Ready to get started on smoking pork butts for your next get-together? Since May is National BBQ Month, we wanted to share these pro tips for getting the best-tasting, juiciest pulled pork!
Prepping the Pork Butts for the Smoker
- When cooking for a crowd, remember that you’ll lose about 30% of the meat volume during cooking. You should also plan on 1/2 pound servings per person, just in case. If you have leftovers, that’s not a tragedy. It’s better to err on the side of too much food than too little.
- To maximize the bark surface area, trim the fat from the top of the butt.
- Score the fat cap on the bottom of the butt so the fat can melt into the meat more easily.
- After the fat cap has been scored, cover the pork butt in a dry rub. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty, and make sure every inch is covered! Use a premade rub or check out a good basic rub recipe here.
- Your smoker should be at 225-250 degrees before you add the pork butts.
- Add a water pan to the smoker or prepare a spray bottle with apple juice, apple cider vinegar, your favorite sweet drink, or just water. This will help keep the pork juicy.
- Make sure you have plenty of wood for your smoker for the first 5 hours.
- Put your meat directly on the smoker rack, once the smoker has reached 225-250 degrees. The direct exposure to the smoke will help form the coveted bark on the outside.
- Make sure you have a digital thermometer, which has the most accurate temperature reading.
- Check the meat about every 1-1 1/2 hours. While you’re checking the meat, add a few more coals to keep the heat consistent and mop or spray the meat with apple juice to help the meat stay moist.
- You’ll want to keep the fire nice and smoky until the meat hits about 140, then just add heat, not smoke, from that point on.
- Remember that this process requires low and slow cooking. Expect about 1 1/2-2 hours of smoking per pound of pork butt, but always trust the thermometer and consistency of the meat instead of relying on the timer.
- Don’t check the meat too frequently. It lets heat out of the smoker. Remember this phrase: “If you’re looking, you ain’t cooking!”
- Make sure the fire and coals stay lit; trying to get them back up to the correct temperature can waste a lot of time.
Tips for Speeding up the Cooking Time
- When your pork butts hit the 150-160 degree mark, moisture inside the meat moves to the outside and begins to evaporate. This cools down the outside of the meat as it sweats. Because of this, the meat temperature will stop rising, sometimes for as long as 5 hours. This is known as the stall. It can be frustrating, but it is part of the process. If you’re in a hurry, you can employ a method known as The Texas Crutch to help your pork butts power through the stall: Wrap the butts very tightly in foil and add some moisture, such as apple juice, then toss them back on the smoker. This method, however, can ruin some of your bark and take off some of your rub. Many pros agree that the best thing to do during the stall is simply wait it out and be patient.
- If you want to keep more bark on the butts and still speed up the cook, you can also try cutting the butt into 2 pieces. You’ll want to cut the butt across the width just under the bone. Place the larger piece onto the smoker about 2 hours before the smaller piece. This will provide plenty of bark and speed up the cooking time, but you’ll lose a bit of moisture.
- The fastest method is to smoke the pork butts for 2 hours at 225 degrees, then put the meat in a roasting pan with water or apple juice. Cover the pan and meat with foil that is sealed to the pan on all sides, then roast in the oven for about 2-3 hours, or until the internal temp hits 203 degrees.
Finishing the Pork Butts
- There are many ways to tell whether your meat is done on the smoker, but it’s most important to make sure you have a good digital meat thermometer.
- Check the bone to see if it moves easily inside the pork butt. If it moves easily, the meat is done.
- Put a fork in the pork butt and try to rotate it 90 degrees. If there is no resistance, your pork butt is done.
- Most accurately, your pork butt will be finished cooking when its internal temperature gets above 200 degrees.
- Don’t sauce the meat until after it’s pulled from the smoker and shredded.
- If you need to take the meat to an event after cooking, you can store the meat and keep it warm in a cooler. Simply wrap the meat in foil, keeping the thermometer inside, then wrap in towels and place it in the cooler. Fill the cooler with extra newspaper, towels, or even blankets to keep it insulated. Make sure the temperature stays above 145 degrees.
Pulling the Pork
- Let the pork butts rest for at least 30 minutes after removing them from the smoke. This lets them cool down and lets the fats and juices redistribute back into the meat. Then pull the bone out. It should pull easily.
- Use your fingers or meat claws to shred the pork, making sure to distribute the tasty bark evenly throughout the meat.
- Save any drippings and pour them over the meat after shredding. Serve the meat as fresh as you can.
Pulled Pork Dinners
Even if you make just one pork butt, you are going to have quite a bit of meat left over. There are tons of fantastic pulled pork recipes out there. Check out Our 5 Favorite Leftover Pulled Pork Meals.
What are your favorite tips for creating flavorful pulled pork? Share them with us in the comments!