As an avid griller and barbecue enthusiast, I consider myself an expert on smoking meat low and slow. Of all the cuts to throw on the smoker, pork shoulder, also known as pork butt, is one of my absolute favorites. When cooked properly, pork butt emerges incredibly moist, fall-apart tender and infused with sweet, smoky flavor. The cut takes well to barbecuing and benefits tremendously from the lengthy cook time.
While pork butt requires patience and attention, the results are well worth it. Follow my foolproof guide on how to BBQ the most mouthwateringly tender and juicy pork butt packed with smoky goodness.
- 1 Selecting and Prepping the Meat
- 2 Setting Up Your Grill for Indirect Cooking
- 3 The Long, Slow BBQ Process
- 4 Wrapping the Pork Butt in Foil
- 5 Testing Pork Butt for Doneness
- 6 Letting the Pork Rest Before Serving
- 7 Mouthwatering Serving Suggestions
- 8 Storing and Reheating Leftovers
- 9 Troubleshooting Your First Pork Butt
Selecting and Prepping the Meat
A bone-in pork shoulder roast with ample fat marbling is ideal for making pulled pork. The bone adds flavor while the fat keeps the meat nice and moist. Trim off any large excess pieces of fat but leave a thin layer over the top. This will slowly render and baste the meat while it cooks low and slow.
Generously season the pork butt on all sides with a basic barbecue rub. I like to use a mixture of salt, cracked pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and paprika. The spice blend should stick nicely to the tacky fat cap. Let the pork sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before grilling. This gives the seasoning time to penetrate deep into the meat.
Setting Up Your Grill for Indirect Cooking
The key to perfectly smoked pork butt is maintaining a consistent low temperature (225-250°F) for an extended period using indirect heat. This allows the tough collagen in the pork shoulder to break down into gelatin, resulting in succulent, pull-apart meat.
I prefer to use lump charcoal for a clean, even burn along with hardwood chunks or chips. Soak wood chunks in water for 30 minutes before using to slow combustion. Hickory, oak and pecan are excellent wood choices for true barbecue flavor.
Pile the lit charcoal on one side of the grill, leaving the other side empty. Place a drip pan filled with water underneath the meat to regulate temperatures. The pan also captures any rendered fat and juices from the pork as it cooks for basting.
The Long, Slow BBQ Process
Now the real fun begins! Place the seasoned pork butt on the grill over the unlit area, away from direct heat. Close the lid and maintain the target temperature range (225-250°F) for the entire cook time.
For a 6-8 lb bone-in pork shoulder, allow around 1-1.5 hours per pound. I like to estimate 1 hour 15 minutes per lb to be safe. Resist the urge to peek or rush the process! Opening the grill repeatedly lets heat escape.
Aim for steady, consistent smoke the entire cook time. Add a small handful of wood chips directly onto the hot coals every hour or so, along with 10-15 fresh pieces of charcoal as needed to replenish heat.
Wrapping the Pork Butt in Foil
Once the pork shoulder has smoked for around 6-7 hours, double wrap it tightly in heavy-duty aluminum foil. The foil traps moisture released by the meat as it breaks down and essentially steam cooks the pork.
Place the foil-wrapped butt back on the grill and continue cooking until ultra tender. The meat should pull easily with your fingers and a thermometer should read 205°F when inserted into the thickest part.
Testing Pork Butt for Doneness
After the estimated cook time (1-1.5 hours per lb), there are a few doneness tests I like to perform before pulling the pork:
- Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature. You want it to register at least 205°F.
- Insert a skewer or long knife into the center. It should slide in and out with little friction.
- Carefully lift a section with tongs and pull it apart. The meat should start to shred easily.
If it passes these doneness tests, the pork butt is ready to come off. If not, continue cooking and monitoring until fully tender. More time in the smoker only means more delicious flavor!
Letting the Pork Rest Before Serving
Once sufficiently tender, remove the pork butt and let rest wrapped in foil for about 30 minutes before pulling or chopping. This important resting period allows the juices to redistribute back into the fibers.
Use your hands or two forks to gently shred and pull the smoked pork into bite-sized pieces. Discard excess fat or bone. Fluff and toss the tender, juicy pulled pork to serve.
Mouthwatering Serving Suggestions
Part of the appeal of BBQ pork butt is how versatile it is for serving. Pile it generously on rolls for incredible pulled pork sandwiches. Stuff it into tortillas or tacos, roll it into burritos, or layer it over nachos. Mix shredded pork with your favorite barbecue sauce and use it as a slider topping. You can even use it as a hearty topping for baked potatoes. Get creative!
Storing and Reheating Leftovers
Allow leftover pulled pork to cool completely before storing it in the fridge for 3-4 days. The pork also freezes well in an airtight container for 2-3 months.
To reheat, place chilled or frozen pulled pork into a baking dish, cover with foil and heat through at 325°F for about 20 minutes until piping hot and steamy. You can also reheat smaller portions in the microwave.
Troubleshooting Your First Pork Butt
No barbecue cook is perfect, so here are some troubleshooting tips if your first smoked pork butt doesn’t go as planned:
- If the meat is not fork tender after estimated cook time, continue smoking it until the interior hits 205°F. More smoke time means more tender meat.
- Make sure to maintain 225-250°F temperature and not let it spike higher. Use a water pan to absorb heat as needed.
- Check charcoal and wood chip levels hourly. Consistent smoke is key for flavor.
With these handy tips on selecting, prepping, seasoning, smoking, testing, resting, serving and storing perfect pork butt, you will be a pro at BBQ in no time. Now get outside and start grilling up some phenomenally juicy and drool-worthy pulled pork!