Pork shoulder comes in two cuts: picnic ham and Boston shoulder. Both picnic ham and Boston shoulder come from a pig’s shoulder.
A pig’s shoulder cuts are interchangeable and should be substituted for one another when possible. Learn about top pork shoulder substitutes and when to use them.
What Can You Substitute for Pork Shoulder?
In some instances, neither pork shoulder cut may be available, which is why we gathered the top pork shoulder substitutes and their appropriate uses.
Whether your goal is to conserve calories, reduce cooking time, use cuts of meat you already have, or prepare a meal for guests with dietary restrictions, this list offers a replacement that will serve your family or guests.
1. Boston Shoulder
Boston shoulder, or pork butt, comes from the upper shoulder of a pig, directly behind the neck of the animal.
Boston shoulder is a versatile cut of meat that is the preferred substitute for picnic ham or vice versa when one pork shoulder cut is unavailable.
Since both pork shoulder cuts come from roughly the same area of a pig, they share many of the same flavor and texture characteristics, but there are some notable differences:
More Marbling & Less Connective Tissue
The muscle groups that make up the Boston shoulder are used less than the picnic ham by the pig during its lifecycle, which imparts the Boston shoulder with more marbling and less connective tissue than picnic ham.
Easier to Prepare
In many instances, Boston shoulder’s high-fat content makes it easier to prepare than picnic ham.
Boston shoulder’s rich marbling insulates the cut from excessive heat during cooking and lends a richness achieved solely through rendered animal fat.
Boston shoulder should be prepared whenever picnic ham is not available. Likewise, picnic ham should be prepared whenever Boston shoulder is unavailable.
The loin refers to all cuts of meat that come from the back of a pig. Pork loin includes cuts like chops, tenderloin, and spare ribs. Of the loin cuts, tenderloin is the best substitute for pork shoulder.
Loin cuts have large lean muscle groups. The lack of fat in the loin muscle group means that these cuts are tougher and cook faster than pork shoulder, especially Boston shoulder.
When substituting loin for shoulder, pay special attention to the moisture content of the meat and its cooking time.
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A ham is a cut of pork that comes from the hind leg of a pig. In general, ham works well as a pork shoulder substitute in terms of flavor. Ham is fatty, slow cooks well, and can be seasoned similarly to pork shoulder.
However, the texture of ham is decidedly different from pork shoulder. Unlike pork shoulder, ham is dense and hardy with a fleshy character that will stand up in any dish.
If you plan to make a texture-dependent dish like carnitas or pulled pork, consider using pork loin before ham. Ham should only be used as a replacement for pork shoulder when the desired meat is pork and loin is unavailable.
If you use ham, pay special attention to the cut of the meat. Ham’s texture works well when sliced or cubed but will fail when shredded.
4. Lamb Shoulder
In most dishes, lamb’s shoulder can be prepared and seasoned similarly to pork shoulder.
Lamb shoulder should be substituted for pork shoulder when picnic ham and Boston shoulder are unavailable, or when pork is unusable due to dietary restrictions.
Although lamb shoulder has comparable amounts of connective tissue and fat to pork shoulder, it has a different flavor profile:
- Unlike pork, whose bland flesh fades behind seasoning, lamb’s bold flavor will shine through any amount of seasoning.
Lamb’s shoulder works well as an alternative when preparing food for halal or haram  guests, as lamb is a common substitute for pork in these cultures.
Brisket is a cut of beef that comes from the breast of a cow. Brisket shares many qualities that people love pork shoulder for, it slow cooks well, is tender, and is flavor-packed when prepared correctly.
As a cut of beef, brisket is far more expensive than pork shoulder. Brisket’s pronounced beef flavor also detracts from the execution of dishes traditionally prepared with pork shoulder.
Good times to use brisket in place of pork shoulder include instances where pork shoulder is unavailable or when guests do not eat pork.
Jackfruit  is a large tropical fruit composed of bulbs of fleshy fruit with a texture similar to shredded pork shoulder. It should be used as a pork shoulder alternative when preparing recipes for guests with dietary restrictions.
Jackfruit is the most economical pork shoulder substitute on this list, priced at $2 to $4 a can in most grocery stores.
Unlike a cut of meat, jackfruit will not dry out during cooking because of its high moisture content.
When substituting jackfruit for pork shoulder, use plenty of vegetable oils or animal fats to emulate the savory flavor of pork shoulder.
FAQS About Pork Shoulder Substitute
Listed below are some common questions folks have about pork shoulder substitutions.
Can I substitute pork loin for pork shoulder?
Yes, pork loin can be substituted for pork shoulder.
Pork loin has a different texture than pork shoulder but can serve as a substitute for pork shoulder when prepared correctly.
Braising is one preparation method to impart extra flavor to loin cuts. You may also consider marinating pork loin to impart more flavor to it.
Can you substitute pork tenderloin for pork shoulder?
Yes, you can substitute pork tenderloin for pork shoulder.
Since pork tenderloin is a leaner cut of meat than pork shoulder, it should be tenderized or marinated before cooking when used as a replacement.
Note: pork tenderloin cooks faster than pork shoulder, so check it regularly during cooking.
What can I use instead of pork shoulder for carnitas?
The best substitutes for pork shoulder in carnitas recipes are Boston shoulder, lamb shoulder, brisket, and jackfruit.
If possible, always choose one of the two pork shoulder cuts when preparing carnitas.
Brisket and lamb shoulder work well texturally as a substitute for pork shoulder, but have distinct flavor profiles that will shine through seasoning.
Jackfruit works as a substitute for pork shoulder in carnitas because of its high moisture content, economical price, and shredded texture.