Pulled pork has been a longtime favorite when it comes to BBQ, especially in the Southern US. Many people will agree, including champion Pitmasters, that pork butt (aka Boston butt) is the favored cut of pork to cook for pulled pork.
A pork butt is one of the best cuts of meat to smoke due to its texture, tenderness, and flavor. So, it should definitely be included as a must on your list of meats to master on your cooker.
If you’re wondering exactly how to smoke pork butt to a mouthwatering finish every time, we’ve got you covered. Below, we’ve put together some top tips straight from the professional pitmasters.
Source: The Spruce
A pork butt, which is sometimes also referred to as a Boston butt, is one of the two sub-primal cuts that come from the pork shoulder primal cut (the other being the picnic shoulder). This cut comes from above the shoulder blade and will usually weigh between 5 and 10 pounds. (Check out our article on pork shoulder vs pork butt for more info on the differences between the two.)
Most pork butts will have a “fat cap” on one side of it. Because this cut has a great amount of fat compared to lean meat, it is great for smoking and will result in moist, tender, and extremely flavorful pork.
So, now that you know exactly what a pork butt is, here are the 10 tips to keep in mind to ensure you cook it to a delicious finish:
Making sure you start with quality meat and a good cut of pork butt is just as important to the final taste as how you cook it is. There are several things to look for when it comes to getting a good quality cut. For a full breakdown of what you need to know, check out our article on how to pick a good pork butt cut. One of the most important things to remember is that the fresher the meat the better the flavor.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask your butcher questions. They'll be happy to help and can even select a good one for you.
As we mentioned above, there will be a fairly thick “fat cap” on one side of the pork butt. Evenly trim this fat cap down so that it is only about ¼” thick, if that. Also, trim off any part of the cut that is strictly cartilage, tough, or webby. This will leave you a clean cut to work with and prevent overly chewy bites of pork in the end.
It is a common myth that marinades can penetrate deep into the meat to help flavor and tenderize it. It is scientifically impossible for it to soak in much further than just the exterior of the meat.
Like beef brisket and other large cuts of meat, injecting the pork butt using a meat injector will allow you to get a brining or braising liquid deep inside the meat. This will help flavor and tenderize the meat, ensuring you end up with a moist and delicious final result.
Check out our article on injecting beef brisket for some great general info on the benefits of injecting meat and how to do it properly.
Before you try and put any rub on your pork butt, throw on a pair of disposable plastic gloves and coat your pork butt with a binder of yellow mustard (mustard will not affect the flavor of the meat). Doing this will help your rub stick to the meat better, allowing you to properly and effectively coat it with your favorite seasoning.
Sufficiently coating your pork butt with a rub will help season the meat, bring out the natural flavor of the pork, and help create that great exterior bark as it is smoking. Many good pork rubs have a combination of salt, sugar, paprika, and pepper in varying degrees. But, don’t be afraid to create your own rub using your favorite ingredients and determine what you like best on your pork butt.
Make sure you put a good thorough coating all over the cut. You don’t want a coating that is too light or uneven.
You never want to put cold meat straight into your smoker. Doing so can cause the exterior to cook much faster and even burn while the interior is still undercooked.
So, give your pork butt about 30 minutes to sit at room temperature before putting it on to cook. As soon as you take it out of the fridge that is a perfect time to add a generous coating of rub.
To smoke any kind of meat properly, it is critical to make sure that your cooker’s temperature stays consistent throughout the entire cooking session. Remember, you will smoking the pork butt low and slow. 250 degrees Fahrenheit is a good sweet spot to maintain. Keeping your cooker's temperature consistent will also help you power through any "stall" that you may encounter with the butt's internal temperature while cooking. (Check out our article on the stall that can happen while smoking for more info on that.)
Make sure you have enough fuel (no matter what type of fuel you’re using) on hand to get you through the whole cook.
Source: Heavy Metal Bar-B-Que
Once the internal temperature of your pork butt has reached between 155 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit, wrap the meat in peach paper or a double layer of aluminum foil. This will trap the liquids in with the meat and baste the butt over the last couple of hours until it is finished. So, make sure you have a good instant-read meat thermometer on hand before you start cooking.
If you’re wondering how long to smoke pork butt, knowing when it is finished is more about cooking by temperature versus time. Not every pork butt will need to smoke for exactly the same amount of time. This is why it is so important to have a thermometer handy. When cooking at 250 degrees Fahrenheit, you want to cook pork butt until it reaches an internal temperature of 208 degrees Fahrenheit.
As we mentioned earlier, the shoulder blade bone can act as an internal thermometer too. In most cases, once you can easily pull or move the bone, the pork butt is finished and ready to come out. But, make sure to double-check it with your instant-read thermometer as well.
Once your butt is finished cooking, don’t be in such a hurry to start pulling or slicing it. You want to let it rest for 1 hour first. This will allow the fatty collagen to thicken and keep the juices within the meat longer, keeping it moist. One way to let it rest is to keep it wrapped and keep it warm inside an empty cooler with a lid on it.
By following the tips we’ve covered above, you should be well on your way to tackling this tender cut confidently, resulting in a delicious final product with that great smoky flavor. As you can see, proper preparation and making sure you have the proper tools are both important factors when it comes to smoking pork butt properly.
Are you planning on smoking a pork butt soon? Have you recently smoked one for the first time and learned a few things? Tell us about it below. We want to hear from you!
Here at BBQ Champs Academy, we'll show you everything you need to know to smoke pork butt perfectly just like the professional pitmasters do for competitions. In our online classes, you can learn the step-by-step techniques along with their insider secrets, all in stunning high-def video.
Check out the individual pork butt class from your favorite pitmaster or try your hand at an All-Access Pass to learn how to cook four different BBQ meats!
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