If the term pork butt doesn’t ring a bell, it might be because you usually won’t eat it as a cut by itself. The most common dish to make with it is to shred it and make pulled pork sandwiches. I bet this sounds more familiar.
Pork butt is one of our go-to recipes when we are cooking for a lot of people. The reason is that it is super easy to make, it feeds many, and it is very hard to mess up. So if you are planning a big or one of your first BBQs, this recipe won’t fail you.
We love this recipe so much and we’ve tried it many times, always with success. So we want to share it with you so you can make your own and perfect pulled pork sandwiches.
As we said before, the recipe is very simple. The whole process will take at least 10-12 hours, so you will need some time. But you’ll only need a couple of ingredients, and all you need to do is a little preparation.
If you are ready to start, keep on ready to learn our easy method for smoking pork butt.
Easy Method for Smoking Pork Butt
As we mentioned earlier, pork butt actually comes from the upper shoulder of the pig. What you would call the actual “butt” is where ham comes from. Being part of the shoulder, pork butt has many strong muscles and plenty of connective tissue.
Whenever you hear this for a meat cut, you will know the method of cooking will have to be low and slow. This is not the exception. Otherwise, if you try to cook it fast, you´ll end up with a lot of chewy meat. By cooking low and slow, you allow the tissues and fat to break down, and the meat to tenderize. Now, this sounds better!
Let´s get into it with these simple steps:
When selecting your pork butt, there are a couple of important things to consider:
- How to order it: If you have a local butcher, ask him for a fresh pork butt. If you are buying at a supermarket, you might find the cut as “Boston Butt”. Either way, look for a bone-in cut. The bone won’t give it a better flavor, but it will keep the meat’s shape and allow it to cook more evenly. Preferably, look for a pork butt with the fat intact. This way, you can choose how much you want to keep or not. It comes without saying that you should look for fresh meat with no funny odors. As you buy, watch out not to order pork shoulder. This cut also comes from the shoulder, but from a lower part with less marbling. If there is no pork butt, then pork shoulder can be an alternative.
- Size: A bone-in pork butt will weigh somewhere between 6 – 8 pounds. The key question here is how much should you buy. As a general rule of thumb for our BBQs, we assume people will eat half a pound of cooked meat each. Just remember that meat will weigh 30-40% less after you cook it. So take account of this when you buy.
- Quality: You will ideally want to have your pork butt from organic hogs. This will guarantee your meat is free of hormones or antibiotics. Having said this, it is hard to mess a pork butt. Pork has so much fat and marbling that, by cooking it low and slow, you will almost always have juicy and tender meat.
Trimming in pork butt is a matter of choice. Some people do it, some others don´t. Here are the considerations for both choices:
- In favor of trimming: The main reason to trim is to expose more meat during the smoking process. This in turn will give more smoke flavor to the meat.
- Against trimming: The main argument not to trim is that the fat will render while smoking. So you are losing this flavor by trimming
So it is a trade-off between what flavor you want to have. You can also try to find a middle ground to trim some fat, but not all.
What do we do? We do leave the fat and clean off all the excess fat from the sides. We would only trim the fat cap on the top if it is excessively thick, aiming to leave only ¼ or ½ an inch. Too much fat might not render all, or melt away some of the precious bark.
So this is completely up to you. Even if you trim a lot, the pork butt will still have plenty of internal fat to render a great flavor.
3. Injecting (Optional)
Injecting your pork butt is completely optional. The reason you might want to do so is to add more moisture and flavor to the meat. In our opinion, this is not needed. But feel free to explore. The most common ingredients to inject are apple cider vinegar or apple juice.
Next up is where you can add your personal taste as you season the pork butt. The rub you apply will have a big effect on the final result.
Some people like to go very classical with only salt and pepper. We´ve tried it, and the taste is great. But usually, we like to add a couple of extra ingredients:
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
- 2 tablespoons black pepper
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- If you like it spicy, you can throw in 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper
This mix should be enough for a 6 to 8-pound pork butt. All you have to do is mix all the ingredients in a bowl or shaker.
Before seasoning, we like to use a binder such as yellow mustard or olive oil. This helps the rub adhere better. Apply the binder to the meat. Then rub the mixture generously over the pork butt.
Don´t put the meat straight into the smoker. Let it rest for at least 30 minutes and allow the rub to “sweat out” the pork butt. You´ll see this happen as the rub will bring some water out from the meat.
You can also prep the pork butt until this step at night. This way, you can let the meat season overnight and you can start smoking early in the morning.
