Putting a beautiful piece of meat on the table and making pulled pork are among the most rewarding things you can do for the whole family. Combined with delicious seasoning, a full-bodied smoke flavor can do wonders for your meat, which can be used for pulled pork sandwiches and many other tasty meals. If you’re intimidated by making your own pulled pork in your kitchen, take comfort in knowing that most of the job is just letting the smoking process do its thing.
In this guide, we walk you through the best way to make pork sandwiches while sharing the answer to the most asked question, “How long should you smoke pulled pork.”
Table of Contents
What is Pork Shoulder and How is it Different from Pork Butt?
When you want to feed the whole family with the best-ever pulled pork meat, there’s no other choice but pork shoulder. But if you’re new in the kitchen, you’re probably confused by the term “pork butt” which doesn’t actually represent the rear of the pig. The truth is, both the pork shoulder and pork butt are cuts of meat that come from a pig’s shoulder which are often used interchangeably.
However, we recommend using a bone-in pork butt as much as possible since this seals in as much flavor into your meat. Keep in mind that a pork butt will have more marbling and fat compared to a pork shoulder – it’s also helpful to choose a cut of pork with the fat cap still intact. This ensures that you’ll be working with better-quality meat that’s packed with mouth-watering juices.
However, it may also be sold with skin on, which won’t be needed in this pork shoulder recipe. Finally, be sure to check the labels when you go to the grocery store — pork butt may also be labeled “Boston butt,” while a pork shoulder could be called a “picnic roast” or a “picnic shoulder.”
What Kind of Smoker Should You Use?
The easiest way to impart a wonderful smoke flavor to your bone-in pork shoulder, choose a pellet smoker. Doing this will allow you to pack all kinds of meat full of flavor without the need to watch a firebox every minute. However, you can also look for other options such as an electric smoker or a traditional offset smoker, which can be used for the smoking process.
What if You Don’t Have a Smoker?
If you don’t have a smoker, there’s no need to worry; this isn’t the only way to get the best pulled pork around. Here are other options for you to choose from.
- Gas/Charcoal Grill: While this could be a viable option, we don’t recommend it because you’d have to keep the low temperatures consistent throughout the day as you make smoked pork butt. Unfortunately, charcoal grills aren’t the best at this but if you use a charcoal grill with the lid on, you can still get the best results.
- Oven: Alternatively, you can use an oven to get pork roast or picnic roast. While it may not have the fantastic smoke flavor, it will still taste great and it will still have juicy meat.
What Kind of Wood or Pellets Should You Use?
Before you can fire up your smoker, make sure that you have the right pellet and wood to work with. Many smoking enthusiasts prefer to use hickory, pecan, oak, and apple wood chips, which add a distinct and inviting aroma to their cooking process. For the recipe below, it’s best to use mild or moderately flavored smoke like those you can get from a sweet tree.
Here are a few options for you to choose from:
However, mesquite could be too strong to use on pork, so it may not be the best choice. If you’re working with a pellet grill, a trophy or competition blend could be a great option apart from the woods above.
How You Should Smoke a Pork Butt
Now that you’re ready to start smoking, the first thing you need to do is season your cut of meat with your favorite marinade or dry rub. Set up your grill or smoker on indirect heat and keep it at a temperature between 225 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit (107-121°C). Next, place pork shoulder in the smoker and leave it inside for many hours until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 165°F.
This slow-cooking method allows you to tenderize your meat and render the fat efficiently.
How Long Should Pork Butts Take to Cook?
When cooking pork butt, the cooking time could vary depending on some factors such as the smoker temperature and the size of your meat’s cut. In general, it will take around 2 hours at a lower temperature (225°F) and around 1.5 hours at a higher temperature (250°F) for every pound of meat. For example, an 8-pound pork butt should take between 12 to 18 hours depending on the temperature used.
However, we’ll walk you through the aluminum foil method used in the recipe below to cut a few hours out of your entire cook time.
How Can You Tell When the Smoked Pork Butt is Cooked?
The right way to see whether your pork butt is cooked can be done by measuring your pork’s internal temperature with a meat thermometer. Once the internal temperature reaches 195-205°F (90-96°C), it will be within the ideal temperature range for you to serve tender pork. Make sure that you insert the thermometer inside the thickest part of the meat and that it doesn’t touch the bone.
When it reaches the right temperature and is soft enough to be shredded, it can be removed from your smoker. Alternatively, you can also check the meat’s tenderness by using a toothpick to poke a hole inside — if it comes in and out without resistance, then your pork butt is good to eat.
