It started with a pork butt…
That’s how all stories should begin if you ask me. But the particular story I want to tell today is about delicious, fall apart pulled pork.
And it definitely starts with a pork butt…
What is a pork butt anyway?
Don’t let the name mislead you. The pork butt doesn’t actually come from the butt of a pig, but rather from the front shoulder. The pork butt, also called the Boston Butt, is the upper cut of the shoulder. It’s a well marbled and uniform cut of meat that is best cooked slowly and at low temps to allow the muscle tissue and fat to tenderize and break down.
Which makes it perfect for pulled pork.
On the Smoker
My favorite way to prepare a pork butt for pulled pork is on the smoker. The infusion of flavorful smoke and the long, slow cook time allows the meat to really tenderize and turn into the delicious feast you want it to be. Here’s how we do it…
- Pork butt 3-5lb
- Mustard (spicy is best) for binding
- Sea salt, black pepper, brown sugar, granulated garlic, smoked paprika (for rub)
- Let your pork butt sit in the fridge over night. If pulling from the freezer, make sure it’s completely thawed.
- Pull out the pork butt about an hour before you want to put it on the smoker. You’ll notice a nice, thick fat cap on one side of the roast. I like to trim this with a sharp knife, leaving only a quarter inch of fat. You want to leave enough fat on the butt to melt in the smoker and provide moisture to the roast, but too much will inhibit the smoker from really infusing your pork.
- After trimming the fat cap, I like to score it to open up the meat underneath. Cut through the fat cap diagonally. Do this across the butt and then back again in the opposite direction, making a checkered pattern. This will open up the roast to take as much smoke as possible. Believe me, this makes a difference.
- One of the key steps to a flavorful pulled pork is the outer rub, which will create a nice bark during the smoking process. I like to make my own, and have learned over the years that simple is best. 1/2 cup Sea Salt, 1/2 cup black pepper, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup granulated garlic and 1/4 cup smoked paprika. Mix together in a bowl. Before adding the rub to your meat, however, you’ll need a binder. I used our homemade bourbon mustard, but any of your favorite mustards will work well. Smother the butt on all sides, then apply the rub liberally.
- I like to use cherry, apple or any other kind of fruit wood for smoking pork. Prep your smoker to a temp of 225. I use a pellet smoker so this is easy to do.
- Place your pork butt directly on the smoker grate with the fat cap facing upward. If you have a digital thermometer, go ahead and insert that now. You won’t want to open your smoker again for about two hours. That’s about as long as a piece of meat will absorb the smoke.
- Smoking times will vary depending on the size of your roast, so watch the internal temperature very closely. After two hours of smoking, I like to spritz the pork every half hour or so with a combination of apple cider vinegar, red wine and water. This helps keep your roast from drying out. Smoke until the internal temp reads 135 degrees.
- At 135 degrees, wrap your meat with butcher paper or foil. This will help your meat work through the dreaded temperature stall a lot of roasts will go through on the smoker.
- The optimal internal temp for a pork butt is between 205 and 210. That’s when the magic starts happening! Once you get there, pull the pork off the smoker. This next step is critical for fall apart pulled pork! Keeping the foil or butcher paper on the roast, wrap everything in a thick towel and set aside for an hour. This will allow the muscle tissue to break down and for the fluids in the meat to redistribute.
- After an hour of resting, your pork butt is ready to pull apart. Add the bbq sauce of your choice, or simply enjoy the meat as it is.
A couple final thoughts
Smoking your first pork butt can be a rewarding experience. Especially as you pass around the bowl or plate of delicious pulled pork to the admiration and enthusiasm of everyone seated. But if you’ve never done this before if can also be a little intimidating. The best way to get through this is to just do it.
Here’s a couple things to think about…
- No matter what, it’ll work out fine. I promise.
- Remember to go by internal temp and not cooking time. The internal temp of your meat is your best guide.
- Allow yourself plenty of time to prepare the meat.
- Resting time is the secret to tender, delicious meat.
- If your meat gets done earlier than you thought, you can increase the resting time up to two hours. But keep an eye on the internal temp, never letting it drop below 145 for safety.
- Experiment with the rub. I sometimes like to use cinnamon for a sweeter tasting pork. Like it spicy? Add some chili pepper.
- Don’t forget to spritz your meat regularly after the initial 2 hour smoking time.
- Do I really need to wrap the meat? Yes, yes you really do.