Rubbing bone-in pork shoulder butts with expensive spices & salt; then later watching much of it drip off the roast’s exterior along with cooking purge is likely the procedure that most often comes to mind when one thinks of home pulled-pork production. In that scenario, raw meat prep is simple because most modern retail pork butts have already been injected with at least a salt-water containing solution (aids in finished product moisture retention) and external fat has been closely (retail) trimmed. Pulling a blade bone out whole after cooking completion is often looked upon with pride; so a sharp knife and good knife skills are not required. However, blade bones can cause somewhat uneven cooking by way of the increased heat transfer through it. I never hear about bone-chip fragments, that originated from the high-speed sawing of blade bones, being a tooth hazard in this type of finished pulled-pork. Low product volume, lack of end-product consistency, too smoky and too much external char are some possible downsides here. And it does take extended cook times to achieve easily shredable pork shoulder meat; luckily barbecue sauce is a great innovation for adding some juiciness and flavor back to overly dehydrated meat.
A commercial practice for producing institutional quality pulled-pork is to place previously frozen boneless pork shoulder picnics in tank size metal baskets then use an overhead electric chain hoist to lower them into steam heated water tanks. End-product characteristics of this style of product are somewhat similar to home crock-pot cookery. Live steam is most often used in commercial size tanks; so cooking time is only about 4 hours. In both crockpots and commercial tanks, cooking meat submerged in liquid increases heat transfer to aid in shortening collagen gelling times; at any given cooking temperature. Abundant moisture also helps to solubilize collagen protein. One of the benefits of using salt is that it increases finished meat product moisture retention by way of swelling salt-soluble muscle proteins. But unless you are cooking in liquid containing a high salt concentration (which is not advisable), salt in meat will equalize with what it is bathing in. As a result, liquid cooked meat products tend to be quite dry and tasteless. That tasteless factor develops in large part because meat contains water soluble proteins, vitamins and minerals. Therefore, a lot of the “good stuff” is thrown out with the bathwater. As with less-than-masterfully smoke-cooked pork butts (which is way too labor intensive), BBQ sauces as-well-as other commercial additives are used to acceptably bring back the palatability characteristics of flavor and juiciness. Tenderness is not an issue in these two scenarios.
Pork butts and picnics are two different parts of the pork shoulder; with the butt portion being more desirable for retail sales. Picnics are harder to bone-out and are most often used as either a lean component of commercially made sausages or in institutional pulled-pork production. However, some barbecue pit masters do use intact pork shoulders for making relatively low volumes of smoke-cooked pulled-pork. As with barbecued pork butts, raw product boning is not an issue when picnics are slow cooked to the point where meat releases from bone. Uneven cooking product dimensions and varying bone content both contribute to different degrees of cooked meat dehydration.
Commercially, one large lean muscle is often gleaned from picnics at the time of bone removal. This “cushion meat” is very useful to grind and blend with fat pork trimmings; so that more fat can be utilized to make sausage products of an acceptable fat percentage. After boneless, normally boxed & frozen, picnics are cooked in liquid the meat has to be picked through while still warm (usually on a slow moving plastic or metal link slow moving conveyor) in an effort to remove any large hunks of fat, skin, bone fragments or any other objectionable material. Bone-chips and metal contamination in finished pre-cooked meat products are both a tooth-hazard liability. Therefore, at least in-line metal detectors are employed. Some commercial producers use X-ray equipment called FOD (foreign object detection); which will also remove wood and bone fragments. However, I don’t think even FOD will eject plastic. It’s important to note here that bone-chip collectors attached to grinder heads are a great help in removing unwanted objects from ground meat products. The smaller the plate hole size, the more hard objects that will be ejected. In the production of mechanically deboned meat, starting product is ground bones and all then pressed through fine sieves in order to achieve boneless meat pulp (meat pulp does contain a slightly higher calcium content than intact meat). But when it comes to shredded meat, large pieces of fat and some other undesirable meat originating elements have to be removed by hand.