Pork butt is one of those recipes that I like to save for special occasions when there’s a family gathering, or I feel like indulging myself.
Smoking pork butts requires you to set aside a lot of time for it, ideally a day. But it’s worth it. After all, there’s no food like smoked food.
I've been perfecting my smoked pork butt (pork shoulder) recipe for a decade. Today I’m bringing you my tips and tricks on smoking a pork butt, including what equipment you’ll need for this delicacy.
Pork Shoulder vs. Pork Butt
When reading pork shoulder recipes, you’ll see that most of them actually call for pork shoulder.
Don’t be confused by different names — pork butt, pork shoulder, or Boston butt — they’re the same cut of pork.
All of these actually don’t come from the butt end of the pig but the upper part of the pig’s shoulder.
While they come from the same cut of meat, the pork butt sits a little higher and toward the back area, while the pork shoulder is further down towards the top of the leg.
You won’t go wrong whichever you choose.
Apart from having different names, the shoulder can be cut boneless and bone-in. My preference is bone-in when it comes to smoking because it gives a more uniform shape.
8 Steps Guide on Smoking Pork Butt
How long you’ll be smoking a pork shoulder depends on its size. For example, expect that you’ll need 10-12 hours for a 10-pound pork shoulder at 225 degrees Fahrenheit.
To make tender pork, start by setting the smoker to between 225 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit. You should have plenty of wood on hand, as you want there to be smoke for about 5 hours.
Once your smoker is all set, it’s time to make some smoked pork. Before you smoke a pork shoulder, trim the excess fat cap.
Here’re my tips for the best smoked pork shoulder recipe.
1. Coat the Pork Shoulder
The first thing you want to do before you put the pork shoulder on the smoker is to coat it.
I like to rub yellow mustard all over the pork. If you’re not a mustard fan, don’t worry. You won’t even taste it in the end. I like to use it because it helps the seasoning stick to the meat.
“You need a binder for the seasoning to stick. I choose yellow mustard. It’s not going to bring a whole lot of flavor to the game, but it’s going to help the rub to stick, and some of the vinegar in it does tenderize the meat a little bit.” - Malcom Reed, HowToBBQRight YouTube Channel
Some alternative coating options include extra virgin olive oil or beef stock.
2. Sprinkle the Seasoning
Once you’ve coated your pork, it’s time to season. I usually mix brown sugar, kosher salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, and paprika.
Make sure everything is nicely mixed, and rub the seasoning all over the pork shoulder.
The dry rub should have sugar and be a little savory. You can use brown sugar because it’ll help create that dark caramelization when making pork butt.
If you aren’t a fan of sweet flavor, use less sugar, and add more garlic or onion.
If you’re in a hurry on the day of smoking, you can do the dry rub the day before.
Make sure to wrap the meat in aluminum foil or plastic wrap after seasoning, and refrigerate overnight.
3. Smoke the Pork Shoulder
Once you’ve coated and seasoned your pork, it’s time to put it in the smoker, fat side up.
Pro tip: Put a pot or a pan full of water next to the grate. This will make the meat moist and soft.
Smoke the pork shoulder for 3 to 5 hours, depending on the size.
Read More: 10 Best Vertical Pellet Smokers
4. Spritz the Pork
You’ll need a spray bottle for this part. You can use any spray bottle you have lying around; just make sure it’s clean.
I use apple cider vinegar to spritz the meat because I like the hint of sweetness that the apple juice gives.
Spritzing is an important step because it’ll cool down the outside of the meat and prevent the smoked pork shoulder from overcooking and drying out.
This is the ratio I use to make the spritz:
- 1 cup apple juice
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- ½ cup of water
Spritz the smoked pork shoulder at every 1-hour interval.
5. Keep an Eye on the Stall
If your meat thermometer isn’t registering a change in the pork shoulder temperature for some time, it’s called the stall.
This is when the meat sweats while it’s cooking. The sweat cools down the meat, which may result in little temperature change.
The stall is nothing to worry about. This is a normal occurrence when preparing pork shoulders.
Simply keep smoking. Once the sweat cooks out, the internal temperature of the Boston butt will start rising again.
Note: When you smoke pork shoulder, the stall usually happens once the internal temperature reaches 160-170 degrees F.
6. Wrap the Pork Shoulder
To wrap or not to wrap is the eternal debate between cooks. I choose to wrap. After all, if it’s good enough for the World Champions, it’s good enough for me.
