Choosing the Right Pork Butt(Shoulder)
When choosing a pork butt(shoulder) for smoking, you need to determine how many people you are going to be serving. Are you going to be slicing or pulling? We are going to be pulling the pork at this time. Even if you are only going to be feeding 4-5 people, you can still smoke a pork butt that is 9 pounds or larger. The main reason for this is once you have tasted the smoky goodness of a properly smoked pork butt, all bets are off. That diet you just went on will go out the window faster than a summer’s breeze. The tenderness of the meat, the smoky flavor and the all around good time everyone is having will make you want to have more.
You will want a pork butt that has a good fat cap on it. If you do not know what a fat cap is here is a simple explanation, I needed someone to explain it to me when I first started to smoke meats. The fat cap is the side of the pork butt that has a layer of fat on it, you do not want one that is more than a 1/4 inch thick. You will want to make sure that the rest of the shoulder has good marbling to it. You will find that a pork butt(shoulder) has a bone in it. It may or may not go all the way through. This will help to make sure the meat is tender.
Some people marinate their pork butt to either to give it a different flavor or to make it more tender. Other people use a dry rub to enhance the flavor of the pork butt. Another thing you can do is use different types of wood. I do not recommend using more than one type of wood at a time, to me this causes the meat to have a bitter flavor. Some marinades will require that you inject them into the meat as well as soaking. I, personally, like the dry rub method myself. I seem to get better results. Using a marinade is one of personal choice, that is totally up to you. The more experience you have the more you will want to develop your own marinade or dry rub. Simply put, you know your tastes better than anyone else. By developing your own rub, you can help your nutritional needs better( lower sodium for example).
Preheating Your Grill(smoker)
Preheating your grill(smoker) is very important for best results. I, generally, preheat my smoker to 250F and get my grill toppers to the same temperature. This will help with a more even cooking time and helps to reduce the butt from sticking. Also, during preheat time of 10 to 20 minutes, you can add to your charcoal briquettes, lump charcoal or wood any aromatics that you want to get your smoke generated and at the right consistency before the smoking begins. Now, if you are using a gas or pellet grill for smoking they now have baskets you can use to put wood chips in to smoke your select meat. It does not matter which method you use as long as you soak your chips or wood chunks for smoking. The longer you soak the better the smoke. I generally soak mine overnight to get the best smoke results.
Cooking Your Pork Butt
Now you have the preheating out of the way, place your pork butt on the cool end of the grill/smoker. The most important reason is so you do not overcook or cook your pork butt too fast. By placing your pork butt on indirect heat it allows the smoke to penetrate deep into the meat and give it the flavor you are looking for. It helps prevent overcooking. Another thing you can do is put a pan underneath the pork butt with aromatics juices, for example apple cider, apple juice, orange juice or just plain water. This will help keep moisture in the air and also helps the smoke penetrate even deeper. Just use a disposable aluminum pan that is about 4 inches deep and fill halfway on the cooler end of the grill. The outer part of the pork butt will get darker during the cooking process until black. There is no need to worry that is just part of the process. It develops what is called bark.
Timing Your Smoking for Best Results
Timing your smoking for best results can be tricky if you are new to smoking meats. Typically, when smoking you want to allow 45 minutes per pound. This works out quite well since it cuts down on the guess work in how long you should have your pork butt smoking. Another way to determine if the pork shoulder is thoroughly smoked is by taking the internal temperature by inserting a thermometer and checking the temperature. I have found that on a pork shoulder the best temperature is 170F just before removing from the grill(smoker).
Resting the Pork Butt
Resting the pork butt(or any meat) is very important to the overall tenderness. By resting the meat for at least 30 minutes, you allow the meat to complete the cooking process and allow the juices to remain in the meat. If you cut or pull the pork butt before letting it rest, you will be losing a great deal of the flavor by allowing the juices to run out. The cooking process is still going when you remove something from the grill or smoker. The pork butt will still be slightly hot when slicing or pulling at first then will gradually begin to cool as you continue to pull or cut. Tasting the results by showing a bit of patience is spectacular. Those who end up tasting your pulled pork will ask you why you have not done this before now and PLEASE DO THIS AGAIN. You will be in high demand for having developed your smoking skills to a higher level.
Turning a Pork Butt into Pulled Pork
After you have let your pork butt rest for at least 30 minutes, you can begin to pull the butt. What is pulling? Pulling a pork butt is when you take either your fingers or bear claws and shredding the meat into slivers. This may take up to 30 minutes or longer to do. You want to keep at it until all of the meat is removed from the bone and it is of a consistency that is fine with no large clumps. This is not to be confused with chopped pork. Chopped uses a knife and you literally chop the meat into small pieces or cubes. That is not the same as pulled. Pulled is coarser but with great flavor.
Pairing Side Dishes For A Smoked Pork Butt
What do you use for sides with pulled pork? Sides are every bit as important as the main meat. I have found that grilled corn on the cob is amazing and you can do it several ways. One way is to put it in aluminum foil with butter and seasonings(my favorite seasoning is chipotle chili powder sprinkled on the corn), make your own potato wedges on the grill, grilled asparagus, grilled squash or zucchini. The list goes on.
How do you determine the right side? The main thing about sides is that you want them to complement the meat and not to detract from one another. You want to choose sides that will enhance the overall experience. You need to be certain that the majority of people will enjoy the sides as much as the meat.
Some people prefer to eat pulled pork as a sandwich. They may want the sides to be finger food, french fries, potato chips, corn chips, etc, If someone is having the pulled pork as a sandwich, they will generally want some type of sauce to put on it, barbeque sauce, hot sauce or their favorite sauce.
Some people like iced tea for a beverage and others like a beer. Whatever your drink of choice of drink is, you will find that you are drinking less because the flavor from the pulled pork is truly remarkable and you have become a hero to those you served for spectacular skills at smoking a pork butt and turning it into something noteworthy of high praise. Your friends and family will be talking about this for months while they anxiously await your next smoking endeavor.
You will want plenty of napkins on hand for everyone to use. Regardless, of whether you plate the pulled pork or have it in a sandwich, you are sure to have a spectacular event.