old me looks back at that 20 year old me and curses myself for not asking, no.. begging for her to share how she made it.

Thank goodness for the internets.

A few years ago, someone I follow on Twitter mentioned she was having pernil for dinner and I picked her brain about it.  As soon as she started describing it, the memory of Miriam’s dish came flooding back.  I needed to make this.

After a bucket of internet research, I realized that pernil is kind of like “Yankee Pot Roast”.  Everyone has a recipe.  They are all essentially the same.

You take your hunk of meat and stab it full of holes.

Then you make a paste of garlic, oregano, black pepper, salt and oil and shove it in those holes.
Shove-the-paste-in-there Basically you make a big mess which is always a fun time. gonna-get-messy

Then you sprinkle the entire thing with Adobo seasoning, wrap it up and let it lay chilly for a few hours or overnight. Haul it out of the fridge and roast it at a low temperature until it’s tender.

It should be noted that supposedly you can get a nice crispy skin if you crank the oven for the last half hour but I have yet to achieve this mysterious delicacy. Any Boricua out there wanna clue me in on what I’m doing wrong?

Because this skin is.. not crispy.. not by a long shot.

The meat is still very yummy though.

Carve the roast and serve with rice and beans.

{RECIPE} Pernil Al Horno


  • Pork shoulder picnic roast, with skin.  3-5 pounds
  • 12 cloves of garlic (I’m not even kidding)
  • 1 tsp of dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp SALT FREE Adobo.  (I like Penzey’s.  If you use that much Adobo that is not salt free, your roast will be pretty darn salty)


  1. Mince the garlic (or go the traditional route and smash it all in a pilón) and combine with the oregano, black pepper, salt, and olive oil.
  2. With a sharp knife, pierce the pork to create holes. I usually cut an X.
  3. Using your fingers, cram the garlic mixture into those holes.  Whatever doesn’t fit, just schmear it on the outside.
  4. Sprinkle the Adobo over the entire roast.
  5. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
  6. An hour before you are ready to cook, take the meat out of the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature.
  7. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
  8. Unwrap the meat and place in a roasting pan that is at least a few inches deep to catch all the drippings. I like to use my cast iron Dutch oven.
  9. Roast, uncovered, skin side up for 3-4 hours or until the pork is tender and will shred with a fork. (Dont’ shred it though.. just test the corner)
  10. To (attempt to) achieve crispy skin (again.. I’m looking for any help here) turn the oven up to 450 and roast for 20 to 30 minutes.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Jacob says:

    Look fantastic, good tip on the salt-free Adobo. It’s a lot harder to take salt out than it is to put more in.

    1. Jeni B says:

      Thanks Jacob! Yes, I learned the hard way on the salt free adobo… You could just omit it as well.. Lots of recipes don’t even use it. I happen to really like the flavor combo.

  2. Deanna says:

    Yum!! Here in North Carolina, we tend to make barbecue with pork shoulder. Smoked over a long period of time (6-8 hours), it is amazingly delicious! We love our monthly meat box for the same reason you do–it’s fund to have a challenge of cooking a cut of meat you might not ordinarily purchase!

  3. Kate says:

    I love pernil – it’s my childhood comfort food – and now I’m going to have to get some pork from West Wind! You just need to add some arroz con gandules with it!

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