vivian howard's pork shoulder with peach-watermelon salsa

pork peach melon tray 2.jpg

This dish is in my top five. I’ve made it more times than I can count. It’s stupid easy, it’s impressive, it feeds a crowd and tastes incredible. In general, pork shoulder is a very forgiving cut of meat. Cooked low and slow, it’s nearly impossible to mess up. Vivian Howard calls this “Day-at-the-Beach Pork Shoulder” because she likes to make it on vacation, spending the day at the beach drinking margaritas while the oven does all the work. This feast for twelve takes about as much time as chopping up a bowlful of peaches and watermelon.

Here’s how it goes: You rub a big hunk of pork shoulder with equal parts salt, cumin, and brown sugar (using more rub than seems advisable), drop it into a Dutch oven, and roast it for most of the day. For the last hour, you uncover the meat and raise the heat so that the fat cap gets crispy brown. That’s it! To serve, you either slice the meat into Flintstone-sized chunks or shred it into carnitas, drizzle it with its own caramelized cooking jus, and serve it alongside a summery fruit salsa.

The salsa—made from ripe peaches, watermelon, herbs, plenty of lime, and a couple of smoky chipotles in adobo—is an integral part of this dish. In fact, Vivian suggests thinking about it less like a condiment and more like a salad, to be heaped onto the pork with abandon, transforming it into something light and refreshing. Together, the pork and salsa are sublime—perfect for an unfussy summer gathering and especially good after a couple margaritas or an ocean swim, at the end of a day of sun and salt.

Note: There is too little salsa-to-pork ratio in this picture!

Note: There is too little salsa-to-pork ratio in this picture!

Vivian Howard’s Pork Shoulder with Peach-Watermelon Salsa

Adapted from Deep Run Roots by Vivian Howard and a version from Panna.

No changes to the recipe, except for minor edits to the method. Notes: 1) This recipe uses bone-in pork shoulder. Bone-in has more flavor, but it can be hard to find. I’ve made this with boneless many times, and it’s still great; if you substitute, just use a bit less meat to account for the missing weight of the bone. 2) The recipe also scales up well; just increase the roasting time. 3) In general, I’ve found that the roasting time is really forgiving. I roast anywhere from 4-6 hours, before uncovering and increasing the oven temperature for the final hour. 4) You can make the salsa in the morning, but I think it tastes best if made about 30 minutes before serving. It keeps for a couple days in the refrigerator. 5) I like to serve this with biscuits and corn on the cob. It’s also great in taco form.

Serves 12.


2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
6 pounds bone-in pork shoulder (also called “Picnic cut” or “Boston butt”)

1 small seedless watermelon, ½-inch diced (2-3 cups)
4 ripe peaches, ½-inch diced (2-3 cups)
4 scallions, green part only, thinly sliced (~1/2 cup)
Zest of 2 limes
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 chipotle peppers in adobo, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons mint, chopped
3 tablespoon cilantro, leaves and tender stems, chopped


  • MAKE PORK: Preheat oven to 300°F. Stir together the salt, cumin, and brown sugar. Rub the mixture all over the pork, making sure to use all of it. Place the pork fat-side up into a Dutch oven. Cover with the lid and place on the middle oven rack. Cook for 4 hours (5 or 6 hours is also okay, see note above). After 4 hours, raise the oven temperature to 400°F and remove the lid. Cook uncovered, 1 more hour, until the meat is nicely browned and pulls away from the bone.

  • MAKE PEACH-WATERMELON SALSA: Combine all the ingredients, stir, and let the flavors marry for about 30 minutes before serving. Taste and add more lime or salt as needed. (If making ahead of time, remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before serving to let come to room temperature.)

  • ASSEMBLY: Remove pork from Dutch oven and let rest, 10-20 minutes. Either slice against the grain in 1-inch slices, cutting around the bone, OR pull the meat from the bone. Place meat on a serving platter and drizzle with some of the meat drippings from the pot. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Serve with peach-watermelon salsa on the side.

August 31, 2019