The best similar pork shoulder substitutes are other cuts of pork, such as top loin roast, pork leg, escalopes, or pork leg ham. Other suitable, non-pork substitutes include lamb shoulder, beef brisket, ribeye beef steak, and beef chuck roast.
Now, let’s discuss each one in greater detail.
1. Top Loin Roast
A top loin roast comes from between the shoulder and the beginning of the leg on a pig, and it is a sufficient substitute for a pork shoulder. However, it is less fatty and thinner than the shoulder, so you may need to add fat when you prepare it to keep the meat tender and juicy.
Another reason this meat works as a substitute is because the two cuts have similar cooking processes, so you don’t have to change your recipe or plan too much if you need to make this swap.
Top loin is best roasted, but it is also good for stewing, and you can use it for ground pork meat. A typical cut is between two and four pounds (0.9 to 1.8 kilograms), and the cooking time varies based on size.
2. Boston Butt
This substitute is a bit of a sneaky one, as a Boston butt is still a pork shoulder–it’s just a different part and has a confusing name. The Boston butt is the top of the pig’s shoulders, whereas the lower parts of the shoulder are simply called “pork shoulders.”
You can purchase bone-in or deboned Boston butts, and the choice of which to get is ultimately yours. Some recipes specifically call for bone-in shoulders, and some meat enthusiasts insist that the bone adds a different flavor to a recipe, but it shouldn’t make too big of a difference which choice you go with.
Therefore, if you have a recipe that calls for pork shoulder or the picnic shoulder, you can use a Boston butt instead and get similar results. A Boston butt is marbled with lots of fat, so it is ideal for slow cooking, especially smoking. This cut of meat is also great for making pulled pork.
3. Boneless Pork Leg
Boneless pork leg also works as a substitute for pork shoulder, although it is a more expensive meat. So, this may not be the best option if you’re on a tight budget. However, the texture and the taste of pork leg are similar to pork shoulder, making it great for various pork shoulder recipes, including pulled pork. It’s also a great source of protein.
Keep in mind that pork leg is lower in fat than pork shoulder, so you might need to add some to keep the meat moist. Just be careful not to overcook it and make it dry.
4. Center Cut Pork Roast
This cut of meat comes from the part of the pig that’s between the shoulder and the back legs. This option isn’t my top choice for a shoulder substitute because it is lean and not fatty enough for most slow-cooking recipes, but it will do in a pinch or if you’re on a tight budget.
As the name suggests, this substitute works well for roasting. If you’re planning on grilling it, keep in mind that because it is so lean, it cooks extremely fast.
5. Pork Escalopes
Pork escalopes is a leaner slice of meat than a pork shoulder, but it still works as a substitute in most cases. Various cuts are available, including pork tenderloin, loin, and leg steaks. Because these cuts have almost no fat, it is best to marinade them before you cook to avoid dryness.
One advantage of using a thinner cut of meat is that it doesn’t require as long of a cooking time as pork shoulder or other thicker alternatives, so if you’re short on time, this is a great option to get a meaty, slightly sweet taste.
6. Top Leg Ham
This cut comes from the back of the pig’s leg. It has similar characteristics to pork shoulder and is marbled with some fat, so it can usually withstand long cooking methods. However, it still dries out more quickly than pork shoulder, so be careful while cooking.
The best way to enjoy top leg ham is by using it for pulled pork or smoking it. You can purchase leg ham with the bone in or deboned like pork shoulder.
7. Lamb Shoulder
If you’re willing to venture away from the pig for your substitute, there are some good options. The most similar option available is lamb shoulder. Because this cut comes from the same part of the animal as pork shoulder, your cooking methods will be extremely similar. However, the taste will be different.
Lamb tends to be less sweet than pork and usually has a more gamey taste, so it is up to you to determine if you like the taste.
The cooking processes of lamb and pork shoulders are extremely similar, but the one adjustment you may need to make is adding more fattiness with oil, cream, or butter. You can cook lamb shoulder for the same amount of time as pork shoulder.
8. Ribeye Beef Steak
Many people enjoy the taste of ribeye, a popular type of steak, so if you’d like to have more tanginess in your recipe, I recommend using ribeye instead of pork. The best thing about ribeye is that it is almost always easy to get because of its popularity.
The fat in ribeye beef steak makes it a good swap for pork shoulder and adds a buttery taste as you cook it. It’s also a sweeter cut than other beef options, mimicking the pork’s sweetness.
Related The 6 Best Substitutes for Veal in a Recipe.
9. Beef Chuck Roast
Chuck roast is a cut of meat from a cow’s shoulder, which gives it similar characteristics to a pork shoulder, including a great amount of fat that makes it ideal for slow-cooking methods. Another benefit of beef chuck roast is that it is an inexpensive option, so if you’re on a tight budget, this is a great swap.
Chuck roast is best cooked in a slow cooker or Dutch oven, but you can also grill it or cut it up to use in a stew or chili. I like this Mueller DuraCast 6 Quart Dutch Oven from Amazon because the enamel is high-quality and will last for years. The cookware distributes the heat evenly to maximize flavor. The tight-fitting lid also helps seal the flavor and moisture in the meat.
