The above verse from Sir Mix-a-lot’s song titled Baby Got Back was not referring to Pig Butts. And the term pig butt has nothing to do with the rump end either, it refers to the shoulder. For the pig, the song should be renamed Baby Got Front. The rump is where the ham comes from, but the butt is in the front part of the pig. Pork Shoulder is considered the best pork cut with which to make goetta, and there are a variety of confusing terms out there. In general it can be referred to as a pork butt, shoulder butt, shoulder roast, or country roast. But the cut is from the top of the shoulder socket to the spine and is a weave of muscles, fat, sinew, connective tissue and bone. It falls apart easily when cooked, making it the most popular cut for pulled pork as well.
Like reference to the Sir Mix-a-lot song, the term butt has led to some pretty creative marketing and branding of competition barbeque teams and restaurants and their slogans. Recent winners at Memphis in May include Nutt’s N Butts and Deez Butts. Restaurant names like Big Butts, Rubbin’ Butts, Smokin’ Butts dot the barbeque landscape. It offers endless opportunities for restaurant slogans, too, like “No One Can Touch our Butts” and “You Can Smell Our Butts for Miles.”
Depending on what bones you leave in the shoulder cut, and what you do to it, there are a number of other more specific terms like Boston butt, Milwaukee butt, the callie or picnic butt, and the cottage butt or cottage ham. It’s important as a Cincinnati meat customer or goetta maker you know what you’re getting from a meat label, so I thought I’d distinguish between them all.
You can buy a whole pork shoulder at some grocery stores, but more commonly you’ll find the shoulder cut into two pieces. The upper part is called the Boston butt (sometimes called “blade roast”), and it comes from right behind the pig’s neck and typically contains a small piece of the shoulder blade, but the neck bones and rib bones are removed.
If you leave the neck and few ribs in the shoulder cut, with the shoulder blade left in it’s called a Milwaukee style butt. The Milwaukee butt has been around since at least 1912.
So why is it called a Boston Butt? One food writer claimed it came from colonial times when pork was shipped in barrels called butts to other areas of the country. But colonial pork production centered around Virginia and the Carolinas, not New England. Then it came to Cincinnati Porkopolis in the 1830s and then to Chicago by the Civil War. And there are no references to the Boston Butt before the Civil War.
The term actually originated in the late 1800s as railroads were turning meat packing from a regional to a national industry. Butchers in different parts of the U.S. had slightly different ways of carving up pigs and cows, so they lent their city’s name to the cut. That’s why we have New York Strip Steaks and St. Louis Ribs.
Pork shoulder originally had other regional names describing other cuts in the 1890s, that don’t survive today. There was the New York shoulder, which had the shank cut off above the knee, trimmed close and smooth and square at the butt – or thick, shoulder end. A California ham, which was not a ham at all – but was a butt – was well rounded at the butt and trimmed as near the shape of a ham as possible. There was also a passing reference to a New Orleans cut of pork shoulder in the 1910s.
The lower part is called the picnic or callie butt (also “arm roast”) and includes the narrower portion of the rest of the leg down to the hock, with the shank attached. The picnic is also a good choice for making pulled pork thanks to its fattiness. That extra fat provides flavor and juiciness without drying out the meat during low-and-slow cooking. This also makes it a good cut for goetta, which needs the fat to gel after cooking to act as a glue for the oats.
Cottage butt is strictly a Cincinnati thing, like goetta. It’s a smoked single muscle from the Boston butt which Cincinnatians, like my mom, cook in a pressure cooker with potatoes, green beans and sweet onions. This is also what’s known as a cottage ham within the butcher shops bounded by Interstate 275.
So, if you like big butts like I do, it’s important to know what part of it you’re getting by the name on the label!