How to Feed a Crowd 15 Ways With a Cheap Cut of Pork

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PIG OUT

For pork lovers on a budget, there is nothing cheaper than pork shoulder. It often goes on sale for less than $2 a pound and can even be found for less than $1 on a lucky day. An average-size, 6- or 7-pound pork shoulder feeds at least eight people, so a crowd can eat very well for less than $15.

Pork shoulder is sometimes called a "Boston butt" (or sometimes just "butt"), which refers to the top part of the shoulder, including the blade bone. This is a very flavorful, fatty cut with a good bit of connective tissue. A "picnic" cut, from lower down the front leg, has a long bone running through it and far less marbling. Both are hefty cuts of meat with hefty doses of calories and fat, but produce a meal of tender succulence after low, slow cooking. Either will do in a recipe stating simply "pork shoulder," although most recipes call for one or the other.

It's not worth it, most of the time, to pay extra for a boned shoulder, because the bone adds flavor during the cooking process. Just understand that, at the end, there will be no neat slices. Pulled pork, which derives from the shoulder, is a way to solve the serving issue -- the meat becomes so tender after its hours of cooking that it just pulls away from the bone.

Every pork-eating country in the world has come up with a way to cook this flavorful cut, and most of them are dead easy. The recipes tend to have strong accompanying flavors to stand up to the long cooking time and deep taste of the meat, and an overnight marinade is usual. Given that the oven has to be on for many hours, the waning days of winter and the chilly start of spring are perfect times to try these 15 pork shoulder recipes. Grill masters willing to spend the day tending coals can also make a delicious summer barbecue. Got leftovers? Shred the pork and use it in tacos, sandwiches, or even pasta.
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BRAISED PORK SHOULDER

The simplest way to cook pork shoulder is to braise it. The flavors seep in as the meat cooks, so it doesn't need a marinade. It's surprising how little liquid is necessary for such a big hunk of meat, but using a nice ale adds to the heartiness of the meal. This preparation calls for strong spice flavors such as fennel, coriander, and lots of garlic, as well as a bit of salt from some pancetta.

Recipe: Martha Stewart

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ROASTED PORK SHOULDER

Porchetta is a classic Italian roast, usually made from an entire small pig, stuffed with herbs and roasted for a day or so in a pit. Of course, most people don't have a pit available, and a whole pig might be a bit excessive, but it's possible to use just the shoulder and still feed about 10 people. Essential to a good porchetta are the skin and a good layer of fat on the top -- these make delicious cracklings to go along with the meat, which is marinated overnight in a paste of herbs and spices, then roasted for about four hours.

Recipe: The New York Times

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ASIAN ROAST PORK SHOULDER

Asian roast pork has a crispy brown skin made dark with the addition of soy sauce and fish sauce. Flavors added to the meat include star anise, garlic, and coriander. In a recipe originating from a Sydney restaurant, a picnic shoulder is marinated with the skin on for up to two days before a slow, five-hour roast in a Dutch oven or a roasting pan tented with foil.

Recipe: Bon Appetit

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PERNIL

This traditional Christmas treat from Puerto Rico is often accompanied by rice and peas. The pork is slathered in a marinade of pepper, garlic, vinegar, and oregano and sits in the fridge for up to two days. Then it's roasted on low for about five hours. Variations call for adding adobo, cumin, or chiles.

Recipe: Food.com

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CAUCASUS-STYLE BRAISED PORK SHOULDER

There's nothing unusual about the cooking method in this recipe. It calls for rubbing the meat with a paste of garlic and spices and letting it sit, then braising it in the oven for hours. What makes it unique is the combination of spices -- fenugreek, coriander, and red-pepper flakes -- which bring to mind its Eurasian namesake. The pork is cooled for eight hours after the initial braising period, then reheated and topped with vinegar and cilantro. Reviewers say the aroma alone makes the dish worthwhile.

