To get the best pulled pork, you need to pour time and effort into cooking your smoked pork butt to ensure that it falls off the bone. Slow and low is the approach we’ll be taking, and for a lot of people, smoking is the best way to infuse as much flavor and juiciness into your cooking process. In this in-depth guide, we give the best pork recipe to impress in your next outdoor celebration while sharing the secret to how long you should smoke pork shoulder.
Table of Contents
Pork Shoulder or Pork Butt?
Before we dive into our pork shoulder recipe, it’s important that we first learn about the cuts of meat we’ll be using. It actually comes with different names which can be confusing; “pork butt” doesn’t actually come from a cow’s behind. Both pork shoulder and pork butt come from a pig’s shoulder and these terms can be used interchangeably.
However, they have subtle differences — pork butt will come with more marbling and fat compared to a pork shoulder, which makes it a more flavorful and juicier cut of pork. Moreover, pork shoulders may also come with their skin on, something you don’t want when aiming for the best smoked pulled pork.
Picking Your Pork Shoulder
When looking for the right cut of meat at your grocery store or your local butcher, be sure to look for a pork butt or shoulder that has no skin but has the fat cap included. It’s also good to know that pork butts may also be called “Boston butt,” while pork shoulders can be referred to as “picnic roast” or “picnic shoulder”. While you can choose between cuts with bone-in or ones that are boneless, the best way to get tender meat is to always work with a bone-in pork shoulder which is also relatively affordable.
What is Pulled Pork?
This classic American dish originates from the South and uses pork butt (or pork shoulder) that’s been shredded as its main ingredient. To achieve a mouth-watering taste and texture, it goes through a long cook at a lower temperature and then mixed with regional-based sauces. Traditionally, the meat will undergo long smokes inside a smoker, oven, wood fire, or slow cooker.
What’s the Best Cut for Pulled Pork?
You can choose from either a pork butt or pork shoulder, which is what most people use of all kinds of pulled pork recipes. Either piece of meat is naturally fatty and will fall right off the bone when given proper cooking time. After hours of smoking, they will deliver flavorful meat along with a melt-in-your-mouth texture that will be the hit of your dinner.
How Long to Smoke Pork Shoulder?
Because bone-in pork butt will come with plenty of connective tissue, it will take a long time for your smoked pork shoulder to cook from the beginning to the end. Because there are different ways to cook your pork shoulder, smoking time may vary depending on the kind of smoker you use. As a general rule of thumb, you should dedicate at least 1 ½ to 2 hours of smoke for every pound pork butt if you’re smoking at 225 degrees Fahrenheit.
There are a few factors to consider such as the size of your meat, your smoker’s consistency, as well as the outside temperature. Be sure to start early so you can have plenty of time for prep especially if this is your first time working with a smoker. Finally, cook your pork inside a cooler to keep it warm until you’re ready to shred it — let the meat rest for around half hour to an hour.
Smoking Your Pork Butt
Now it’s time to start the process of smoking your pork shoulder. As long as you follow the instructions below, you should be able to enjoy the most delicious pulled pork that you can proudly serve to all your friends and family.
Preparing Your Smoker
Start by preheating your smoker (people find a pellet grill to be the best choice) to 225°F. Because smokers will come with different mechanisms and functions, it’s best to follow the manufacturer’s instructions during startup. Place a water pan under your grate to help regulate your smoker’s temperature but this is an optional step. This recipe uses Apple Wood because we find that it compliments pork very well but you can use any wood chips that you prefer.
Seasoning Your Pork Shoulder
Keeping your pork butt at room temperature, start to pat it dry using paper towels then spread Dijon mustard all over your meat. You won’t be able to taste it but doing this will make sure that your spice rub sticks and covers the meat while helping to tenderize it. Next, apply your favorite pork rub seasoning all over your pork butt.
If you’re looking for a dry rub recipe you can use, here’s one that will pair well with all kinds of pork:
- Black pepper
- Brown sugar
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
Smoking Your Pork Shoulder
Start by placing your pork shoulder directly onto your smoker with the fat side facing up then insert the thermometer probe. You will need to smoke your meat for a few hours until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 160°F. If your smoker doesn’t come with a built-in thermometer, you can always use a digital meat thermometer that instantly displays your pork’s temperature.
Wrapping Your Pork Shoulder
Once the meat reaches 160°F, take some non-coated butcher paper and wrap it up then place your pork shoulder back inside and smoke it for a longer time until it reaches 203°F. A good alternative is aluminum foil if you don’t have any butcher paper on hand, but the latter allows for the absorption of smoke and seals in the juices. This results in super tender and juicy meat while helping to build up a good bark.
