Pulled pork is a favorite in my house. Whether it’s being used to make sandwiches or nachos, it’s fairly hard to mess up the cook. This recipe is easy to follow and it’s easy to substitute items accordingly.
First things first, let’s discuss the meat itself.
How to Choose a Pork Butt
Pork isn’t normally graded for quality like beef. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for inspecting meat and poultry. They ensure it’s safe, wholesome, and labeled and packaged correctly.
Grading quality is voluntary and the service is requested and paid for by meat and poultry producers. So when it comes to beef you can decide between various quality grades like USDA Prime, Choice, or Select.
However, with pork it’s only graded as “Acceptable” or “Utility.” Where the acceptable is sold in grocery stores and the utility is used for processed foods. All pork is inspected for wholesomeness as required by the USDA however grading isn’t necessary because pork is “generally produced from young animals that have been bred and fed to produce more uniformly tender meat.”
So to make a long story short, you don’t have to worry about “grading” when shopping for a pork butt.
At a grocery store you can expect to find whole and partial pork butts sold individually. They are usually boneless and trimmed with the fat removed. These are typically 3-4 lbs which is perfect for most home cooks.
However you can also get whole pork butts through wholesale stores. They are sold two to a pack in cryovac packaging. These are untrimmed and contain exterior fat. These are usually used by BBQ enthusiasts and weigh 6-8 lbs.
As you can expect the smaller pork butt from a grocery store is going to cost more per pound. However, you’ll be trimming the wholesale version regardless.
Characteristics to Look For
You should look for a butt that has a smooth but firm white fat cap as well as fat that’s marbled throughout the meat. As always, the meat should be a reddish-pink color.
The next thing to consider is bone-in or boneless. Bone-in is becoming harder to find these days however some people have a preference for it. As a beginner you can gauge “doneness” by how cleanly the bone is removed from the roast. However being bone-in or boneless is negligible over-all in terms of taste.
Type of Wood for Pork Butt
Wood selection usually boils down to personal preference. In general, pork goes well with fruit wood like apple and cherry. It can also stand up to hickory quite well.
I prefer a combination of hickory and cherry wood.
How to Smoke Pork Butt
Note: The outlined process will vary based on your setup and how you decide to smoke your pork butt. The following method is how I go about it.
Products You’ll Need:
- Pork butt (3-5 lbs bone-in or boneless)
- French’s Yellow Mustard
- Dry Rub. Either your own or pre-made.
- Cherry and Hickory Wood Chips
- Apple Juice
- Barbecue sauce
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Apricot Preserves
- Drip Pan
- Spray bottle
- Aluminum foil
1. Once you have your pork butt, open the package near the sink to drain the purge. If you’re skilled enough, cut the package open near the top and pull the pork butt out and discard the package.
Once it’s out of the package, use some paper towels to pat dry the meat and then place on a large serving platter, sheet pan, or large Tupperware.
2. Grab a sharp knife and trim excess/hard fat on the top of the butt. The fat cap on the bottom I leave on for added moisture. When it comes time to pull the meat, the residual fat will remain on the bottom and literally pull away from the fat. The rest of the marbled fat will render out and provide moisture throughout the meat.
3. Next up I season the meat. In order to get the dry rub to stick to the meat and create that great bark everyone’s after, I start with plain French’s yellow mustard. Slather a light coat on all sides, including the fat cap.
Use a dry rub of your choice. I’ve made my own rubs and used other people’s, but there is no shame in buying one. For this pork butt I used a dry rub by Malcolm Reed from Killer Hogs called The BBQ Rub. Apply a medium coat of the dry rub and ensure all sides are covered and allow the rub to set overnight in the refrigerator.
4. Take the meat out of the refrigerator an hour before cooking.
For this smoke I used my Masterbuilt electric smoker. I prefer to cook at 275 rather than 225-250 as it seems to break down the connective tissues better and makes for a more tender meat.
During this process I also load the wood chip tray with hickory and cherry wood.
