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Pork Butt Fat Side up or Down? We Settle this Once and for All!

There’s a lot of disagreement on cooking pork butts fat side up or down. We put the debate to rest by discussing the pros and cons of each way, as well as flipping part way through, and whether your type of smoker affects things. Have a read and make your own mind up.

Mark Jenner
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Last Updated: March 21, 2022

Close up of a pork butt, fat side up, on a wooden chopping board with a kitchen knife in.

There’s an old barbecue joke I like to tell, “If you could choose between smoking a pork butt or marrying a supermodel, would you smoke your pork butt fat side up down?”

While that may be funny, some people are mighty opinionated when it comes to cooking pork butt fat side up or down. Some people swear one is superior to the other.

Meanwhile, many of us wonder; is there really a benefit of doing it one way over the other?

That’s what we’re going to discuss in this article.

Key Takeaways

  • Fat cap up — Bastes the meat as the fat melts. But this can ‘wash away’ some of your rub.
  • Fat cap down — in most smokers with heat from below, uses the fat cap to ‘protect the meat’ and help prevent it from drying out. But it can lead to more dripping, flare-ups, etc.
  • Flipping halfway — can give you the best of both worlds, while minimizing the downsides.
  • We recommend — Smoking a pork butt with the fat cap toward the heat source.

What is a Fat Cap?

Pork butt on a cutting board with fat cap side.
You can see the fat cap above: The layer of fat covering, on one side of the pork butt.

On many large cuts of meat like the pork butt or pork shoulder, there is a fat cap, a layer of hard white fat that sits on top of the meat. (Do you know the difference between a butt and shoulder? It may not be what you think! Check out our guide, pork butt vs pork shoulder for the low down.)

This fat can sometimes be as much as an inch in thickness and will have to be mostly removed before cooking. If the butcher hasn’t removed it, most home cooks will trim it down themselves prior to cooking.

You do not need to remove all the fat, and you should be careful not to trim too much, so you do not remove any of the meat below.

Cooking a Pork Butt Fat Side up

Two pork butts smoked in a kamado smo.

Some people will only cook their pork shoulder with the fat cap facing up. The main reason for doing so is they swear it allows the fat to baste the meat as it renders away.

Some will even take it a step further, and state it will allow the fat that is left on top to melt and penetrate into the meat. Not so says New York Times bestseller Meathead Goldwyn, he is quick to explain that for many reasons fat cannot penetrate into the meat as it is cooked.

Among other reasons, he simply explains that meat is mostly water, and fat is mostly oil. Water and oil do not mix. The fat will remain on top of the meat, possibly render away and melt off of it basting the meat, but it will not penetrate deep into the meat as it cooks.


While it may not do much, a melting fat cap will somewhat baste the meat on the surface of the pork shoulder as it renders away.


An obvious flaw in this method of smoking a pork butt is with the fat cap melting and running down over the meat, it can potentially wash away and remove some of the rub that you put on the exterior of the pork shoulder.

Cooking Pork Butt Fat Side Down

A pork butt fat down on a smo.

Just like how some people swear cooking fat cap up is the only way to do it, there are others who swear that cooking fat side down is far superior.


The main reason for cooking with the fat cap down is many people feel doing so allows the fat cap to act as insulation, protecting the meat from the direct heat and will keep the meat from drying out. Also having the meat side up allows a better pulled pork bark to form, without the impressions of it resting on the grill grates.


Fat burns, and depending on the configuration of your smoker placing the fat cap on the bottom will run the risk of exposing it to direct heat and can cause flare-ups.

This could also result in a charred and crispy pork shoulder, and not in a pleasant way.

Flipping the Pork Shoulder

A less common way to cook a pork shoulder, or any other large hunk of meat, is to flip the meat as it cooks periodically. This way it spends time with the fat cap both facing up, and down.


You are getting the best of both worlds. The fat cap can take turns between rendering down, basting the meat, and acting as a barrier to keep the precious meat from drying out.


Every time you flip your pork butt over, you are going to lose some of that rendered down fat that has been basting the meat.

Also, by continually opening and closing your smoker, heat is going to escape and will need to recover once you close the lid, ultimately adding to the overall cook time.

Different Methods for Different Smokers?

A smoked pork butt with crisscross scoring on a cutting bo.

Should your smoker determine if you cook your pork shoulder fat cap up down? Yes, according to Joe Haynes, Certified BBQ Judge, and blogger at Obsessive Competitive Barbecue.

Joe explains that every smoker is a little different and that the heat source will come from different areas depending on how your smoker is designed.

Joe thinks that the fat cap should face whichever way the heat is coming from. If the heat is coming from the bottom, cook with it down. If the heat is coming from the top, cook with it up.

Our Advice on Pork Butt fat Side up or Down? — Face it Toward the Heat

shredding pulled pork with two meat claws on a cutting bo.

Further to Joe’s recommendation above, we believe the best way to cook a pork butt, or any other meat with a fat cap, is to cook it with the fat cap facing toward the heat source.

The key in most smokers — since they all have certain hot spots and temperature gradients — is to then not leave your pork shoulder in the one position for the whole cook but to instead spin it around on the grill grate so that all sides of the pork shoulder can evenly cook, render away, and receive smoke from the fire.

We do mean to spin, to rotate, not to flip it over. The fat cap should stay the same way, either top or bottom for the whole cook, and which will depend on where your heat source is.

For any vertical smoker such as a kamado, Weber Smokey Mountain water smoker, an ‘Ugly Drum Smoker,’ or pellet smokers, where the heat source is from below, this means fat side down.

For offset smokers, most of the heat comes from one side, flows through the unit and then down from above, so we recommend fat cap up.