When Your Temperature Stalls
You might see that your meat’s temperature is going up steadily until it reaches 150°F, so you may be under the impression that everything will be smooth sailing from there. But all of a sudden, you find that the temperature has stopped going up — this is referred to as a “stall” but this is normal. This may last anywhere between 2 to 6 hours and is basically the process of breaking down the connective tissues while the creation of bark takes place.
Formation of the Bark
After a few hours, you’ll see that your meat’s exterior is starting to blacken and it may look like it’s burnt — it’s not. It’s simply going through the process of getting its bark, which is a sweet, caramel-like, and chewy outer layer that mixes with your meat during the smoking process.
Resting Your Pork Shoulder
When your pork shoulder reaches the higher temperature of 203°F (again, the cook time should take around 1 ½ to 2 hours for every pound of meat), remove it from your smoker and allow it to rest for an hour while it’s still wrapped. You can tell that you’ve succeeded in cooking when it’s so tender that the shoulder bone actually falls off the meat. Give yourself a pat on the back and get ready for some seriously juicy pork!
Pulling Your Pork Shoulder
Now you can unwrap your pork shoulder and place it in a big serving dish — if you’re eating outside, a foil pan will do. Be sure to pull out the shoulder blade and throw it away before you start shredding. The best way to shred your pork is by using your hands with grilling gloves to pull them apart but you can also use forks or meat claws to get smaller pieces.
Ways to Use Your Pulled Pork
At this point, you can use your favorite BBQ sauce to serve or you may try other sauces to see what flavor will suit your tastes. For other people, there’s no problem with serving their pulled pork straight from the aluminum pan without any additions required! However, if you plan to use leftovers for the next day, there are many other ways for you to use pulled pork.
If you’re looking for a great first meal to start your day right, toss some pulled pork on a Hawaiian roll or toasted bun to make a great sandwich. You can add slaw, pickles, BBQ sauce, or just pile on as much pulled pork as you want without any other toppings.
Pork Mac and Cheese
If you’re a fan of soul food, you can’t miss out on this southern classic side dish. When you want your mac and cheese meals to have a bit more oomph, you can add pulled pork. You can even substitute chicken with pork if you want something that’s packed with more flavor.
Pork Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
When you want to explore flavors, try making a “Hot Mess” — a dish made traditionally with sweet potatoes, shredded pork, cheddar cheese, chipotle cream, green onions, and butter. You can bake or smoke your sweet potatoes to get a nice consistency and you may add other toppings as you please to find the flavor combination that works for you.
When you want to host a game day with a delightful snack, why not make some pulled pork nachos? On the other hand, you can also make pulled pork tacos, which you can serve with a corn salsa or a slaw. Simply add some chipotle sauce to add another dimension of flavor that everyone will love!
Pork Butt Recipe FAQs
Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about cooking pork shoulder that you may need to know.
Can I Make Pork Shoulder Ahead of Time?
Yes, you can. All you need to do is keep your pork wrapped in butcher paper and wrap it again inside a towel before you pull it apart. Put it inside a cooler to keep it warm for the next few hours (up to 3 hours). This will come in handy when you finish cooking ahead of time for your party or picnic.
How Should I Store My Leftover Pulled Pork?
Any leftover pork can be refrigerated inside an airtight container or inside a plastic wrap for as long as 4 days. When you want to freeze it, be sure to use a freezer-safe container or bag and remove as much air as you can. Your pulled pork should stay fresh in your freezer for as long as 3 months.
How Can I Reheat Pulled Pork Without Drying it Out?
When you want to reheat your smoked pulled pork, place it inside a baking dish and heat it in your oven under 250°F until it’s heated thoroughly. Cover the dish in aluminum foil to help keep the moisture inside, or you can also add barbecue sauce, apple cider vinegar, or apple juice using a spray bottle before you reheat it. You can also use a slow cooker or the microwave as an alternative.
What is the Best Wood for Smoking Pork Shoulder?
Everyone has different tastes and will have their own preferences when it comes to the right wood to use when smoking pork shoulders. However, the most popular options include Pecan, Maple, Apple, Hickory, and Oak, which all add a great flavor to their meat. But if you’re feeling adventurous, you can always try a combination of
No matter what the occasion, pulled pork from smoked pork shoulders is among the most delectable pieces of meat that you can prepare. A great smoked pork shoulder will have a rich smoke flavor that would’ve gone through a slow process under low heat to let the meat cook. When you want to feed the whole family, you can count on this pulled pork recipe to satisfy their cravings, and to get ideas for leftovers!
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