If you’re new to learning how to barbecue (that rhymed), I highly recommend smoking a pork shoulder. Also known as a pork butt or Boston butt, this cut of meat comes from the shoulder of the pig. Hence, I like to call it the pork shoulder. While it is a popular meat at barbecue joints, don’t be intimidated. Pork shoulder is a very forgiving meat in that you can make some mistakes and it will still turn out pretty darn good. I have a simple recipe I use often and it yields incredible results.
One aspect that makes this recipe so easy is the number of ingredients: four. All you need is a pork shoulder, spicy brown mustard (or regular mustard), your favorite bottle of rub, and a can of Dr Pepper for spritzing during the cook.
Is there trimming involved?
Start by taking your pork shoulder out of the packaging. I like to give it a gentle rinse and patting dry with a paper towel before using the other ingredients. Once that’s done, put it on your cutting board or whatever sanitary surface you plan on using. As far as trimming goes, pork shoulders usually come trimmed up pretty well out of the package with no other work to do. There may be a random flap of fat hanging off somewhere and you are free to trim that off and go on your way. Now, you’ll notice a layer of fat on the top part. Every barbecuer I know leaves it on. Some like to score the fat side with cuts about a 1/2 inch deep and do so in a crosshatch pattern (cuts about 1 inch apart) because they feel the fat (and other seasonings on top) will render into the meat better. I am going simple here and leave the fat side alone.
Applying mustard and rub
Next, get your bottle of mustard and start squirting over the meat. Make sure to smooth it over all sides of the shoulder, not just front and back. After you’ve finished rubbing that mustard on, grab your bottle of rub and start shaking, covering all sides of the pork. I like to be a little generous with the rub here as the pork can be bland without it.
The smoking process
Hopefully you’ve had your smoker outside getting up to smoking temps. I like to go 275F, which is on the edge of going from smoking to baking. When smoking pork, I like to use either a fruit wood (such as apple, cherry, or peach) or go with my favorite: pecan. Once I am near temps, I put the pork shoulder on the grill and let the smoke do the rest…and the spritz. Which reminds me…
How often do I spritz?
This is a question that is bound to get a different response from pretty much every barbecuer out there. Some say spritz every hour. Others may say once every two hours. There are folks who don’t spritz at all. Not only that, but you will get feedback of blends to make for your spritzing, usually with the main ingredient of apple juice or apple cider vinegar (I’ve mixed both). Since I’m keeping it simple here, I use a can of Dr Pepper. Not only does it provide a little bit of a sweeter flavor that pork mixes well with, it also gives a richer, darker color to the outside of the meat. I like to spritz about two or three times during the smoke session. TIP: open the can of Dr Pepper a few hours beforehand and let it sit out and get flat. It will spritz better that way.
To wrap or not to wrap?
Some like to wrap their meat in foil when the meat hits around 150-165F range because its usually at that spot that the meat stops progressing in temperature because it starts to sweat to cool down. This phase is commonly known as the stall or Texas crutch. Wrapping helps trap the heat to help the meat cook hotter and faster. I haven’t been wrapping during cooking lately because I am giving myself plenty of time to finish. But do what you want in this regard.
When is it done?
Why do I keep using my headlines as questions? Yep, I asked another question. *insert facepalm here* A lot of recipes give you a set number of hours to tell you the meat is officially done. I don’t buy into that. I’ve had similar sized pork shoulders cooking side by side in the same grill at the same temps and have had one finish before the other. This experience happens to me often. The reason for being is that, as BBQ pro Chad Ward told me once, “every animal has lived a different life.” Meaning that some animals have used their muscles more than others, making their meat tougher. Some may have been fed differently than others, eaten more than others, etc.
There are two ideal ways I can tell when the pork shoulder is done: by internal meat temp, which shredding temp is between 195-205F, or by using the meat thermometer to simply probe the meat. If the probe goes in and out smooth like butter, then it is done.
Rest and serve
When the pork shoulder is done cooking, you will want to let it rest. This helps the juices build up and the meat cool down. Let it rest at least 30 minutes before tearing into it. I like to let it rest and then wrap if I plan on serving it later. I then put it in a well-insulated cooler and remove when I’m ready to eat.
Some folks like to shred the meat with some sort of bear claw-type meat shredding tools. I like to put on two layers of gloves and shred with my hands. The underlying layer is a pair of cheap worker gloves you can get at a gas station or hardware store. The outer layer is a pair of nitrile gloves (I like to use Gloveworks HD). That pair of worker gloves underneath helps acts as a bit of insulation to protect from the heat of the meat. If the meat is done at the ideal temps, then shredding only takes about 30 seconds. Shredding the pork this way is seriously one of my favorite things to do in barbecue! There’s something gratifying about making quick work of something that took hours to finish. Serving soon after shredding is prime time for texture and taste so you and your friends/family/strangers should eat up quick!
If you don’t eat it all, no worries. Another great thing about pulled pork is that it reheats very well, even after freezing. It is the only meat I freeze leftovers of and eat at a later time because it is still quite tasty.
- 1 pork shoulder (aka- Boston butt), 6-8 lbs.
- 1/4 C spicy brown mustard
- 4 Tbsp rub
- OPTIONAL: Dr Pepper for spritzing
- Preheat grill/smoker to 275F with indirect heat, using smoking wood of your choice
- Place pork shoulder on cutting board and apply spicy brown mustard, then the rub
- Move pork shoulder to grill/smoker and cook for about 10 hours, spritzing on occasion with Dr Pepper
- Remove when pork hits between 195-203F internal temp
- Rest for 20-30 minutes before shredding
- For the spritzing, its best to open the can/bottle of Dr Pepper hours beforehand and let it get flat. The soda will spray better this way.
- Finishing times for meat can vary. Keep track of temps throughout to make sure it finishes at the temp you want.
- While pork is technically edible at 142F, pulled pork needs to be finished cooking around 195-203F to make it more shreddable and still juicy
- Regarding smoking wood, I prefer to use pecan or a fruit wood such as apple, peach, or cherry. Pork does well with these flavors.
Serving Size:6 oz
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 496