Pulled Pork may get its origins from the Carolinas, but it has also made its way across to the Western United States and has become a very popular meat to barbecue on a smoker. Pulled pork is dubbed “The feast of champions” for those that like to smoke their meats. It is perfect for feeding a large crowd and the most fool-proof of the low and slow smoked foods.
This is the perfect meat for a beginner that wants to experiment with smoking meats. Check out my article and recipe for North Carolina Pig Pickin and the history of Barbecue on our Smoked Brisket Recipe.
Pork shoulder is the best cut of meat for pulled pork since it is laced with flavorful fat and connective tissue that will melt when cooked low and slow giving it a succulent flavor. In this recipe, we will take you through the techniques on how to spice, smoke, and dress a pulled pork. I sought out advice from a few different sources and you will find varying opinions on proper barbecuing methods. I found this technique to work out great and will provide step-by-step photos.
The recipe for the pork rub ingredients come from a local Oregon barbecue master, Digger, from the Log Cabin restaurant. He makes his own “Digger Dust” using secret ingredients that he will not fully divulge, but my rub will come close! For the smoking techniques, I picked the brain of a barbecuing enthusiast and extended family member, Don Garland, plus I also gleaned more tips from the Traeger website.
The Vinegar Sauce Recipe, used to dress the finished pulled pork, is inspired by North Carolina’s famous Vinegar Secret Sauce, which I adapted to my own tastes. Most North Carolina families and restaurants, that are known for their barbecues, make their own sauce. In fact, they will tell you that the “secret is in the sauce.” You would no more ask a barbecue man for his sauce recipe that you would for the use of his dog. Most people simply call their sauce “Secret Sauce.”
The finished product was amazing and I think it can rival the top recipes out there!
Perfect Pulled Pork Recipe – How To Smoke Pork Butt Recipe:
Purchasing Pork Butt Roast:
Pork Butts can weigh 4 to 14 pounds and usually have a shoulder blade bone in them. Some butchers remove the bone and sell boneless butts. You can buy the pork butt with the bone-in and it will help hold the meat together or you can purchase boneless (that is held together by a string because the meat falls apart easier). Partial butts can also be found in the 4 to 5 pound range. These smaller cuts can cook more quickly and make a crispier outer crust.
When purchasing a pork butt. look for one that has a good layer of fat at the top (this is called the fat cap). You also want to see that the fat is marbled throughout the entire cut of pork. The fat should appear bright white in color. If it has a yellowish appearance, then it is not a fresh cut of meat.
It is recommended to buy a pork butt between 6 to 14 pounds to feed a large group. Any smaller than 4 pounds, and the pork will cook too quickly. Calculate about 1/2 pound of meat or more per person if that is the only meat you will be serving. There will be up 20% shrinkage during cooking and you can still count on leftovers to freeze for a later meal.
Use A Digital Meat Thermometer:
The most important part about smoking pulled pork to use a meat thermometer with a cable attached to the meat probe tip. The sweet spot for pulled pork is 195 degrees F. A good thermometer with a meat probe will allow for the probe tip to stay in the pork during the entire cooking process while the smoker lid is closed and give you a continuous temperature reading of the meat to ensure it does not overcook.
I recommend using the Thermoworks Smoke Pro Series 2 Channel High Temp Cooking Probe for continuous monitoring of the meat’sinternal temperaturein addition to monitoring the smoker’s internal temperature during the smoking and cooking process. Includes wireless receiver to remotely monitor the temperatures from up to 300 feet away.
Preparing the Pork Butt:
Previously Frozen: If your pork butt roast is frozen, let it thaw completely in the refrigerator, approximately 2 to 3 days (depending on the size of your roast).
Room Temperature: To cook evenly, the roast must not be cold – let it stand at room temperature, loosely covered, for about 2 to 4 hours. This time can vary depending on how big or small your roast is. I can not give you an exact time on this. If you do not let the roast come to room temperature, if will take longer to cook your roast, your roast won’t cook evenly, and you will end up with well-done slices on the end and raw meat in the center.
Trim the fat cap off the meat: Trim the fat down to 1/4-inch to ensure the smoke is able to penetrate the meat. If the fat cap is too thick, the pork will not cook evenly. If the fat is completely cut off, you will lose the flavor. The surface fat and the marbling melt as the pork butt smokes, cooking the meat and keeping it moist. Some people like to trim down the fat cap to as little as 1/8-inch because they really want to form a good flavorful crust or bark around the meat. If your pork is boneless, it is helpful to tie it up to prevent the meat from falling.
Tenderize the Pork Roast – Spice Rub Recipe: Prepare the Spice Rub (see recipe below).
Dry Spice Rub Recipe – Oregon Gold Dust Rub:
For pulled pork there is no need to soak in a marinade, brine, or use flavor injections to tenderize.
The best method to tenderize is rubbing the meat with a mix of spices. A store bought pork rub can be used to rub into the meat or you can use the following ingredients to make your own rub mix. Store any extra rub in an airtight container or put in a shaker near the stove to use as seasoning for your cooking.
1/4 cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup finely-ground coarse salt or kosher salt
1/2 cup smoked paprika
1/4 cup granulated garlic
1/4 cup onion powder
2 tablespoons dried rosemary
2 tablespoons white pepper
2 tablespoons mustard powder
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons powdered ginger
Grind together the sugar, salt and all the spices until they reach a fine powder consistency. The grinding can be done using a few different options such as, by hand using mortar and pestle, with a coffee grinder (cleaned out), or a small blender can be used.