10. Beef Brisket
Beef brisket, which comes from the lower chest of a cow, is also an acceptable substitute for pork shoulder, especially because you can use seasonings and recipe adjustments to make the beef taste more similar to pork. The best part of beef brisket is that it is difficult to dry it out, so if tender, juicy meat is what you’re after, you’re likely to be successful if swapping in beef brisket.
To take the tenderness to the next level, I recommend soaking the brisket in a marinade before cooking it. Marinading increases the moisture and ensures that the meat will be melt-in-your-mouth tender. This method also combats the toughness of brisket.
What Can You Use for Carnitas Instead of Pork Shoulder?
Authentic Mexican carnitas is made by simmering pork shoulder in lard or oil. If you’re craving carnitas but don’t have pork shoulder, you can use beef or shredded hearts of palm for a less authentic but delicious alternative.
Carnitas features juicy, flavorful, and tender meat that, when cooked correctly, is also slightly crisp and altogether delicious. The meat must withstand a long cooking time and have enough fat to stay moist throughout the preparation. For this reason, authentic carnitas uses pork shoulder.
However, if you don’t have pork shoulder or butt to use for carnitas, you can make a tasty alternative with beef or shredded hearts of palm for a vegan option.
The first option, beef, is more appealing to most meat lovers. The best beef is a chuck roast, which has enough fat to stay moist and gets more tender and delicious through slow cooking.
You’ll need a slow cooker to make the beef carnitas taste half as good as authentic pork carnitas.
I recommend this Hamilton Beach Portable Programmable Slow Cooker from Amazon because you can program it with the desired cooking time or a specific temperature. It has a temperature probe that displays the temperature of the meat as it cooks. I also like that the lid clips securely in place, so you won’t have to worry about spills during transport.
To mimic the taste of carnitas, place the chuck roast in the slow cooker and mix it with chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt and pepper. Then, cook for seven or eight hours on low to get the signature tenderness of pork carnitas.
Alternatively, if you’re feeling even more out of the box, you can try vegan carnitas. The key to this recipe is the shredded hearts of palm, made from the center of palm trees. The tougher exterior, paired with the softer interior, makes this plant a great alternative for pork.
This “meat” is a breeze to prepare. All you need to do is cook the shredded hearts of palm for a few minutes in a carnitas mixture using all the spices listed above, and you have a tender, slightly crisp filling for your next taco night, burrito bowl, or however else you like to enjoy your carnitas.
What Meat Shouldn’t You Use as a Pork Shoulder Substitute?
Any thinly sliced meat, such as a filet or a collar steak, is not a good substitute for pork shoulder because they don’t have enough fat to stay tender and juicy.
The best pork shoulder substitutes are thick and marbled with fat. Therefore, any thin slice of meat, including thin pork chops, filets, collar steaks, cube steaks, sirloin steaks, and strip steaks, won’t work well in place of pork shoulder.
Additionally, good pork substitutes should have a similar level of sweetness as pork. Some cuts of beef can be sweet like pork, but if it isn’t, beef holds seasoning and flavor well, so you can use other ingredients to try to mimic the taste of pork. Other meats, such as lamb, don’t taste like pork at all but can be an apt swap as long as you don’t mind the change of taste.
What Meat Can I Use Instead of Pork?
Many types of meat can be used instead of pork in various situations, including beef, turkey, and lamb. Other types of pork, such as prosciutto, don’t have good substitutes because of their distinct flavor.
Now that you know what you can use instead of pork shoulders in most recipes, you might wonder what you can use instead of pork in other circumstances. Let’s take a look at common pork products and what you can swap it for:
- Pork tenderloin. Tenderloin is a popular way to consume pork, especially in the Midwest. A common switch is beef tenderloin because it is similar in appearance and texture.
- Pork sausages. You can swap pork sausage for any kind of poultry sausage, but I’d recommend turkey sausage for the most similar taste. You can also use beef or lamb sausage, but the taste won’t be as similar. Alternatively, you can use vegan sausage, usually made with pea and soy protein.
- Bacon. Turkey bacon is a similar, healthy alternative to pork bacon. The texture is different, but if you bake turkey bacon in the oven to crisp it, you can get a similar crunch. Duck bacon is another choice, although it’s not as fatty as pork, so it won’t be as crisp. For vegetarians, many companies make “fakon,” or fake bacon, from soy. Like pork bacon, carrot bacon can also be delicious, crisp, and sweet.
- Ground pork. Ground turkey tastes extremely similar to ground pork, thanks to its sweetness and texture. It’s leaner and healthier than ground pork, so it is a fairly common substitute. Another option is ground beef, but you’ll lose some of the sweet taste by making this switch. However, this shouldn’t be a problem with the right seasonings. A vegetarian switch is ground seitan.
- Pork belly. Goose meat, when marinated and seasoned properly, can mimic the taste of pork belly. Fatty duck bacon can taste similar, even though it is significantly leaner than pork belly. A solid vegetarian substitute is tofu, as long as you cook and season it properly.
Whether it’s for religious, personal, health, or other reasons, if you’re quitting pork, you can make many solid substitutions to mimic the taste of pig.
For more, check out The 8 Best Beef Tenderloin Substitutes (And How to Use Them).
Anne James has a wealth of expertise in a wide array of interests, including quilting, cooking, gardening, camping, and making jelly.
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