How to Smoke Pork Butt - Superb Pulled Pork BBQ
All pulled pork BBQ is not created equal. Yes, there are differences in meat quality, but pulled pork is not filet mignon...and remember, low and slow was originated as a cooking method to redeem lesser cuts of meat.
The recipe below, as with all my smoking recipes, was created using Black Betty, my reverse-flow offset stick burner. I spent 2 years researching and saving toward what would eventually be my choice in smoker, but it was based on wanting a stick burner first, and then quality as best I could determine (for the record, I would choose my Lang smoker again in a heartbeat!)
Quality equipment definitely makes a difference in the process, as well as the end result, but we all are in different places in our grill-master-life, smoker budget and smoker style. What you do and what works for you could be completely different than what I like. And as long as we all keep learning and getting better, we can't lose!
Take what I share here, apply it to your equipment, and do the best you can with what you have. We can all learn from each other no matter if using a $100 C.O.S. (cheap offset smoker) or a $10,000 top-of-the-line piece of equipment. The skill of the grill master makes all the difference no matter the equipment.
1. After opening the packages, rinse the meat under cold running water. NOTE: I did 2 pork butts on this smoke after getting them on sale for $0.99/lb. at my local grocery store.
2. After rinsing, pat dry with paper towel. Next coat the top, bottom and sides with mustard as a binder to help the rub stick to the meat. The mustard will not affect the taste of the meat after it is cooked.
3. When sprinkling rub on the pork, coat it generously. A liberal coating adds flavor to the bark of the finished product and thus to the final product when the pork is shredded. With these butts I used my Spicy BBQ Rub and I could definitely taste the spice in the pulled pork!
4. This is my wood pile...what is left of it that is...of cherry and hickory. I am still learning and trying to understand the taste differences of different woods as they affect smoked meats. I have a long way to go to catch up with those who have been smoking meats for many decades, but I am sure of this - hickory is my favorite so far and I hope to get more this summer. My neighbor has a hard maple that needs to come down and he told me I can keep the wood if I take it down, so I may soon be a maplewood smoker also.
5. Load the firebox with about a half dozen 3" splits (think coke can diameter). Using a weed burner for about 60-90 seconds get a good fire going and leave the baffles and stack 100% open at this time...and for the first 10 minutes or so leave the firebox door and smoker lid open. You want to get past the "smokey" stage, get to more fire/less smoke and build a base of coals. NOTE: Depending on the outside temperature, humidity and wind, it may take a while to get the mass of the smoker hot. Before putting meat in the smoker the whole smoker should be up to temp, usually about 45 minutes to an hour.
6. Black Betty has two thermometers; one 2 inches above the lower grate, the other 2 inches above the upper grate. If the smoker's firebox baffles and stack vent 100% are open, the difference in temperature between the lower and upper level is usually about 60 degrees, but here you can see for a while it is over 100 degrees.
7. With Black Betty, choking back the firebox baffles and stack vent to 50% will bring the temperature difference to as little as 20-25 degrees. For this smoke only the lower shelf was used, but when smoking a lot of product and using both shelves, this is important to control (also, placement left to right, front to back makes a difference.) NOTE: When using your smoker pay attention to where hot spots are. As you use it more and more you'll get better at managing your fire and controlling your temps. There is much discussion on whether you should leave your vents and baffles 100% open (affecting oxygen, airflow and smoke), but every smoker is different. Figure out what works best with your smoker.
The Path to Smoked Perfection!
8. When smoking pork butt, there is a specific temperature pattern to use. The meat will start at around 40-42 degrees from the refrigerator. From there the first goal is 165 degrees, then wrap it in foil with liquid. The final temperature goal is 203 degrees and then cooler it till serving time. NOTE: This, in my opinion, is KEY to obtaining fabulous pulled pork and why I also use my Maverick ET733 dual probe meat thermometer. Once the thermometers were in the center of the meat I shut the lid and simply tended my fire (and mowed the lawn and cleaned the patio and watered the flowers and...). I set a 30-minute timer on my iPhone and every time it rings, I check my fire and add a split or two. It took me a few smokes to get a good feel for what it takes to maintain a consistent temperature in Black Betty, but now it is easy. (This smoke: Outside temperature was 45 degrees in the morning; it took from 7:30AM to 12:30PM to go from 45 degrees to 165 degrees. I was running my smoker a little hotter than usual, around 250-275 degrees as serving time was earlier than I expected. Then, second stage was 12:30PM-2:30PM and the meat hit 203 degrees.)
9. When the Maverick said the butts had an internal temp of around 165 degrees, it's time to wrap. Use heavy duty foil doubled over and add about 6-8 ounces of beer (or apple juice) to each wrapped butt. Wrap the foil over the butt and seal the top, then seal one side and pour your beer in the other. Then seal that side and make sure it is tight against the meat. You don't want air in between the meat and the foil. NOTE: You can use any beer, but I like adding a dark beer if possible. I feel it adds more flavor to the juice that you'll eventually add back to the meat.
9. Place the butts back on the grate and put the probes back in through the foil.
10. The desired final temp is 203 degrees...give or take a couple degrees over, but not under. Once the meat is at 203 degrees, pull out the temperature probes and place each butt in a small foil tray (this contains the juice if the foil leaks a little...don't lose the juice!) Then place the meat in a cooler and close the lid. Even when your guests beg for a sniff, do not open the cooler until you are ready to serve or you risk losing precious heat. NOTE: I put a towel on the bottom of the cooler, the butts on top of the towel and then another towel on top before closing the cooler. It helps keeps the meat piping hot!
Coolering the Meat
11. The awesome thing about coolering meat is multifold:
- The meat is wrapped with the juice, it is still at 203 degrees and only continuing to improve for the next hour...or two...or three (I've gone up to 5 hours and had ZERO noticeable loss in temperature.)
- You can smoke early in the day and be finished long before guests arrive, allowing you to relax with a beer and cigar after a hard day tending the fire!
- You can control serving time to the minute! When everything else - beans, mac'n cheese, potatoes - is ready, you serve.
Time to Eat!
12. Serving time! As you can see by the picture below, if you follow the temperature guidelines laid out the bone will simply pull out with not a lick of meat attached. From there, shredding does not require bear claws or other tools to accomplish, simply heat-protected hands and elbow grease! OH YES, do not forget this - do not pour out or discard the juice. Pour it out of the foil and into the pan, mixing the meat and the juice together. It adds moisture and flavor back into the meat and makes the pulled pork juicier and tastier!! NOTE: I use cotton string knit gloves covered with latex gloves to protect my hands from the heat.
13. In this pic you can see I poured some of my Championship Memphis Red Sauce over the pork before devouring and although the pulled pork sandwich was AMAZING my wife's beans gave it a run for the money (I only took the mac'n cheese and potatoes to be nice.)
Talk of the Town!
So, there you have it. How to create amazing pulled pork that will astound and amaze your friends!! (And yes, one of my future blog posts will be my wife's beans...they are so good, they could stop a war!)
I would love it if you commented below...it is the give and take and sharing of info that makes us all better smokers!