Ultimately, we strongly recommend that most people experiment to see what works best for you with the tools you have available. And hey, once you’ve smoked your pork butt, don’t forget to check out our guide on how to pull pork properly 😉


What do you think of our take on cooking a pork butt fat side up or down? What do you do when you cook a pork shoulder and why? Do you think we’ve missed any obvious points?

Please leave us a comment down below letting us know what you do and why, so we can all learn from each other!

And if you liked this article, we’d really appreciate you sharing it with any of your grilling friends.

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Written By: Mark Jenner

I'm a self-proclaimed BBQ fanatic and have been barbecuing and grilling since 2005. I founded FoodFireFriends in 2017 and have extensively written for the site since.

I love cooking outdoors over live fire and smoke whatever the weather, and I own over 30 grills and smokers of all varieties that I frequently cook on to produce epic food.

My goal with this site is to help as many people as possible enjoy and be good at doing the same.

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  1. Avatar for Jeffrey Thompson Jeffrey Thompson says:

    Great article! I was skeptical about the fat cap down but the comment to place the cap in the direction of the heat source makes sense. Also going after a great bark with the cap down. I have a Traeger smoker with the heat source on the bottom. Started with an 8 lb Boston Butt bone in. Layered on yellow mustard, coated with Butt Rub and marinated in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Placed fat cap down on the Traeger at 225 Deg F for 16 hours. Pulled it off when it reached 203 internal temp. Let rest covered in foil for 2 more hours and pulled.
    I’m sold!! The meat was perfect. The amount of fat was minimal and the bark was fantastic!

    1. Avatar for Mark Jenner Mark Jenner says:

      Sounds like a good cook and great result 🙂

  2. Thanks for the info, Mark. I have 20lbs of butts I’m putting on my pellet smoker in the morning. I’m going to try one fat cap up, and the other one down, to see how it goes.

    1. Avatar for Mark Jenner Mark Jenner says:

      Excellent, love a bit of proper testing and comparison. Let me know your thoughts on the result!

  3. I have found both work and have also done the flip with success. I like to smoke shoulders rather than butts, I think they come out moist and allow for pulled and sliced sections. Because the fat cap is thicker than on a butt *typically, I choose to smoke fat cap down. As you pointed out it insulates the meat and gives a great bark. Good website you have here. Thanks!

    1. This comment confused me. The “butt” comes from the pork shoulder. What do you consider to be the difference in the two?

  4. Avatar for Douglas Mansker Douglas Mansker says:

    Thanks, your articles are great! I love the gray area that you try to cover. I’m from the NW and in NYC, we don’t have a local style. So I get to pick and play with different cuts. I prefer kc ribs and Texas brisket, Berkshire sausage… Every burn can be different, but also knowing your tried and true is perfect for when guests come over or the cut is too expensive to mess up! Thanks.

    1. Avatar for Mark Jenner Mark Jenner says:

      There’s certainly endless things you can try if you branch out from the classics. Lots of different dishes from all the world. And in fact anything you can cook in your kitchen, you can put a spin on and cook on your BBQ or grill.

  5. Avatar for Carl Northcutt Carl Northcutt says:

    I’m just getting into smoking I use a weber smoker with the charcoal C method. Its done very well. Normally I’ve done fat down. I’m going to try fat down for 1/3 time then flip. I have water in my smoker to keep moist every time. Thanks, for the insight. Nothing better than smoked meat. Pecan and hickory.

  6. Smoked one today on. BGE and did it fat side down the entire time. It was outstanding. Thanks, for all the tips you provided.

  7. Avatar for Wayne Janes Wayne Janes says:

    I have a Pit Boss pellet grill. I cook with the fat cap down. But, I cut a pocket between
    the fat cap and the meat to add my dry rub seasoning. So all sides get seasoned, including
    under the fat cap.

  8. Avatar for Mike Crutchfield Mike Crutchfield says:

    Nice article, thanks, I’m going to cook the butt fat side down on my Primo.

  9. Hi! I’m kinda new at this! I have a wood fired indirect smoker. The heat comes from the right side, should I place the fat cap towards the fire? Basically cooking it on its side? Thanks, for the help!

    1. Avatar for Mark Jenner Mark Jenner says:

      Typically, in an offset you will have a baffle plate to direct the heat along underneath the meat, then back over the top. Do you have something similar to this? Either way, typically fat cap down.

  10. I tried cooking my pork shoulder fat side down and you were right. I thought you were crazy, as I’ve always cooked my meats with fat side up, as to help baste my meat with the melting fat. It was absolutely delicious and turned out just like your picture. You made a believer out of me and I’ll try cooking other meats, fat side down. Thank you…

  11. Mark,
    I always smoke my Boston Butts with Fat side down. I was wondering if when I wrap at 160 would it make a difference to turn the Fat side up in the wrap. I usually leave the Fat side down the entire time.

    1. Avatar for Mark Jenner Mark Jenner says:

      Hi Alan. I doubt it would make any noticeable difference. I always advise to put the fat cap toward the heat, as the fat then helps to prevent the meat drying out.

  12. Avatar for Ernest Jackson Ernest Jackson says:

    I have a Traegar smoker pro 22 I would say yes heat does come from below but it comes around the sides and rises to the top of the drum then down on top of your cook so I usually put fat side up.

  13. Avatar for Judy Jackson Judy Jackson says:

    I love your simple and direct options for beginners like me. It is very helpful and motivating to try different ways to find what I like best. Thank you, Judy

  14. Avatar for David Beuke David Beuke says:

    Thanks for all the good info. Just bought a smoker grill, first time smoking meat.