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I’ve had a long-term love affair with pulled pork. Whether it’s in a sandwich or just heaped in a pile, it’s been one of my favorites for a long time. But in the past I had to make do with what we could find locally. And since barbecue isn’t a staple in our neck o’ the woods, that local ‘cue was usually lacking. The alternative was to wait until I found myself someplace where barbecue is a part of the culture.
And I’m not real good at waiting. It’s hard, y’all.
Thank goodness those days are over. Ever since I realized how easy pulled pork really is, I’ve made my own. That means no more settling for less or putting the craving on the back burner. Nope, if I get a hankering these days, I just fire up the smoker. And I hope that you will too, when you see just how little effort it takes.
Pork Butt or Pork Shoulder?
But first a little about the meat itself. Most pulled pork recipes you find are going to call for a bone-in pork shoulder. If you can’t find this cut, then you can also use a Boston butt or a pork butt. Why? Because they’re the same cut of meat. Confusing, right? That’s the least of it. While you may be thinking to yourself, “Butt? Gross.”, you should know that butt roasts don’t actually come from the butt end of a pig. Instead they’re part of the shoulder. Of course. Why wouldn’t a butt actually be a shoulder. Makes perfect sense.
Each of these cuts contain connective tissue, which would be tight and chewy if you didn’t break them down. And cooking them low and slow does just that. It’s this process that produces a tender and flavorful pulled pork.
Simple is Good
After playing with different and sometimes complicated techniques, I’ve found that keeping it simple really is the best idea. To that end, my pulled pork has just three ingredients: the pork butt, our homemade mustard sauce, and a sweet and spicy dry rub. That’s it. There truly isn’t a need for the elaborate with this recipe.
I make sure my pork is wiped down of any excess liquid and then coat it in the mustard sauce. “But I don’t like mustard!” Trust me, you won’t even taste it. It’s not there to add flavor. No, what the mustard sauce does is create a barrier to keep the moisture in and act as a glue for the dry rub. But it also aids in getting that sought-after bark. I’ve made good pulled pork without the mustard sauce, but I’ve only gotten that beautiful bark since using it.
Once the sauce is on the meat, it’s time to add the dry rub. Much like the recipe as a whole, the dry rub is simple. It only has seven ingredients, most of which are in your cupboard right now. One of those ingredients is not black pepper and we’ve been asked why we don’t use it. The answer is easy: it’s not a flavor that we particularly enjoy. If we do add it to something, it’s generally in a small amount. Whether you add it to your dry rub or not, be liberal with the rub. Be sure it covers all the meat, rubbing it down into any crevices or under any flaps.
Have a Little Patience
And that, my friends, is all there is to it. At this point the meat goes on the smoker at 225°. This is also when you grab yourself a cold drink and kick back, because it’s all a matter of patience from here on.
Bear in mind that there isn’t a magic temperature setting, type of wood, or way to hold your mouth that’s going to tell you how long it will take your pork to cook. But for the sake of planning you can estimate about two hours per pound. Even this can be off the mark, though. My last butt was small, weighing in at just 3 pounds. Yet it took almost 8 hours to smoke. And that doesn’t include resting time. It really just depends on the meat and how long it takes for it to get through the dreaded stall.
Remember that patience I mentioned? This is when you’re going to need it.
Getting Through The Stall
Regardless of what kind of meat you’re smoking, you’re going to encounter the stall. If you’re using a quality digital thermometer, you’ll see the internal temperature of your meat steadily rising during the first few hours of cook time. Then it just stops. Somewhere around 140°-145° you hit a brick wall. This is the stall and it’s completely normal. As long as you realize it can take hours to get through it, you won’t have reason to worry. Just let the smoker continue to do its thing and you’ll see the internal temperature begin to rise again.
The connective tissue in the pork will start to dissolve around 195°. While it’s perfectly fine to go ahead and pull the meat now, I opt to leave the meat on until I see an internal temperature of closer to 203°. This extra time and temp allow the meat to become fall-apart tender with a gorgeous bark.
Hold Your Horses
Time to gather one last bit of patience. Because while the pork is done, it’s not ready. And there’s a big difference. Now this is my personal preference, but once I pull the meat from the smoker, I wrap it in two layers of heavy duty foil. I then wrap that in large towels and place the bundled butt in a cooler for two hours. Think Igloo here. Nothing fancy, just something insulated. This keeps the meat warm while the juices redistribute. It’s also the perfect time to knock out those simple side dishes.
And that’s it.
I suggest serving with dipping cups of mustard sauce and our red vinegar sauce so you can dip to your heart’s content. Why should you have to choose between the two? This way you don’t have to. Just don’t forget the bread and butter pickles!
Click here for our dry rub recipe.