Pulled pork is an age-old BBQ favorite, especially in the southern states.
Pork butt, also known as Boston butt, is the preferred cut for making pulled pork like a pitmaster.
This particular cut of meat has many benefits when it comes to smoking. Pork butt is loaded with flavor, and it’s also tender and packs a superb texture.
If you’re a fan of pulled pork on the go and you now want to bring that delicious classic to your home grill, you’re in for a treat today.
And the best news?
Smoking pork butt really isn’t that hard once you know how.
First, then, some pork butt basics so you can better understand what you’re dealing with.
I. Pork Butt 101
The butt is located above the shoulder blade of the animal, and it typically weighs between 5 and 10 pounds.
You’ll find that most Boston butts come with a fat cap on one side. The preponderance of fat on this meat makes it a perfect candidate for popping in your smoker. You’ll be rewarded with oodles of flavor, and a moist, tender end result on your plate.
Now, before we show you how to bring out the best in your Boston butt, we’ll highlight the most effective cuts you can use.
II. What Are The Best Cuts for Pulled Pork?
The most suitable cuts for making pulled pork come from either the shoulder or the neck area of the pig.
Both pork shoulder – this is typically called pork butt or Boston butt – and the collar butt are heavily studded with fat, properties which render these cuts perfect for cooking slow and low.
Always look for a cut with a decent amount of fat marbling. These little white flecks of intramuscular fat will ensure your pulled pork stays moist and brimming with flavor.
Pork butt is widely available in supermarkets with pulled pork popular the world over. If you prefer, you could source your meat from a local butchers. If neither of these are practical, consider a prime meat specialist retailer like Snake River Farms so you can get premium pork butt delivered to your door.
Now for the main event and some tips for smoking pork butt and generating lip-smacking pulled pork.
III. Tips for Smoking Pork Butt Like a Pitmaster
- Use the best possible cut of pork butt
- Fail to plan, plan to fail
- Consider injecting your pork butt
- Get the smoker temperature right
- Smoke your pork butt
1) Use the best possible cut of pork butt
To reiterate our advice above, always look for the best grade of pork you can find without overextending yourself financially. All-natural meat from small forms will typically outperform industrial pork. This tends to be laced with all kinds of additives.
You should avoid using pork that’s been frozen for some time. You’ll yield the best pulled pork from meat that’s fresh and only recently cut.
Look for a pork butt with a nice balance of muscle fibers and fat throughout the cut. You don’t want so much fat that you need to trim it, as this can impact the overall texture. If you’re not confident choosing the right cut of Boston butt, don’t be afraid to ask your butcher for help. Befriend your butcher if you’re committed to home grilling, and nurture that relationship. Any grilled or smoked food is only as good as the ingredients you use, so don’t sell yourself short.
The best pork butt for pulled pork has the shoulder bone intact. This will not only help to hold the meat together, but it will also serve as a thermometer. As soon as the meat is done, this bone should slide easily out.
2) Fail to plan, plan to fail
The most crucial factor when you’re cooking pulled pork is the temperature of your smoker. Set this for 235F for a slow and low cook.
You can inject your meat – more on that directly below – but if you cook pork butt at a low temperature, there will be ample moisture inside the meat as it cooks. The moisture ensures that the fat efficiently breaks down.
There is no need to trim the meat. If you’re wondering why competition grillers trim their meat, this is primarily for aesthetics.
Use your favorite BBQ rub and binder. A thin coating of yellow mustard works well as a binder without introducing a pronounced flavor. The rub will tenderize the outside of the meat and allow the seasonings to more fully penetrate the pork.
Allow your pork butt to rest for 30 minutes after rubbing. While you could choose to leave the rub on overnight – contrary to popular belief, this will not dry out the meat – you’ll achieve most of the beneficial effects within a half-hour.
3) Consider injecting your pork butt
Marinades and rubs will only impact the exterior of the meat.
If you want to go deeper, you’ll need to consider injecting your pork butt using a meat injector. This will potentially make your pulled pork even more tender, but this step is not obligatory.
