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Pulled pork is all the rage these days, but how do you make it? The best way is by smoking pork butt as this cut of meat is ideal for pulled pork. Just think of juicy shreds of pork covered with a barbecue sauce and all of it piled high in a bun. It’s delicious, but can anybody do it? Yes! If you smoke your pork butt low and slow you will get good results. It’s not difficult to get a perfectly cooked pork butt and in this article, we will tell you the best way to do it.
Table of Contents
- What is Pork Butt?
- What Makes Pork Butt Good for Smoking?
- Where Can You Buy Pork Butt?
- How to Prepare Your Pork Butt
- The Rub
- The Smoker
- What Wood Chips Should You Use for Smoking Pork Butt?
- Time and Temperature
- The Stall
- Final Thoughts
What is Pork Butt?
The name is confusing as pork butt isn’t the butt of the pig. That’s ham. Pork butt is the pig’s shoulder and it’s also called Boston butt, Boston shoulder, shoulder roast, and country roast.
So, how come it came to be known as pork butt? The reason goes back to colonial times when pork shoulder wasn’t popular with the people. So instead, it was shipped out of New England in barrels known as butts. Because of this, pork shoulder became known as pork butt.
What Makes Pork Butt Good for Smoking?
Pigs use the muscles of their shoulders all the time which makes them tough, but with a strong flavor. These muscles contain a lot of connective tissue which breaks down into gelatin when cooked low and slow. The gelatin makes the pork butt tender and moist. Pork butt also has a lot of fat which makes it even more flavorsome.
Where Can You Buy Pork Butt?
Yes, you can buy pork butt in the supermarket, but the best place to get good quality pork butt is from your local butcher. He will also cut you the size you want. Pork butts are large and can weigh up to 8 pounds and you might not want such a big piece of meat. 4 -5 pounds is usually a good size and will still feed a crowd.
A butcher will take the bone out of the pork butt if that’s what you want, and it is advisable to allow him to do this as it’s not an easy job. However, it is better that you keep the bone in as it makes the meat more tender.
How to Prepare Your Pork Butt
Before you can even think about putting your pork butt in the smoker, you need to do several things that will give it the best taste.
The first step is to remove most of the big fat cap from it. You may think that this isn’t necessary as isn’t that the place where all the flavor is? However, this large lump of fat doesn’t do anything. It’s the fat around the muscles which makes the pork tender and juicy.
You will need to trim the fat cap down to between 1/8” – 1/4” with a boning knife. You can save the fat cap for making sausages.
If you have bought boneless pork, you will need to tie it together, so it doesn’t fall apart. To do this use food-safe twine or cotton.
You need to put a rub on your meat, and this should include salt and sugar. Salt is particularly important as it brings out the flavor of the meat. In addition, it removes moisture which helps the meat to brown. You need to put ½ teaspoon of salt for every pound of pork butt you have. Sugar also draws moisture out of the meat. Brown sugar should be used as it is sugar with some molasses and this helps the meat to brown and adds flavor to the bark. You should also add a lot of pepper to give the meat even more flavor. You can put this on the night before cooking, wrap it in plastic, and put it in the fridge.
The following morning you can just cook the pork butt as it is, or you can put on a dry spice rub. There are lots of mixes and you probably have your favorite, but here is an example of a great rub. Mix together celery seeds, ground black pepper, granulated sugar, dried oregano, kosher salt, dark brown sugar, cumin, chili powder, and paprika. It will give the meat a little bit of a kick, though if you want more, add extra chili powder and cumin. Rub it all in and then the pork butt is ready to go.
If you have a smoker all the better. They come with all different sorts of fuel, charcoal, wood pellets, gas, and electric. Wood pellets usually give the best smoky flavor, but you can still add some to the other fuels. Wood pellets also last a long time, so you won’t be getting up too many times to refill the hopper.
If you only have a gas or charcoal grill, you can still set it up to work as a smoker by using indirect heat. You put the meat on one side of the grill and only heat the other side (it can be used for reheating the pulled pork). If you have a gas grill, you should just put one burner on, and if you have charcoal, put the charcoal on one side and the meat on the other.
It’s a good idea to have a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth thermometer as you can then keep an eye on the temperature of your pork from your cell phone in the comfort of your own home. It will also tell you when the meat is done. All you have to do is put a probe into the meat, connect it to the thermometer, and download an app on your cell phone. The built-in thermometers that you get on smokers and grills give you the ambient temperature and are therefore not useful for telling you the temperature of the meat.
What Wood Chips Should You Use for Smoking Pork Butt?
There are so many different flavors of wood chips out there that you will be spoilt for choice. We think that the best flavors to go with pork butt are apple and cherry. They are sweet and fruity and will complement the pork. Something like pecan has too overpowering a flavor to go with pork butt.
Time and Temperature
The ideal temperature for smoking your pork butt is 225F which will smoke it low and slow. It will soften the meat and melt the connective tissue. Your meat won’t become dry, but juicy and tender. As for the timing, give it at least one and a half hours for each pound of meat so if you have a 4-pound pork butt, plan to start smoking at least 6 hours before you want to serve it.
For your meat to be ready, it should have an internal temperature of 195F – 205F. Remember to put the probe in the thickest part of the meat so you will be certain that it is cooked through.
It takes a little time to get used to smoking and keeping the temperature at the right level, as well as knowing when to add more fuel, but practice makes perfect. If your temperature stays between 225F and 250F you should be fine.
The Stall is common, and you don’t have to worry if it happens to you. It is when the temperature just won’t go above 150F. It is caused by the pork muscles contracting and pushing out water. The water cools the meat down as it rises to the surface. You have three choices of what to do. You can just let it be which is the best option as you get a crispier bark. However, this could take an extra 2 – 4 hours and you may not have the luxury of time. An alternative is to cover the pork in foil to stop the water from evaporating, or you could just turn the heat up. However, you would have to keep a close eye on the temperature to make sure it stays around 225F.
We have already said that the temperature of the pork butt should be between 195F and 205F but check that the bone moves easily. If it doesn’t, it isn’t ready. If you have had the bone taken out, use a fork to see if it pulls apart easily.
You don’t need to rest the meat as it has cooked low and slow. The inside and outside should be around the same temperature, not like a steak which can have a high temperature on the outside, but a lower one on the inside.
When you are ready to eat, remove the bone which should slide right out. Then shred the pork using a fork, claws, or just with your hands. You can mix the bark in with it or you can just eat chunks of it. It will be salty, a little spicy, and very smoky.
We hope that we have given you food for thought and that you are now able to smoke a pork butt for delicious pulled pork. Yes, it takes a long time, but the results are well worth the effort. We hope that you have a great summer smoking and enjoying pork butt.