5. Once the smoker is ready I put the Butt on the center of the rack. I also place a drip pan below the meat to collect the drippings.
To prevent the bark from drying out, I combine equal parts apple juice and water in a spray bottle. After each hour I spritz the meat with the mixture.
Once the outside starts to darken as the sugars caramelize, it’s time to wrap the meat. This prevents the bark from burning and helps to hold in moisture.
5. In this case, at around 3 1/2 hours I was happy with the outside of the meat and wrapped the meat in 3 layers of aluminum foil. Before completely wrapping the meat, I apply another light layer of rub and spritz the bark again with the apple juice mixture. Once wrapped, I place the meat back in the smoker and insert my probe through the tinfoil and into the thickest part of the butt, avoiding bones.
6. At this point all you’re waiting for is the meat to reach an internal temperature of 195-200°F. This process took another 5 hours for a total smoke time of 8 1/2 hours.
7. At 198°F internal temp I took the pork butt out of the pit and allowed it to rest for an hour. During this time I prepped my glaze and turned my smoker off but kept the vent and door shut to maintain temperature.
This glaze is fairly simple but compliments the pork nicely. The glaze is comprised of the following ingredients:
- 12 oz Rib Lickers Drama BBQ Sauce. You can use whatever BBQ sauce you have.
- 4 oz Apricot Preserves
- 4 oz Apple Cider Vinegar
Combine these ingredients in a sauce pan over medium heat until the texture is consistent.
8. After the pork butt has rested an hour, use a barbecue brush to apply the glaze. Then put the pork butt back in the smoker for 15 minutes to set the glaze. If you have some glaze left over you can save it to toss your pulled pork with.
9. Once the glaze is set or 15 minutes has elapsed, take the pork butt out of the smoker and bring it back inside to pull. If your pork butt was bone-in and the meat is tender enough, you should be able to simply slide the bone out.
10. Use a pair of meat claws or your hands to separate the muscles. If you have any glaze left, you can toss the pulled pork in it.
Smoked Pork ButtPrint Pin Rate
- 3 to 5 lb Pork Shoulder, or Boston Butt trimmed, fat cap, marbled fat
- French's Mustard light layer
- Killer Hogs The BBQ Rub liberal amount
- 12 oz BBQ Sauce
- 4 oz Apricot Preserves
- 4 oz Apple Cider Vinegar
- Take the pork out of the package and pat dry the meat with a paper towel. Place on a large serving tray for further prep.
- Trim excess/hard fat. Leave the fat cap on the bottom.
- Apply a light layer of french's mustard all over the meat, including the fat cap.
- Apply a liberal amount/medium coat of dry rub to the meat and allow the rub to set overnight.
- Remove the pork butt from the refrigerator at least an hour before cooking it.
- Follow your smoker's instructions and bring the temperature to 275°F and add your wood chips.
- Once the smoker is at 260-275°F, place the pork butt on the center of the rack. Place a drip pan below the meat to collect drippings and add more wood chips.
- Once the outside starts to darken as the sugars caramelize, it's time to wrap the meat.
- Use 3 layers of aluminum foil to wrap the meat. Before enclosing the tinfoil, add a light layer of dry rub and spritz the meat with the apple juice and water.
- Once wrapped, put back in the smoker and use a temperature probe to monitor the internal temperature. The goal is to reach 195-200°F.
- After the temperature is at the desired range, take it out of the smoker to rest for an hour.
- While you allow the meat to rest, turn the smoker off but close the vents/door to trap heat. Then prep the glaze by combining the ingredients in a sauce pan over medium heat until the texture is consistent.
- After the meat rests, use a barbecue brush to apply the glaze. Then put the meat back in the smoker for 15 minutes to set the glaze.
- Once the glaze has set, or 15 minutes has elapsed, take the pork butt out of the smoker and bring inside to enjoy.
- Use a pair of meat claws or your hands to separate the muscles. If you have any glaze left over, toss the pulled pork in it.