Start by preparing your smoker to reach somewhere between 225-275°F. We personally like to smoke right in the middle at 250°F. If you’re using a charcoal or gas grill, check out of guide on how to prepare it for smoking meat.
If available, try to smoke with fruity woods such as apple or cherry. Pecan and hickory are also nice.
Once ready, place the pork butt in the smoker and leave it untouched for 3 hours. For brisket, we like to cook fat cap down. However, for pork butt, we like to cook fat side up as this fat will render nicely. But you can try it fat side down for a better bark too.
Like our previous comment, we don´t like to spritz for brisket, but we do for pork butt (and pork in general). For this, we prepare a 50/50 mix of apple cider vinegar and apple juice. Use this to spritz the pork butt every 30 minutes after the 3rd hour. Spray lightly and aim for the meat, not the fat.
As with most meats, we will cook by temperature, not time. So keep the pork butt in the smoker until it reaches an internal temperature of 165-170°F. This might take 6 to hours depending on what temperature you are running and the size of your pork butt. As a rule of thumb, you can estimate 1.25 hours per pound of meat.
At some point between 145-150°F , you might notice the temperature stops rising. It can even decrease slightly. This is called The Stall. The Stall happens as the liquids evaporating from the meat will start to cool it. Don’t worry, this is normal. Be patient. Eventually, the temperature will start rising again.
Once the internal temp is around 165-170°F, you have the option to take the meat out and wrap it. If you don´t have a meat thermometer, you´ll know when it is time to wrap once the fat on the top is rendered and it “splits” open. Not everybody wraps pork butt, so you can choose which is best for you:
- In favor of wrapping: Wrapping will help you power through the stall, so it can cut down the cooking times.
- Against wrapping: Wrapping is more common for tougher meats like brisket. It is not always needed for pork butt. Your bark will also be better this way.
We´ve done it both ways, and the results are great either way. Having said this, we usually like to wrap.
So if you are wrapping, take the pork butt out and place it in 1 or 2 sheets of pink butcher paper or aluminum foil. Spritz heavily before wrapping tightly. Instead of spritzing, you can put a couple of slices of butter and some brown sugar.
A tip we have learned for wrapping is that you can place the meat in an aluminum pan, and then wrap the pan in foil. This will guarantee no leakages.
Either way, put back the pork butt on the smoker. Continue cooking until the internal temperature reaches 200-205°F. This might take another 5-7 hours. Be sure to measure the temperature in a couple of spots. You should feel the probe go in easily like butter. If you don´t have a meat thermometer, you´ll know when the meat is done when you can pull off the bone and it comes out clean.
If you decided not to wrap, continue the smoking and spritzing until you reach the same 200-205°F. This might just take a couple of hours longer.
As a reference, the minimum safe internal temperature for pork is 145°F, according to the USDA. Note that we go way beyond this point so that the meat is completely shreddable.
Resting is a key step that is often ignored. So when the meat finally reaches 200-205°F, don´t rush, remove it from the smoker, and allow it to rest for at least an hour. You can even wrap it in a towel and put it in a cooler with no ice for 2-3 hours.
The resting will allow the fats and juices to redistribute into the meat. If you shred too quickly, the first bites will be great but then the meat will dry up super quickly. So be patient for just a little more!
As a final step before serving, all you have to do is shred the meat with a couple of forks. You could even do it with your hands, just being careful not to burn yourself. Be sure to mix in all the nice edges along with the tender inner meat. As you are shredding, discard the bone and remove any stringy fat or unrendered tissues.
At long last, serve with some coleslaw for delicious pulled pork sandwiches! Remember to have your favorite BBQ sauce nearby or try our homemade BBQ recipe.
If you have leftovers, they will be ok for up to a week in a container. If you need to keep them for longer, you can freeze serving-size portions. Use freezer-safe plastic bags. When you want to eat them, simmer the portions in water. Then you could smoke them again for a couple of hours or just heat them in the oven. It won’t be the same as freshly smoked, but it will still be pretty good.
The Bottom Line
With this easy method, you are almost guaranteed to have an amazing pork butt. Our favorite way to eat it is in pulled pork sandwiches, but you can also make tacos, sliders, or nachos.
Recall this is a base recipe. So as we always say, our methods are only guides for you to add your creativeness and preferences. Don’t be scared of trying different variations such as:
- Changing rub to add a different taste with hot spice, rosemary, honey, etc.
- Try injecting or not
- Try spritzing or not
- Try wrapping or not
Find your perfect recipe and tell us about it.
If you are looking for more alternatives for your next Sunday Grill, check out our Guide on how to make Texas-Style Smoked Brisket.