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Smoked Pork Shoulder Skin On Or Off? (Explained)

Smoking and grilling is a specialized field with several fiercely debated strategies, techniques, and standards.

One of these major topics is whether pork shoulder is better with or without the skin. So, we’re here to help!

We’ve compiled a collection of information based on research and personal experiences to help you decide whether you want the skin on or off your pork shoulder!


Is Pork Shoulder Better With, or Without the Skin? 

Depends on What You Want

What do you plan to do with your pork shoulder? It all depends on what you’re attempting to accomplish. You should leave the skin on if you want a lovely and crispy bark with a properly crispy texture. However, while making pulled pork, most experts remove as much skin as possible for a moist and melty result.

Seasoning is a major cause for removing the skin (or most of the skin). With huge portions of skin still on it, it can be difficult to rub and emulsify the seasoning into the cut.

How is It Being Prepared? 

Whether you leave the skin on or off the pork shoulder may depend on how you cook it.

If you’re going to slow cook the pork shoulder, you should usually remove the skin first. Slow cooking pork shoulder with the skin on makes rendering the fat during cooking more difficult.

Furthermore, because pork skin does not “crackle” when cooked in a slow cooker, it is best to remove it and reuse it for something else (which we will cover later).

It’s more common to leave the skin on a smoked pork shoulder, or at least partially on. The skin adds texture to smoked pork shoulder and can help create a savory bark.

Keep in mind that even if you leave the skin on, the thick areas will need to be trimmed off.

The thick skin will prevent the seasoning from sinking into the pork and prevent it from melting into the meat while cooking.

A popular strategy is to only remove half of the fat. This manner, you can still press the seasonings into the meat while maintaining a desirable bit of skin on your cut.

In addition, always score the skin before seasoning a smoked pork shoulder with the skin on.

Scoring entails making a series of small incisions into the skin.

The incisions will help carry the seasoning to the meat beneath it while allowing all that gorgeous, rendered fat to keep the pork juicy.


Smoked with Fat (Skin) Side Up, Or Down

Skin side Down

This is yet, another arguable topic in the smoking community. 

The “skin side” can also be referred to as the “fat cap”. It’s the layer of fat beneath the skin. When smoking pork with the skin on, it is common to smoke it with the skin down, toward the heat. The fat cap behind the skin will “guard” the meat and keep it from drying out. However, this means that more fat and juice will drip into the heat, causing many more flare-ups from the flame below. 

Skin Side Up

Some renegade smokers prefer to roast the pork with the skin side up! The idea is that the fat will continuously baste the meat during the smoking process, keeping it moist, delicious, and melty.

The main issue with this method is that you risk losing a lot of seasoning. Continuous basting can begin to wash away the rub, effectively “rinsing” the pork of its spice.

Flipping the Pork

For those who are interested in both approaches, simply flip the pork halfway through. This allows the fat cap to protect the meat while yet enabling it to baste naturally. This reduces the negative consequences of any strategy.


Can You Reuse Trimmed Pork Skin? 

Of course! The best chefs around the world try their best to use as much of the animal as possible, and the results of this ingenuity are delicious!

Cracklings

Cracklings are one of the most well-known delicacies made from savory pork skin. They are made with trimmed portions of pork skin and fat that have been deep fried and seasoned. They have deep southern roots and contribute to capturing the creativity of the American South.

Chicharrons 

With a few important variations, these are essentially the Spanish counterpart of cracklings.

The pork is trimmed in the same way that cracklings are, but then formed into “pellets” and dried to eliminate any leftover fat.

They are dried (and so smell like bacon) before being put into a fryer, where they expand like popcorn. In the United States, this food is most commonly known as “Pork Rinds.”


Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are tons of avenues to explore for smoking pork shoulder. Remember that these are only guidelines that have been tried and proven over time.

However, this does not exclude you from experimenting to see what works and what does not. Cooking should be approached as a mad science, and you should forge your own path.