Makes approximately 2 cups.
Place the pork roast in a large roasting pan, fat side up. Rub olive oil over entire pork butt until evenly coated. The olive oil will help the spice rub mixture cling to the meat and the spices will penetrate better while cooking.
Rub the prepared spice mixture into the pork until the entire pork roast is covered with the rub. If more rub is needed to cover meat, then make another batch of rub. It is important to make sure the entire pork butt is completely covered with the spice rub mixture to help seal in the juices and add a flavorful crust or bark to the outside of the pork.
It is recommended to let the spiced-rubbed pork sit for at least one (1) hour so the flavors can penetrate. You can let the pork sit in a rub overnight covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator, but keep in mind the rub will start to draw out some of the moisture.
Smoking the Pork Butt:
Preheat Smoker Grill to 170 degrees F. Cooking at a low temperature will make the wood smoke more.
Place the prepared pork butt, in the roasting pan, in the preheated smoker and close the smoker lid.
Smoke the pork for 3 hours. As the smoke is penetrating the pork during the smoking phase, it will build up a pink smoke ring around the outer edges of the pork. If you want, you can skip this low-smoking step and go straight to cooking the pork (as it will smoke while cooking at a lower heat). I personally prefer a good smoke flavor on the pork.
Cooking the Pork Butt:
At this stage you can remove the pork butt from the roasting pan and place directly on the grill grate. (I still kept mine in the roasting pan, so I could catch the drippings to mix in later.) Insert the meat probe of your digital thermometer so the tip of the probe is positioned in the center of the pork butt. Make sure the probe is no closer than 1-inch from the bone.
Turn up the temperature of the smoker grill to 225 to 250 degrees F. Some smokers may not have a 225 degree F. setting, so it is ok to turn smoker temperature up to 250 degrees F. as long as you watch your internal temperature – remember the idea is to cook low and slow. Close the smoker lid for the rest of the cooking time.
Check your pork butt every hour to make sure the smoker is maintaining the 225 to 250 degree F. cooking temperature and watch the internal meat temperature. Do not raise the lid of the smoker any more than you absolutely need to (it reduces the temperature inside every time you do). Cooking the pork can take anywhere from 1 1/2 to 2 hours per pound to cook (roughly 6 to 8 hours), as it depends on the toughness of the pork butt.
Cook the pork until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 195 to 200 degrees F. with your cooking thermometer. This means that the collagens, that are part of the connective tissues, have melted into the meat making it tender and gelatin like.
Open the smoker lid and check the meat. If you have a bone in the meat, use a paper towel or glove to see if the bone wiggles easily from the meat. If no bone, then pierce the meat with a fork to see if you can easily turn the fork 90 degrees. If you see either of these indications the pork is ready to remove from the smoker. The outside should look like a dark brown crust with an almost burnt appearance. No worries – It is not burnt and it will taste wonderful!
Remove the pork from the smoker, cover with aluminum foil, and let the meat rest for 30 to 60 minutes to keep the juices in. If you are more than an hour away from eating, you can leave the pork in the turned off smoker with the lid on. As another option, you can even place in your oven at low 170 degree F. temperature.
Troubleshooting tips: If the pork still seems to tough, close the lid and let the meat cook for another 30 minutes. If the meat is still not tender after checking again, you can continue cooking up to an internal temperature of 203 degrees F. on your meat thermometer. If you really have a tough piece of meat, you can wrap the pork but in some aluminum foil and let it cook until the internal temperature reaches 205 degrees F. Remember to keep testing the pork for tenderness. Warning – do not go above an internal temperature of 205 degrees F. or the meat will start losing moisture and toughen up.
Pulling the Pork:
When you are ready to pull apart the pork, you should see the dark pink smoke ring under the outer crust.
You can pull the pork meat apart by hand using two forks in a motion that is pulling away from each other to separate the meat into strands. Make sure to mix together the outside crust (bark), fat, and drippings into the pork mixture (that is where you will find all your flavor and moisture).
Crust opened to show dark pink smoke ring under the crust
Pulling pork with two forks
Saucing the Meat:
Prepare the Vinegar Sauce (see recipe below).
Vinegar Sauce Recipe:
3 cups apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups prepared ketchup
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon coarse salt or sea salt
1 teaspoon Oregon Gold Dust (see Rub Recipe above)
1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
In small pan over medium-high heat, combine all ingredients and bring just to a boil. Turn heat down to low and let simmer for 15 minutes.
Either add the salt or add a few dashes of the Dry Spice Rub Mixture to taste. Add additional brown sugar to taste if you prefer a sweeter sauce.
Mix the prepared Vinegar Sauce into the meat to add even more flavor. Make sure not to drown the meat in sauce because you still want to taste the rub and smoke flavors. Serve and enjoy.
The pork butt makes the best sandwich meat (such as Pulled Pork Sandwiches and Sliders). Can eat the pulled pork alone or makes great sandwiches. Also check out this Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Breakfast Casserole recipe.
Categories:Cooking Lessons - Cooking 101 Grilled/Smoked Pork Lunch Pork Shoulder Roast Smoked/Pulled Pork Southeast