While there are countless non-barbecue websites out there promoting their “quick and easy pulled pork recipe,” the bulk of these call for cooking a pork butt in a crockpot, Instapot, or other slow cooker. While the end result may LOOK like BBQ pulled pork, there really is no substitute for an authentic smoked pulled pork recipe featuring meat that has been slowly cooked over low heat in a smoker or grill until it is melt-in-your-mouth tender.
I Like Pork Butts And I Cannot Lie! (click here to share this on Twitter).
Pork butt (or the larger pork shoulder which is made up of the butt and the picnic) is a most forgiving cut, and it is almost impossible to ruin when cooked low and slow, making it a great place for beginners to start learning how to smoke meat.
With a combination of smoke woven through tender threads of moist meat, potent bits of strongly seasoned crust, and a gentle splash of barbecue sauce, pulled pork is one of the most popular low and slow smoked foods, perfect for feeding large crowds. It is best made from pork butt (a.k.a. Boston butt, butt, shoulder butt, shoulder roast, country roast, Boston roast, and shoulder blade roast), which typically weighs from 5 to 8 pounds. And you can do it well on a smoker or practically any grill with a lid. “How long does it takes to cook pulled pork?” you ask? At 225F, plan on about 1 hour 15 minutes per pound.
Smoked pork butt a lazy, slow, easy, and fragrant process. You set up a lawn chair and sip a cup of coffee as you put the meat on in the morning, then as the sun gets high, you switch to a cool refreshing beverage like beer, and at mid-day maybe a mint julep is in order to refresh the palate, then as the meat approaches doneness with the sun waning in the sky, you might switch to straight Bourbon. A day well spent. Here’s the best pulled pork recipe ever!
Despite what it sounds like, pork butt comes from the shoulder, has a shoulder blade bone in it, and is laced with flavorful fat and connective tissue. That’s the story of the origin of Southern barbecue. A cheap cut of meat that the slave owners didn’t want, that, as the slaves discovered, when cooked low and slow, when the fat and collagens melt, the muscle fibers are made tender, moist, and succulent. Like buttah. Please don’t ruin a lean, tender, pork loin by trying to make pulled pork. Loin meat has little of the fat and connective tissue necessary to make great pulled pork. If you have a loin, use this approach. No ifs ands or butts, butts makes the best sandwich meat on the hog.
Berkshire hogs are a breed that became scarce when the pork promoters moved to leaner pork to promote it as “the other white meat”. Berkshires tend to have darker, fattier, and more flavorful meat. The best smoked pulled pork recipe I ever had was a Berkshire served at a catered event, without sauce, by Barry Sorkin of Smoque BBQ in Chicago. It looked like turkey dark meat and was incredibly tender and flavorful. It is not on their menu yet because it is expensive, but one can hope.
That depends on the gender, age, time of day, what else is being served, and amount of alcohol present. If you are serving chicken, hot dogs, brats, and burgers as well as pulled pork, you will need less. There is significant shrinkage and waste in the form of bone and globs of fat you discard when pulling so factor that in when preparing this smoked pulled pork recipe. Count on about 30% loss, and if there is less, then you’ll have leftovers. I usually plan on buying 1 pound per person before shrinkage, trimming, etc., and look forward to leftovers. I freeze leftovers in two person portions in zipper bags and they have rescued many a Tuesday night when we don’t feel like cooking from scratch. Click here for an article on how much to cook for a party. Also be sure to check out an article about how to adjust cooking time if you are cooking more than one, if at all, if you are cooking several butts at once.
This is flesh, not widgets, and one hog is different than another, your cooker has its own peculiarities that can significantly impact cooking time, and even weather and humidity come into play. The determining factor in cooking time for all meats is the thickness of the meat, so smaller and thinner butts will cook faster. A 5 pounder should take 10 to 12 hours with this smoked pulled pork recipe. After you prepare this smoked pulled pork recipe one or two times, you will learn how your cooker handles this cut. Read my article on what determines cooking time. Allow plenty of time and have handy a beer cooler to use as as a faux Cambro to hold the meat if it finishes early. The meat is at its maximum tenderness and juiciness when it hits 203°F (203°F is my target, but actual time and temp varies on the individual animal).