Here’s why I think the pork should be wrapped:
- It speeds up the cooking time and ensures the pork is thoroughly cooked
- It helps you push through the stall more quickly
- It saves natural juices, which would otherwise go to waste
- Wrapping protects the crust color
- Wrapping makes sure the butt doesn’t take on too much smoke flavor
You should have the pork wrapped 5 hours after smoking. By this time, the smoke will have gone as deep as it can go, and smoking the meat for longer without wrapping might create a bitter taste.
You can use foil or butcher paper to wrap the smoked pork tightly. Spritz both the foil and the pork before wrapping it.
Read More: When to Wrap a Brisket?
7. Continue Smoking
Once your pork is wrapped, it’s time to smoke some more.
Put the pork shoulder in the smoker at 205 degrees F, and continue smoking until it reaches an internal temperature of 200-205 degrees F .
To check if your pork is done, use an instant-read thermometer. If it’s entering the pork without tension, it’s done. If there’s resistance, keep cooking.
Another test you can do is pull on the bone-in pork shoulder. If the bone slides out, the pork shoulder is done.
Expect that you’ll have to continue smoking for another 5 to 7 hours, depending on the pork size. Let the low and slow principles guide you.
8. Let the Pork Rest
Once your pork is done smoking, it’s time to let it rest. The resting time should be about an hour.
There’s no need to unwrap it yet. Instead, put the wrapped smoked pork in the cooler, so the juices will soak back into the meat, and moisture and flavor can evenly distribute.
Once the resting time is done, you can make smoked pulled pork.
Making smoked pulled pork includes using a fork or a different tool to pull the pork into strings.
This is when the smoked pork shoulder becomes tender pulled pork, and with it, you can make delicious pulled pork sandwiches with some BBQ sauce.
You can also go online and search for the best pulled pork recipe ideas, and surely you will find something for your taste buds.
Choose the Best Wood for Smoked Pork Shoulder
My go-to wood when making pulled pork is fruit, especially apple. There’s no better combination than smoked pulled pork and fruit because fruit wood burns sweeter and gives meat less campfire flavor.
Here’s my list of woods I like to use:
Note: The kind of wood you use will likely depend on where you live. If another wood works for you, that's great.
How to Freeze Smoked Pork Butt
If you have smoked pork leftovers, you can freeze them.
The most important thing is to wait until the smoked meats have completely cooled. If you freeze pulled pork that’s still hot, it’ll be mushy when you reheat it.
The next step is to shred the pork before you freeze it to be able to flatten the bags in the freezer.
This will save you space, the pork will freeze faster, and it can stay frozen for longer.
I always use zip-top freezer bags and squeeze as much air as possible out of them. You can use a vacuum sealer if you have it or press the air out manually.
The smoked pulled pork can stay in the fridge for up to 4 days and up to 6 weeks in a deep freeze .
How to Reheat Pork Shoulder
It can be challenging to reheat pork butt without making it too dry. Here’s my secret — boiling water.
I place the (unopened) zip bag of smoked meat into boiling water and wait approximately 5 minutes for one portion. If your pork butt is bigger, place it in water for 10 minutes.
Another easy way to reheat the pork loin is in the oven.
- Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F.
- Put the shredded pork in a baking dish and add liquid such as apple juice or cider vinegar or your favorite BBQ sauce to replace the lost moisture.
- Cover the baking dish in foil to lock in the moisture
- Cook until the thermometer shows the temperature of the pork is 165 degrees F.
- Once the meat reaches this temperature, open the foil and broil for a couple of minutes to add crunch.
Alternatively, you can also smoke the meat in a pellet smoker some more. Preheat the smoker, and add some apple juice to the pan. Smoke for 2 hours and stir the meat occasionally to make sure it’s thoroughly heated.
How Long Does It Take to Smoke a Pork Butt: Takeaways
Now you’re an expert on preparing this smoked delicacy. I’ve talked about everything you should know when smoking your first pork butt.
There are a few things to keep in mind. Be careful which wood you choose, and if you can, go for the fruit ones.
Make sure to season and spritz your meat, and watch out for the stall. Once the stall occurs, wrap the meat. Once it’s done cooking, let it rest.
If you follow these instructions, you’ll have a BBQ restaurant-quality pork roast.