This post contains affiliate links.
When I first started smoking meat, I started with pork shoulder as it one of the easier and more forgiving meats to smoke. My first smoke I just seasoned the thing and threw it on the smoker, and it turned out great; however, over time, as I was exposed to more information and knowledge, my methods have changed. Now when I smoke pork shoulders or butts, I always trim the fat cap off. Here’s why!
What Is The Fat Cap On A Pork Shoulder?
So, what exactly is this fat cap that everyone is talking about? Looking at your pork shoulder, one side will have a thick layer of white fat covering most, if not all of the surface. This fat cap ranges in thickness across the surface of the pork shoulder sometimes reaching up to 2 inches.
Unlike the fat found inside the meat known and intramuscular fat, the fat cap is composed of subcutaneous fat, a thick, hard layer of fat that forms under the skin. While this might seem unimportant, the difference between these two types of fat is the reason we choose to trim the fat cap off.
Should I Trim The Fat Off Pork Shoulder Before Smoking?
Before smoking pork shoulder, you should completely remove the fat cap or trim it down to no more than a quarter of an inch in thickness. Removing the fat cap will allow the smoke and rub to penetrate the meat and create more surface area for the bark to form.
There are two main reasons you should trim the fat cap off pork shoulder before smoking.
It Gives More Surface Area For The Bark To Form.
While fat helps give pork shoulder its flavor, the fat cap does little to no good for your flavor. In fact, leaving the fat cap on can actually cause you to lose out on valuable flavor. More important to the flavor of your pork shoulder than fat, is the bark.
The bark is the crust on the surface of the meat that forms when the rub and smoke harden. The bark is what provides that smoky flavor and is one of the main reasons you choose to smoke pork shoulder. Leaving the fat cap on your pork shoulder protects the surface of the meat and prevents the meat from absorbing the rub and smoke flavor.
By removing the fat cap completely or trimming to no more than a quarter of an inch, you are allowing more surface area for the bark to form.
The Fat Cap Doesn’t Completely Render Away.
I can’t tell you how many times I have bitten into pulled pork only to find a string of nothing but fat. And while we do want fat to add flavor, we want the intramuscular fat and not the subcutaneous fat (the fat cap). When smoking pork shoulder, the fat cap will not completely render away.
Those who leave the fat cap on for smoking, usually remove it after it is cooked. It is not part of the pork shoulder you want to eat and should be removed either way; however, it is much easier to remove it before smoking when the fat is solid versus after when the fat is jelly like.
You are going to get rid of it anyways and seeing it doesn’t benefit you to leave it on while smoking, it only makes sense to remove it before smoking to give yourself more of that yummy bark.
Myths About Trimming The Fat Cap.
Scouring the internet, forums, and social media groups, I have found a couple reasons people decide to leave the fat cap on. I think it is important to look at these to debunk them.
Trimming The Fat Cap Will Make Your Pork Butt Dry.
The juiciness and flavor in BBQ, specifically pork shoulders, comes from the intramuscular fat, not the subcutaneous fat (the fat cap). What fat is rendered from the fat cap, simply drips off the meat and falls below. Only the fat inside the meat gives the meat its juiciness and flavor.
The Melting Fat Cap Penetrates The Meat And Bastes It.
Like mentioned above, what fat that is rendered from the fat cap, doesn’t penetrate the meat but simply drips off. There are a couple reasons why.
Meat is comprised of 75% water, and when cooked the muscle fibers in the meat contract and push the moisture of the meat to the surface. This is why you see meat shrink as it cooks. Moisture cannot physically go into meat when it is cooking because the muscles are contracting and pushing it out.
Secondly, fat is comprised of mostly oil. Not only are the molecules to large to penetrate the meat, but water and oil don’t mix. So even if the fat could penetrate the surface of the meat, the moisture being expelled would act as a barrier.
How To Properly Trim Pork Shoulder For Smoking
We believe that leaving the fat cap on your pork shoulder before smoking only takes away from the potential flavor. We always recommend removing the fat cap completely or trimming it down to no more than a quarter of an inch. Below is one of the best videos I have come across on how to properly trim your pork shoulder.
Should I Score Pork Shoulder?
You should only score the fat cap of a pork shoulder if you decide to leave the fat cap on while smoking it. This will allow the rub and smoke to penetrate the surface of the meat through the score marks; however, for best results you should completely remove the fat cap.
- Juiciness and flavor come from intramuscular fat, not the fat cap
- Removing the fat cap allows for more bark
- Fat cap doesn’t completely render away
- What does render from the fat cap simply drips off the meat
- The fat cap should be completely removed or trimmed to no more than a quarter of an inch.