If it is not ready on time, don’t panic. You can crank up the heat if you are running behind. Butt can handle it. Butts are very forgiving so temp control is not crucial. The bark might get a bit dry, there might be a little more shrinkage than usual, it might be slightly more chewy, but it will still be delicious. If you kick the temp up to about 275°F, you can cut cooking time by 2 to 4 hours. If you use the Texas Crutch at about 150°F you can cut another 2 hours or so off cooking time. Again, your time may vary depending on a number of variables such as humidity in the cooker. Don’t forget to allow 30 minutes to pull the meat if you do it with your fingers (ouch!), 15 minutes with Claws. If it is time to serve and it is still not at the ideal temp, just slice the meat. Don’t pull it because it won’t shred easily. Slices of smoked pork butt are wonderful.
You absolutely positively cannot rely on bi-metal dial thermometers. If you are not monitoring your cooker with a good digital oven thermometer, and if you are not monitoring the meat with a good digital leave-in thermometer you are setting yourself up for disappointment. All the pros use digital thermometers and this is far more important than injecting or foiling. Click here to read my buyer’s guide to thermometers.
I frequently get asked how to handle cooking two shoulders (or more) or a shoulder and a brisket, or a shoulder, brisket, ribs, and a muskrat. The answer is here, in my article on Cooking More Than One Large Hunk O’ Meat. For big parties across town I will smoke 3 or more butts, pull them, and then put them in a big pan. I add about 1/2 cup of water per 5 pounds, and about 1 tablespoon of butter per pound. I carry it to the party in a cold cooler. When I get to the party I heat it in a slow cooker. Occasionally I will add the sauce before I leave to make sure it is moist and easy to serve. Just don’t use so much sauce that you can’t taste the meat and the smoke.
Purists will fall out of their lawn chairs when they read this, but a good shortcut is to and cut your butt into two hunks. This will give you more surface area with more crunchy, tasty bark, more smoke penetration, and significantly speed up the cooking. The tradeoff is that the meat will lose a little more moisture. It can take it. Here’s how:
Let’s say your butt is about 10″ long, and 6″ diameter. If you feel around you will find the blade bone embedded in there. You may even see it sticking out. It is usually pretty much on one end, the slightly fatter end. You can cut it across the width, just below the bone. You will end up with one part slightly larger than the other. On an 8 pounder, one half will be about 5 pounds, and the other about 3 pounds. Put the large piece on the smoker first, and then the small piece about two hours later.
Here’s another trick. After 2 hours of smoking at about 225°F with lots of smoke, put the meat on a roasting rack in a roasting pan, pour a cup of water or apple juice into the pan, cover the meat with foil, and fasten the foil tightly to the edges of the pan so the meat is in a nice enclosed environment. Don’t let the foil touch the meat if you use a steel pan. Roast in the indoor oven at 350°F for another 2 to 3 hours or until the temp hits 203°F.
There are so many wonderful ways to serve the results of this easy BBQ pulled pork recipe. It is marvelous just piled warm and steaming on a plate with no sauce. So many people make the mistake of dumping a bottle of sauce over the meat. Please don’t. The taste unadorned and unadulterated, hot from the smoker, is unmatched in the culinary world. It is the quintessence of porkdom. Serve it nekkid. Urge people to taste it nekkid. Then, if they wish, a splash sauce on the top is all.
I often get asked what’s the best way to prepare my smoked pulled pork recipe on Saturday and serve it on Sunday. My answer is “don’t do it”. That’s called serving leftovers. Fresh meat is best. But it can be done.
These meats are best fresh off the smoker. If you have to serve it at noon on Sunday, the best method is to get up in the middle of the night and start cooking in the wee hours. If you need to take it to a game, then wrap the hot meat in foil and blankets and put it in a beer cooler and you can keep it warm that way for about two hours (read my article on faux Cambros).
If you cook it Saturday to serve Sunday, click here for tips on how to pull it off.
Smoked pulled pork the following day is best reheated in the microwave a small amount at a time. But it will be a bit drier and tougher than the first day, so bring back some life with a splash of water, apple juice, or barbecue sauce. The best method is in the microwave, second best is to heat it slowly in a pot with the lid on.
If you have leftovers from this easy BBQ pulled pork recipe that you will not scarf down in a few days, mix the leftovers with a bit of barbecue sauce, and freeze them in measured portions in zipper bags. The sauce prevents freezer burn. Pop one in the microwave and you’ve got a great emergency meal for two.
Here are some other things to do with leftovers.
For home cooks, the easiest thing to do is trim off excess fat and cook the Boston Butt whole. But competition cooks think the ne plus ultra in this tangled mass of muscles is what they call the money muscle, pork collar, or tiger muscle because it is striped. Technically it is the multifidus dorsi.
