How to BBQ Pulled Pork
Now that you know how to BBQ ribs and brisket, it’s time to move on to my favorite BBQed meat: pulled pork. Pulled pork, which is also called pork butt, is my favorite because it’s cheap (less than $2/lb), delicious, and magic happens when you cook it (more on that later). Don’t be intimidated. Smoking an entire butt may sound daunting, but I assure you, it’s remarkably simple. So channel your inner Sir Mix-a-Lot and sing it with me: I LIKE BIG BUTTS AND I CANNOT LIE!
Click below if you can’t deny.
There are many ways to make pulled pork, and doing a Google search, it seems a slow cooker is used most frequently. In the wintertime, I think this is perfectly acceptable but 1) liquid smoke just isn’t the same and 2) a slow cooker doesn’t create a bark:
For those that haven’t had real pulled pork before, the bark is arguably the best part, as it is incredibly flavorful. Sure, it’s probably not the best thing to eat, but we’re all dying anyway, so we may as well enjoy what we eat.
For Pop, there are several keys to making excellent pulled pork:
- Internal temperature needs to reach at least 190°F for magic to happen – I like to take it to 195 or 200.
- The butt needs to rest at least 30 minutes after reaching the target temperature
- The sauce it is served with should be vinegary
- Each guest should get at least one substantial piece of bark
Pork butt is actually the shoulder. Confusing? A little, but when else can you walk up to a butcher and say, “I need 14lbs of butt!” I typically buy mine from Sam’s Club or Costco because they are cheaper than most grocery stores ($1.97/lb typically). The butts usually come two to a cryopack with a combined weight of 14lbs. That might seem like a lot of meat, and it is, but since you’re firing up your smoker, you may as well cook two butts – leftovers taste great reheated and can be frozen in single-serve portions to be used in sandwiches later. I use a Weber 2820 and I can squeeze 6 butts in there – it’s the same size as the 18.5″ Weber, but I recommend doing up to 4 at a time. In my experience, even the most ravenous carnivore can consume no more than 2lbs of butt, so if you’re smoking 4 butts make sure you have a lot of guests coming over or be prepared to eat leftovers for a week or more. Not that that’s a bad thing.
I like to begin preparations at least 18 hours before my guests arrive. Seasoning the butts, wrapping them in plastic wrap, and putting them in the fridge overnight will season the butt nicely, albeit not very deeply, but I don’t have much room in my fridge, so seasoning shortly before smoking is typically my method.
If you are concerned about consuming too much fat from animals, well, you probably shouldn’t be eating pork butt but you can trim most of the fat. Since I’m fairly lazy, I like to trim off the really large parts of the fat cap (the really thick layer of fat on top of the butt) and leave the rest of it on. You can trim off as much or as little as you want; just keep in mind two things: smoke won’t penetrate through fat and smoked fat is delicious. So trim accordingly.
Next season the butt by giving it a nice rub. That’s right. Rub your butt. If you’d like, coat the butt in yellow mustard first as it will help the rub adhere to the meat – don’t worry, your pulled pork won’t taste like mustard. Just be warned: you’re going to need a lot of rub. Here’s my recipe:
Pop’s Rub (scaled for 2 butts)
1/2C brown sugar
1/2C chili powder
2TBS kosher salt
2TBS garlic powder
2TBS coarse ground black pepper
4tsp onion powder
4tsp ground mustard
3tsp ground cumin
0-6tsp of cayenne pepper – depending on how much heat you like
Assemble your cooker per the instructions and place the beef onto the grates FAT SIDE UP – that’s bolded and caps because it’s that important. Place two to three chunks of smoke wood on top of the coals. I usually use chunks of 2 hickory and one apple wood, or I’ll mix it up with an oak chunk.
A note on soaking and removing bark: if you’re using wood chunks, no need to soak them. Even after an overnight soak, water won’t penetrate the wood very deep. If you don’t have wood chunks and don’t have time to go out to a hardware store and buy some, use wood chips but make sure you soak them for at least 30 minutes, otherwise, you’ll be smoking for a few minutes tops. I also don’t remove the bark because 1) it’s a good bit of work and 2) I haven’t noticed any undesirable flavors as a result of leaving the bark on. Click here for a picture of an unsoaked, bark-on hickory wood chunk after smoking for 3 hours – it’s still got plenty of smoke time left.
Make sure you maintain the temperature in your cooker around 225-250°F. Using the Minion Method, I typically need to add 15-20 briquettes after about 12 hours, but do what you need to do to keep the cooker at the right temperature throughout the cook.
So I’ve stated a few times that magic happens when you smoke pork butt. The magic is taking cheap pork that is usually terrible to eat due to the large amount of connective tissue and turning it into succulent, juicy, and delicious meat that is a pleasure to eat. For that to happen, you have to get the butts to at least 190°F. I once was in a rush and was only able to smoke the pork to 175°F. While it tasted good and the meat was juicy, the collagen didn’t quite convert to gelatin so there were some very chewy bites.
As a result, I recommend leaving a probe thermometer in the pork butt if the weather allows to monitor the internal temperature. Check the thermometer regularly and also probe at other points on the butt as the temperature reading will usually differ drastically. I usually check every two hours after 8 hours of cooking.
The temperature will normally stall at about 160°F for several hours. If you’re in a rush, wrap the butts in foil, keep the probe thermometer in one of them, and throw them in the oven (set to 225 or 250, or even higher if you need) until they reach 190°F. If you do, don’t worry – the butts usually don’t absorb much more smoke after that point.
As far as basting goes, use a mixture of apple juice or cider vinegar and your rub and baste after 10 and 14 hours, and every 4 hours thereafter if your butts needs more time.
Once the butts reach the target temperature (190°F minimum; 205°F and the pork will practically crumble in your hands), wrap them in foil and throw them in a cooler for at least 30 minutes.
This might seem like a lot of work, but it’s really, really simple. And besides, look at the fruit of your labor!
I sliced the butt to show you the amazing cross-section.
Note the bark, smoke ring, and the tender, tender meat.
Don’t you want to put my butt in your mouth?
Now it’s time to pull. At 190°F, the bone just falls right off. Pull the pork into good-sized chunks.
You can use your hands…
And you’ll get nice looking chunks:
However, it’s REALLY hot (remember, the meat is at 190°F minimum). So if you can’t or don’t want to take it, use two forks:
Notice how the meat is stringier?
As a result, I typically hand-pull half and use forks for the rest. And there’s no right way to pull pork, so just do it.
And it’s going to be tough, but try to refrain from eating too much of the meat while you’re pulling.
It’ll take a while, but look at all this goodness!
Looks good, huh?
Trust me: it smells and tastes even better. Admittedly, these pictures are quite a tease. I apologize.
That’s a lot of butt!
Oh, almost forgot. Here’s a good basic BBQ sauce for pork butt:
Pop’s Vinegary BBQ Sauce
1C Apple cider Vinegar
1/2C Brown Sugar
2TBS Worcestershire sauce
1TBS of the rub of your choice
1TBS of Tabasco*
2tsp of Crushed red pepper flakes*
2tsp of Cayenne pepper*
2tsp of Black pepper*
Combine all ingredients in medium sauce pan, simmer over low heat.
* – if you want it spicy
So July 4th is a little over a month away. Are you going to make burgers and hot dogs again?! Make this fourth of July a memorable one by putting your butt in you friend’s mouths. And invite me over while you’re at it.