The first confusing item for me when I started cooking BBQ was the meat. Most BBQ restaurants and home BBQ cookers use Boston Butts. Which are technically the upper pork shoulder. I have yet to find any reliable source for why it is called a Boston Butt even though the Wiki link provided offers a pretty logical one. But, you will often hear them called “butts” and “shoulders”. They can be purchased either “blade in” or “boneless”. I choose to get mine blade in. It makes it easier to evaluate if the butt is done by checking the bone. If the butt has reached temperature and the blade bone moves easily in the meat, the butt is done. However, if you get your butts bone in, make sure your thermometer is not touching the bone when checking temperature. The bone heats up long before the meat does. I once cooked four butts and was shocked at how quickly they were cooking until I realized my temperature probe was touching the bone.
BBQ is different than most types of cooking. You cannot plan on a butt cooking at say 225 for 6 hours. BBQ is done when it decides to be done. I have had butts ready in 5 hours and I have have had other butts that took 7 hours to be done. If you are on a tight schedule, cook hamburgers.
I usually purchase my butts from a local grocery chain, Ukrops. If you read many of my articles you will know that I am a pretty big fan of Costco. But, when it comes to Boston Butts, I don’t recommend getting them from Costco. The one time I did, I was very disappointed in the taste. To temper that, I do buy baby back ribs from Costco and am happy with the results.
Recently a new butcher opened about 40 minutes from my house that specializes in local meats. For Mother’s Day he cut me a complete pork shoulder (upper and lower shoulder, butts are from the upper shoulder) from a locally raised pig named Lucinda. Yes, my family thought it was odd to know the name of the pig they were eating. But, everyone loved the BBQ. I even received my greatest compliment ever that day. I converted a two year vegetarian back to a meatetarian with my pulled pork.
The butt should have some fat on it when you cook it. However, I sometimes find that butts have almost a 1/2″ of fat on one side. I trim that to about 1/4″ or slightly less of fat before applying rubs and cooking.
One more comment about cuts of meat for pulled pork. I mentioned the shoulder I purchased from my local butcher. Meats packed for sale in grocery stores have some salt and other preservatives added. While I don’t think this contributes any significant change in taste, I will say that I could notice a positive difference in taste with my butcher purchased shoulder.