It is a tube shaped muscle that runs across the butt on the surface on the side opposite the blade bone. Competition cooks try to isolate it during the cook so it can brown all around. Rules forbid them from removing it altogether, so they leave it attached by as little as possible, as below.
Here is a money muscle after the cook, removed from the rest of the butt, and sliced for presentation in a competition turn-in box, as cooked by Todd Johns of Plowboys Barbecue team. Notice that it is not pulled. Each slice is a succulent, juicy nugget with a crunchy crust, and it is the first thing the judges reach for. By the way, Johns, teaches excellent competition cooking classes (I have attended one).
Nowadays, with prize money in the thousands, most of the competitors strive for every edge they can get and many of them inject their butts with a moisturizer/flavorizer/tenderizer like Butcher BBQ Pork Injection. I’ve used it a few times, and it works as advertised, but most of the time I don’t bother. Pork butt is usually tender enough, juicy enough, and tasty enough without the addition of hydrolyzed vegetable protein, MSG, sodium phosphate, yeast extract, and maltodextrin. But if your butt is in competition, you should test it. When preparing their BBQ pulled pork recipes, others will do something like mix about 4 tablespoons of their rub with 1 cup of warm apple juice and pump it deep into the meat. When I am judging, and the meat tastes more like apple juice than pork, I mark it down.
When the meat hits 150 to 160°F, moisture moves to the surface and starts evaporating and cooling the meat like sweat on a marathon runner. As a result, the meat temp will not rise for as long as 5 hours when preparing this smoked pulled pork recipe. It stalls at 150 to 160°F. And it significantly lengthens the cook and drives people nuts. But this process helps dry the exterior and form bark.
Most competition cooks wrap their meat very tightly in a couple of layers of foil and toss in a few ounces of liquid such as apple juice. Then it goes back in the cooker. This stops the evaporation and powers the meat through the stall, retains moisture, and tenderizes a tiny bit. But it can really mess up your bark and remove a lot of rub. And it is really not necessary for this cut of meat. There is a lot of fat and connective tissue and even though it will take longer without the crutch, it will still be very tender and juicy.
With my easy BBQ pulled pork recipe, I never bother with the crutch when cooking at home. Beginners should skip this step. The benefits are minimal and it just makes the whole process more complicated. You’ll still have killer meat. Focus on temperature control and fire management. Try wrapping in foil after you’ve done 2 or 3 butts. Click here to learn more about The Texas Crutch. Click here to learn more about The Stall.
You can also find an excellent competition pork butt recipe here.
Some say that because, when trimmed, the butt is barrel shaped, and barrels were often called butts by English wine merchants. Others say that they are called butts because they were shipped in barrels. A reader has suggested that a butt is a name for a joint in woodworking, and the shoulder is a joint area. One can only speculate why it is often called the Boston butt, but my friends in New York have offered some unkind suggestions.
For my BBQ pulled pork recipe, I buy bone-in butts because the bone helps hold it together but the bone does not contribute to the flavor. This is a myth. Boneless butts are often are tied with string because they fall apart easily.
In North Carolina there is controversy, to put it mildly, over what part of the hog to use for pork sandwiches. In the eastern part of the state, most joints cook the whole hog, chop the meat, and mix it all together. They feel that the unique textures and flavors of the different muscles makes the meat more interesting. They love going to “pig pickins”, feasts where a hog is cooked, boned, chopped, doused with a spicy hot vinegary sauce, and displayed in its skin on a buffet so folks can pick the meat they want with tongs.
Inland and in the foothills of North Carolina, the preference is for shoulder meat and a sauce with a little tomato paste or ketchup mixed in. Frankly, I’m with them. Pork shoulder is the cut that is best for texture and flavor, and it has the added benefit of being inexpensive, often under $2 per pound.
Hogs have a gland in their armpit just like you do. You don’t want to eat it. In most cases the glands have been removed at the slaughterhouse or fabricator, and sometimes even by your butcher. If not, don’t sweat it. When preparing this easy smoked pulled pork recipe, you can cook with it in there, they will not damage your meat. When it is done cooking and you shred the meat you want to remove the bone and any large chunks of fat and gristle, and if the gland is in there you will feel it, usually buried in some fat. If you want to try and remove it when the meat is raw, good luck, it is hard to find. Lay the pork butt fat cap down and feel along on the side facing up near the center for hard spots about the size of marbles. If you find then, dig them out. I never bother. If they are in there, I find them when I shred the meat.
Published On: 2/13/2014 Last Modified: 4/26/2021