Making Your Own Pulled Pork
Below are the ingredients you need along with step-by-step instructions on how to make a delicious pulled pork butt recipe that you can use for a wide range of pork dishes.
For the Brine
- 6 ounces of salt
- 1 ounce of brown sugar
- 32 ounces of water
- 6 pounds of bone-in pork shoulder or butt
For the Rub
- ¼ cup of salt
- ¼ cup of ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon of onion powder
- 1 tablespoon of garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon of cayenne pepper
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- ½ cup of apple juice
Below are a few traditional methods for making shredded pork when you don’t have a slow cooker that can get the job done quickly. However, smoked pork shoulder can deliver stronger and better flavors, especially when you use the spice rub in this recipe.
1. Brine Your Pork Butt
Using a small pot, boil the water on your stove, and once it starts boiling, add the sugar and salt. Stir it for 2 to 3 minutes and then set it aside to cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Next, pour it over your pork butt inside a large bowl. Add more water enough to cover the pork, then put plastic wrap over the bowl and leave in the refrigerator overnight.
2. Make Your Dry Rub
In a small bowl, combine the salt, cayenne pepper, black pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder.
3. Rub Your Pork Butt
Use yellow mustard or olive oil to rub the pork which will help your bbq rub to stick to your pork. Continue by rubbing the pork rub you prepared, making sure that the entire exterior of the pork is covered.
4. Smoke Your Pork Butt
Preheat your smoker to 275°F and place a pan inside your smoker full of water; doing this will help to keep your pork moist during the smoking process. Place the pork butt fat side up inside the smoker and leave it for 4 to 5 hours or until the internal temperature comes to 160°F.
5. Spritz Using Apple Juice
While the pork is cooking, use a spray bottle to spritz the pork butt with apple juice every 30 minutes to help it stay juicy. You may also use apple cider vinegar as a substitute.
6. Remove Your Pork
When you see the fat begin to split at the top of the pork butt, take it out of the smoker. This should happen when it reaches 160°F inside the pork.
7. Wrap Your Pork
Use food-grade butcher paper or grill-safe aluminum foil to wrap your pork butt and then put it back inside the smoker until it reaches 203°F. This is referred to as the Texas Crutch Method and should take at least 4 to 5 hours.
8. Rest and Pull Your Pork
Once the meat cooks, remove it from your smoker and keep it wrapped. Let the meat rest for half hour to an hour, then remove the butcher paper. When enough time has passed, use your hands or meat claws to shred the pork, so be ready to provide some labor of love. Be sure to discard any chewy connective tissue you see.
How to Use Pulled Pork
There are many different ways to use smoked pork, whether you use it for your meals throughout the week, or want to store leftover pulled pork for other recipes.
- Sliders or Sandwiches: Use your favorite BBQ sauce to create delectable sandwiches on a toasted bun. You can also add a slaw to make it even more exciting.
- Nachos: You may use your smoked pulled pork to create the perfect snack for game days.
- Mac and Cheese: When you want a bit more flair in an otherwise boring lunch, you can always add barbeque sauce and pulled pork for a punch of flavor.
- Tacos: Pork up your tacos with pulled pork butts, some roasted corn, slaw, and some creamy chipotle sauce.
- Stuffed Sweet Potatoes: If you want to make a hot mess, smoke some sweet potatoes and stuff them with pulled pork, cheddar cheese, butter, green onions, and chipotle cream.
FAQs About Smoking Pulled Pork
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions when making pulled pork.
What’s the Ideal Temperature to Smoke Pulled Pork?
The best smoking temperature for different cuts of pork shoulder should be 275°F. This will be hot enough and should give you plenty of time to render excess fat.
Should You Trim the Fat from Your Pork Butt?
Leaving your pork to smoke for a long time should help to cook the fat down from the meat. Doing this will make it delicious and juicy.
Should You Use Butcher Paper or Foil?
If you’re looking to create a crispy and crunchy outer crust on your pork, it’s best to use butcher paper since it’s more breathable compared to foil. However, some people prefer using foil for pork loin since it captures the fats and juices of the meat.
Smoked pulled pork is no doubt one of the best things to serve in any household, but you first need to know the best way to do so. Using a smoker or grill, you can achieve the best results and the technique you use can help to cut down on the hours it takes to get the perfect cook. Now that you know the essentials of making pulled pork out of pork butts or pork shoulders, you can give your family the best lunch they’ll ever have!
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