When it comes to pulled pork, there are thousands of different ways of making it and the barbecue sauce along with it. Each serious BBQ pit-master you meet will swear that their way is the best and the only way it should be done.
The one thing that can't be denied though is that pulled pork is delicious and that is certainly the case with this smoked pulled pork shoulder recipe! It's perfect for these (almost) Summer days, especially now when we're starting to gather again with friends and family.
It's smoky, tender and has an amazing taste just on its own!
For this the smoked pulled pork, we use either the pork butt or shoulder. You can use either cut and contrary to the name, the pork butt doesn't actually come from the butt of the pig. It actually comes from the area right behind the neck and before the ribs and loin, just above the shoulder. The “butt” got its name (which is actually the “Boston Butt”) from colonial times when cheaper cuts of pork were stuffed into barrels called “butts” for transportation.
The reason you want to use either pork butt or shoulder for this recipe is because of the marbling of fat and the fat-to-meat ratio. This is important because as the pork cooks, the fat begins to melt and will serve as a natural baster for the pork. This would be equivalent to constantly brushing your meat with bacon fat throughout the entire cooking process. I mean, what’s not to like about that?
Other than making sure you have your cut of pork, the rest of the ingredients consist of following:
What makes smoked pulled pork shoulder truly magical is the rub!
The first thing we do when preparing for the smoking process is to season and rub the pork a day in advance. We like to season using salt and pepper separate from the rub because it allows us to gauge exactly how much of each ingredient we are using. We also add a little salt to the rub when making it but only to amplify the spices.
When seasoning with salt and pepper, you don’t want to be stingy. Trust us when we say that you will need more than feels right. Don’t be afraid to heavily coat the entire outside of the pork with salt and pepper because the salt will penetrate deep into the pork over the next 24 hours, prior to being smoked.
After seasoning with salt and pepper, let the pork sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes and then liberally apply the rub. During that 20 minutes, the salt will pull moisture from within the pork to the surface and this will give the rub something to adhere to when applying.
Once again, when applying the rub, don’t be afraid to really pack it on. It may seem like a lot, but when you consider that it is only on the outside portion of the pork, it evens out.
First and foremost, for this recipe you need a smoker. About 6 hours before we smoke the pork, we unwrap it and let it sit on a tray or rack, uncovered, in the fridge to let the cool air blow over it. During this time, the pork will start to develop a sticky coating on the exterior which is called the pellicle. The pellicle is important because this gives the smoke something to adhere to and will help the pork develop a nice smoke ring and help it retain that deeply-smoky flavor.
When it comes to smoking, there are typically two options to choose between. Charcoal or wood.
We prefer to use a mixture of charcoal and wood to be able to get the best of both worlds. Why not right? The type of wood I use is always either apple, cherry or hickory.
When smoking, we like to smoke the pork for 3-4 hours, checking the heat and smoke levels every 30 minutes, and then finish the cooking in the oven because I don’t like my smoked meats to be overly smoky.
I find that any more than 3-4 hours in the smoker and the meat tends to become overwhelmly smoky. I’m a big sides guy and when the meat is too smoky, I find that that is all I taste during the meal. If you are big on smoke and want all the smoke you can get then by all means, keep that bad boy rolling and cook the pork all 6-8 hours in the smoker.
The key to getting a tender pork shoulder is making sure to cook it to the proper temperature, which is 185 F. Cooking it no longer than that temperate is very important because you want the pork to be tender, but you don’t want it to lose all structural integrity and become mush. Prior to common belief, meats that are cooked low and slow certainly can be overcooked and become too tender.
Once the meat reaches that internal temperature between 185-190 F, we take it out of the oven and let it rest for anywhere from 20-45 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute. During this time, you can strain off the fat and the deep smoky liquid runoffs from the pork that is in the bottom of the pan.
If you are making a bbq sauce from scratch, use this liquid as a base to start the sauce, or, as the ultimate cheat code, take your favorite store bought bbq sauce and whisk this liquid into it. The result is your favorite bbq sauce basically going Super Saiyan (for all my DBZ fans out there, it was my favorite cartoon growing up). It really is a real game changer.
After portioning the pork how you wish, serve it with a bbq sauce either as a sandwich or by itself and you are good to go!
In need of some sides? Here are a few to help you celebrate and enjoy the summertime!
Let us know in the comments how you like this smoked pulled pork shoulder recipe!
Cheers and eat well!
A tender, smoky and perfectly rubbed smoked pulled pork shoulder to enjoy the summertime with your friends and family! Pair it with cornbread buns, mac and cheese, pickled cabbage and asparagus for a truly amazing and tasty cookout.
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