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Should You Leave Skin On A Smoked Pork Shoulder? (Explained)

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One of the most heated debates in the smoking community is whether it is better to smoke pork shoulder with or without the skin.

The issue here is that there is no definitive answer.

Taste preferences vary, and what doesn’t work for someone else may be the ideal solution for you. The following is a collection of facts about the advantages (and disadvantages) of leaving the skin on your pork shoulder.

Should You Leave the Skin on a Pork Shoulder?

How are You Preparing It?

Are you planning to cut and serve a delicious roast with properly cracked skin in slices?

Or are you making luscious pulled pork that softly blends together and melts in your mouth? Although you can technically cook pork shoulder with the skin on in any way, the end results will differ depending on how it’s cooked.

When slow cooking pork shoulder, the skin is typically removed. But, when smoking pork shoulder, the skin can be left on or removed.

When the skin is left on, the layer of fat between it and the skin is totally intact, providing extra fat to enrich the meat as it cooks. Some smokers choose to merely trim a portion of the pork shoulder, leaving half of the skin untouched.

This allows the seasonings to thoroughly saturate the meat while also providing a flavorful crispy exterior with the skin that was left on.

Why Should Skin be Left Off? 


In some instances, skin can make it difficult to thoroughly season the meat. Its toughness, along with a thick layer of fat, can make it difficult for the majority of spice and rub from reaching the meat. It’s the reason that most people at least trim half the skin, so they can still season the meat directly.

When working with skin-on pork shoulder, another technique is to score the skin before seasoning. Scoring refers to making small cross-hatched incisions across the skin to allow the seasoning to penetrate deeper into the meat. The incisions should be deep enough to access the flesh.

Slow Cooking

If you’re slow cooking pork shoulder, you should probably remove the skin.

Because pork skin does not crisp or “crackle” in a slow cooker, it may offer an unusual texture, especially if you’re creating pulled pork. Furthermore, skin-on pork shoulder means more fat, which can contribute too much liquid during slow cooking. The skin also makes emulsifying all of the seasonings into the meat more difficult. 

Less Drip

The layer of fat between the skin and the meat is called the fat cap. As the meat cooks, this beautiful fat dissolves into it. However, leaving the skin on and skipping the trimming can result in a pork shoulder that smokes with too much fat. While fat might help keep the meat from drying out, it can also produce more dripping, which leads to more flare-ups from the smoker.

If you are smoking skin-on pork shoulder, try flipping it halfway through the smoke. This way you still get a wonderful baste from the fat cap while minimizing fare ups.

What Does Skin Do for Smoked Pork Shoulder?

Adds Flavor and Texture

Aside from allowing the fat to enrich the meat beneath it, when properly prepared, the skin will provide tons of added flavor on its own. With all of the connective tissues broken down, the skin will slide right off. Which as a savory snack all on its own. 

Protects the Meat

Remember how the fat cap cooks the meat by basting it? That not only adds flavor, but it also protects the meat as it cooks. So essentially the basting from the fat has two functions: it flavors the meat and keeps it from drying out.

Final Thoughts

The beauty of cooking is that you don’t have to stick to one method or another. It can be anything you want it to be. So, keep this in mind: 

• If you’re creating pulled pork, you may want to remove the skin. It may interfere with the way the seasonings combine with the meat and hence diminish its quality.

• If you’re smoking a pork shoulder that hasn’t been trimmed or has any skin on it, don’t forget to score it. Otherwise, your rub may not combine well with the meat.

Remember that most recipes can be customized to satisfy your tastes. Every day, new methods and techniques are discovered.

This article was written by Robert McCall, the founder of Robert also owns and operates the BBQ dropout YouTube channel where he demonstrates his first-hand experience cooking all kinds of meats and strives to provide helpful, authoritative content for people looking how to barbecue.

He primarily hand writes the bulk of the content but occasionally will leverage AI assisted tools, such as chatGPT, to properly edit and format each blog post on this website. This ensures a pleasurable reading experience for visitors. Read more about our editorial policies here. If there are any improvements that can be made to this article, reach out to us directly at