Pork Butt Fat Side Up or Down: Ending the Heated Debate!

October 21, 2022

You should place the fat cap towards the direction of the heat source.

I have been smoking meat for as long as I can remember but it was only as an adult that I learned about whether to place the pork butt fat side up or down. I was talking to one of my pitmaster friends and they taught me the right way to do it. They also gave me a proper explanation for it too.

Now, here is what you need to know about positioning your pork butt in the smoker!

Pork butt fat side up or down

Do You Put the Fat Side Up or Down When Smoking a Boston Butt?

This is a question that has been asked and pondered over for a very long time. There have been plenty of people arguing for cooking fat side up as well as with the fat side down.

So:

Do you smoke meat with fat side up or down?

Well, the answer depends on the kind of smoker that you have. Is the heat source at the top of the smoker or at the bottom?

If the heat source is at the top, then you must place the pork butt fat side up. On the other hand, if the heat source is below, then you must rest the pork butt fat side down.

Great, you have your answer, but what is the reasoning for this? Well, here it is…

Why Does the Placement of the Pork Butt Depend on the Heat Source?

As you may be aware, the fat cap on the pork butt has a couple of different uses. Most people know that the fat cap adds moisture and flavor, which is why it is left on the pork butt.

What some people don’t realize, however, is that the fat cap can also protect the meat from direct heat.

See, if you were to place a fresh pork butt with the meat facing towards the direct heat, this part of the cut is going to cook first. However, if it continues to be exposed to the heat, then the meat is also likely to dry out, maybe even burn.

When you arrange the pork butt with the fat cap facing towards the heat, though, it acts as a protective barrier.

The fat takes the full brunt of the heat while the lower temperature cooks the meat all around. The fat melts a little but is unlikely to render completely. Also, the melted fat cap continues to act as a barrier.

So, the heat is able to penetrate through the pork butt fat side and then the meat, but you don’t have to worry about the meat overcooking.

It is especially important to place the pork butt fat side towards the heat if you want to produce something as succulent and tender as pulled pork.

Grilled Boston Butt

Do You Cook Pork Shoulder Fat Side Up or Down in Oven?

In many ways, pork shoulder is quite similar to pork butt. Due to this, like pork butt, it should be cooked with the fat cap facing the direction of the heat source.

Well, what about if you are using different cooking methods – what if you are preparing the cut in the oven instead of smoking meat?

Well, even in this case, you need to cook the pork shoulder with the pork fat cap facing towards the heat.

Do You Flip a Boston Butt When Smoking?

Now, there is no denying that smoking pork butt fat side towards the heat source can increase the cooking time.

This is because it is only after the melting fat cap does the meat on that side of the pork butt begin to cook.

Now, to overcome this, you can flip the pork butt over halfway while it is cooking.

Should you do this, though? Personally, I like to leave the pork butt as it is all the way through the cook.

This is because I really don’t want to risk the pork butt drying out, particularly if I am hoping to prepare pulled pork later on and want the meat tender.

That being said, you can absolutely flip the pork butt over if you wish to lower the overall cooking time.

You may want to wait for at least an hour or until the pork butt fat has melted before flipping it over, though.

The Top Tips to Smoking Pork Butt Fat Side Facing the Heat

Now that you know how to position the cut of pork, here are some other tips that you should follow:

Trim the Excess Fat

Yes, some fat is good but too much fat can cause your pork butt to end up undercooked. This is why you need to trim the fat cap.

Make sure that it is no more than 1/4th of an inch thick. If you aren’t sure about doing the trimming, you can ask your butcher to handle it for you.

As you will be trimming the fat, avoid buying cuts that has a very thick layer of fat on top of it.

Keep in mind, you are paying for the weight of the cut. And, since you will be cutting most of it on later on, you are simply wasting money.

Season the Fat

It doesn’t matter that the fat will be melting later on, you still need to season it properly.

Start by applying a thin layer of yellow mustard onto all the fat. This will act as a glue, allowing the ingredients to stick onto the surface.

Then, sprinkle on the seasoning rub and pat down.

Check the Smoker

It is likely that you haven’t given much thought to the direction of the heating elements on your smoker until now.

Well, it is now time to take a look. Don’t put your cut into the smoker until you know exactly where the heat is coming from.

Once you have identified the direction, you can determine whether the pork butt should be placed fat side up or down.

Barbecue Pork Butts in a Smoker

Place a Drip Pan Below the Pork Butts

Contrary to popular belief, the fat melting off the cap isn’t going to be absorbed by the meat. Instead, it is going to drip down.

Now, if you are using a charcoal smoker, this means that the fat can drip down onto the hot coals and cause flare ups.

To prevent this from happening, place a drip pan below the cut so that the drippings fall into this instead. It also makes for a far easier clean up so you should use this trick with all kinds of smokers.

Track the Internal Temperature

Yes, cooking the pork butt fat side facing the heat can cause it to take longer to be done. However, this doesn’t mean that you should take any chances.

Always place a meat thermometer inside the pork butt before it goes into the smoker. Make sure to track the internal temp all the way through.

Take it out when it reaches 190 to 195 degrees F.

Let the Meat Rest

This is an important step so make sure to never skip it.

Once the meat comes out of the smoker, place it on a wooden cutting board and allow it to rest for up to an hour.

During this time, the tissues in the meat relax and absorb any liquid it has lost. As a result, you get a more tender and juicier pork butt.

Even if you are preparing pulled pork, always rest the meat first before shredding it.

Wrapping It Up

There you have it – a clear answer to whether you should place the pork butt fat side up or down in the smoker!

Now that you know what to do, make sure to follow this direction each and every time. This will guarantee that you end up with smoked pork butt that is tender, succulent, and cooked to perfection every time that you prepare it!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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