4) Get the smoker temperature right
As we mentioned, getting the temperature right is crucial.
You’ll find the majority of pulled pork recipes suggest cooking temperatures between 225F and 250F. Go for somewhere in the middle with 235F and dial things in from here.
Once you have your smoker started and all the vents wide open, wait until the temperature gets to within 75F of your target temperature and then start closing down the vents.
It’s time to get smoking!
5) Smoke your pork butt
When the temperature has stabilized for 30 minutes or so without you needing to make further vent adjustments, it’s time to slide in your meat.
By this stage, the smoke should no longer be thick and white, but instead blue and scarcely visible.
Insert an internal temperature probe into your pork and wait until the internal temperature hits 160F.
You can now remove your pork butt from the smoker. Wrap the cut of meat in two layers of aluminum foil and then return the butt to the smoker. Track the internal temperature until it hits 195F.
Some all-purpose smoking tips:
- Using grill racks will make it easier for you to shift your pork butt around. Always spray the rack first with some cooking oil. This will prevent pork from sticking to the racks
- Always wear gloves and ensure your hands are clean so you minimize the chance of cross-contamination
- Use any decent smoking wood, although apple always makes a wonderful combination with pulled pork
- If you notice any dry areas, use a spray bottle filled with some apple juice and spritz your Boston butt to help the outer layer caramelize further
So far, so good. How, though, do you know when your pork butt is ready?
VI. When Is the Pork Butt Ready?
Most Boston butt is ready for resting once the internal temperature is between 195F and 210F. It’s worth aiming for the lower end of this range and then cooking to feel once you reach this point.
Cooking to feel involves using a metal skewer. You use this to probe the pork throughout. Continue probing until you meet with no further resistance. As you probe, take great care not to pierce the foil at the bottom. This is one of the reasons for using a double layer of foil as a precautionary measure. The foil will hold in all those juices you’ve spent hours building up inside.
When your pork butt feels tender all over, it’s time to remove it from the smoker and allow it to rest. This will normally be after somewhere between 3 and 4 hours of smoking.
V. Resting, Pulling, and Serving Pork Butt
We understand you are unlikely to own a commercial food warmer, so you can easily use a cooler with a lockable lid instead.
Grab any standard cooler and then use an old towel to line it. Take another old towel and wrap your pork butt – leave the foil on – and put it inside. Line with a third old towel and then pop the lid on your cooler.
You should allow your pork butt to rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour when you’re cooking low and slow. Ideally – and if you have the time and the patience – allow your pork butt to rest for 2 hours. We can assure you it will be worth the wait.
Once the Boston butt has rested, you should transfer it to a tray. Take care not to spill any of those precious juices as you go. Decant all of the liquid onto the tray, too.
Now it’s time for the pulling part of the pulled pork. First, put on some food-safe gloves. Over the top of these, wear some cotton gloves to protect your hands from feeling too hot or too cold.
Remove any hard, fatty gristle that hasn’t been rendered down during the smoking process.
Pull all the pork apart and then add some BBQ sauce. You can also add some more rub at this stage. Mix thoroughly and serve!
If you take the above tips into account when you’re looking for the best cut of pork butt, you should have no trouble smoking the best pulled pork without too much time or trouble.
Everything starts with the best cut of pork butt for the job. If you get this wrong, you are unlikely to yield great results. It’s always worth exploring local butchers shops if your supermarket doesn’t have the best selection of meat. Almost without exception, you’ll end up with a wider choice at a quality butchers, and you’ll also have a selection of superior cuts at your disposal.
Preparation is also key when you’re smoking pulled pork. By taking a little time and trouble before you fire up your smoker, you’ll end up with pulled pork to die for.
Before you head off today, take a moment to bookmark Madiba. We bring you fresh and informative content daily on all aspects of grilling like a pitmaster even if you’re a complete beginner. Let us know your favorite pulled pork recipe in the comments below and we’ll see you soon!