Recipe: Epicurious

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PORK SHOULDER BRAISED IN MILK

This is a treat known in Italy as maiale al latte. Braising the pork in milk for hours produces some very tender curds that can either be strained out (and eaten separately) for a refined dish or left in for something more rustic. The creamy sauce makes the dish seem more difficult than it is -- just the thing to serve for a special dinner. The flavoring comes from sage and rosemary or bay leaves. Heavy cream adds to the cavalcade of cholesterol, while other recipes use white wine. Many forms of maiale al latte call for a boneless shoulder, but the bone can be left in with no ill effects -- with the possible exception of a longer cooking time.

Recipe: Williams-Sonoma

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SLOW COOKER PORK SHOULDER

With its low, slow cooking requirements, pork shoulder is an ideal candidate for preparation in a slow cooker. It couldn't be easier: Just throw the ingredients in the pot in the morning and remove a succulent meal in the evening. Brown sugar and vinegar adds a distinctly Southern barbecue tinge to a meal best served over grits or in pulled pork sandwiches.

Recipe: Southern Living

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LIME AND CHILE ROASTED PORK SHOULDER

The citrus in this recipe makes it redolent of South American tastes. The marinade also contains cinnamon, cumin, and chipotle chile in adobo. The roast is covered for the first few hours and uncovered for the last few, turning the fat cap brown and crispy.

Recipe: Food Network

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SUNDAY ROAST PORK

An old-fashioned British Sunday roast has pork shoulder as the star. There's nothing very unusual about this version -- it's just sprinkled with salt and pepper, and root vegetables are put into the pan during the final hour of cooking. The thing that differentiates it from an average roast beef is that it cooks for six hours.

Recipe: Jamie Oliver

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SLOW COOKER PORK AND BLACK BEAN SOUP

Stretch a small hunk of pork shoulder by making soup out of it. Black bean soup is a classic, and this recipe uses a slow cooker loaded with ingredients such as beer, cumin, and chipotle. After spending about five hours in the slow cooker, the black bean soup is topped with sour cream, salsa, and cilantro.

Recipe: Real Simple

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BO SSAM

Asian ingredients such as chili paste, kimchi, and fermented bean paste go into this Korean pork shoulder recipe from the famed Momofuku restaurant. After marinating in a rub of sugar and salt, the pork roasts for six hours and develops a caramelized crust. It is served in a wrap of lettuce leaves and sauces of soy and ginger or chilis with vinegar. One reviewer refers to it as "pork crack."

Recipe: The New York Times

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SOUTH CAROLINA-STYLE PULLED PORK SHOULDER

Every part of the South has its own version of pork barbecue, which also varies from chef to chef. The differences are in the rubs and the sauce used to baste the meat over many hours on the grill -- in this case, a South Carolina pork shoulder is rubbed with mustard, paprika, garlic, and onion and mopped in a sauce of mustard and vinegar. The pork gets a smoky flavor from the addition of wood chips during its long cooking time, and coals need to be added every hour or so.

Recipe: Steven Reichlen

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MEMPHIS-STYLE BARBECUED PORK SHOULDER

The Memphis rub contains ginger, cumin, and sage in addition to the onion, garlic, and mustard of the South Carolina version. After a "Memphis mop" made from vinegar, mustard, and molasses, the pork is slathered with ketchup-based barbecue sauce when it comes off the grill and heads for the buns.

Recipe: Texas Monthly

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BBQ PORK BUTT

Some pit masters who compete in pork shoulder cook-offs contend that injecting the pig makes it even more delectable than hours of slow cooking. In this recipe, the pig with a fairly common mixture of salt, garlic, and spices but also injected it with a concoction of apple juice, vinegar, sugar, and a touch of fish sauce before letting it sit overnight. They cook it over hickory and apple wood chips in addition to coals and let it sit in an aluminum pan, to which a bit of beer is added in the final hour or so. The finishing touch is a glaze of vinegar sauce and apple jelly.

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CAVATELLI WITH PORK RAGU

Leftover pork shoulder is golden in a sauce for pasta and makes a quick midweek meal. The important thing to remember is not to shred the extra meat, which should be left on the bone so it doesn't dry out. If it is already shredded, store it in sauce and mix it with a vegetable such as the kale, along with some grated Parmesan and currants for a hint of sweetness.

Recipe: Bon Appetit