Cooking the perfect pork butt/shoulder

Cooking the perfect pork butt/shoulder

When you think of good BBQ most people will think of ribs or a perfectly cooked tender pulled pork butt/shoulder.  There are four steps to making the perfect tender shredded BBQ pork. Nothing beats hours on the smoker for the perfect pulled pork but there are several ways to achieve meat nirvana!!! Weather in the smoker, the oven or the crock pot patience is the key to amazing pulled pork.

Step one: Seasoning

Making the prefect perfect BBQ pork shoulder is applying the rub well in advance of cooking; at least 12-24hours. When I apply my rub I lay down thick aluminum foil or cling wrap on the kitchen counter and place the fully thawed shoulder in the very center. I pour a good half/cup of pork rub on the shoulder and get in there with my hands and massage that rub into every inch of surface area. I always prefer to overdo the rub on a large cut of meat so that you don’t lack any flavor in your final product. When the entire shoulder is fully covered in rub wrap it up and toss it in the fridge for a good days rest. After a good rest unwrap and move onto step 2; Cooking!


There are several ways to prepare amazing pulled pork and I will dive into three below.

On the smoker

Now the perfect way to cook authentic BBQ pulled pork is on a smoker. If you’re lucky enough to have a smoker it’s time to get that shoulder cooking. Adjust your dampers and get your smoker to a steady 250-275 degrees with hardwood charcoal or natural wood. Because the shoulder is such a thick cut of meat it can handle just about any smoking wood. From the lighter flavored fruit and nut woods to the more robust mesquite or hickory your shoulder will take very well to just about anything. Put the pork on the smoker fat side up so the fat (flavor) melts into the meat. Now that you have the shoulder on the smoker it’s time to open a beer or make the drink of your choice and get comfortable, it’s going to be a long day! Rule of thumb is that the smoke will take around 60-90min per pound but the real indicator is when the internal temp hits 195-205 degrees. When you hit the prefect temperature pull the pork off the smoker and let it rest for 30min to an hour covered.

In the crock pot

Now the easiest way to get great tender pulled pork is in the crock pot. It’s basically a set it and forget it type of deal. You aren’t going to get that smoker bark but you can get almost all of the same flavors and a fork tender final product. For the crock pot a good way to avoid the bottom of the shoulder getting burned during the long cook is to slice some white or yellow onions thin and cover the bottom of the crock pot. Add a little olive oil or some butter squares to the onions. If you want to add a little smoke flavor to the pork add a tablespoon of liquid smoke and a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce to the crock pot. Grab your seasoned pork and place it in the crock pot on low with the fat side up and toss the lid on. Again patience is the key. It’s going to take a good 8-10 hours for a 10lb pork shoulder to get to that perfect level of tenderness. Feel free to get anything else done while food is in the crock pot and just enjoy the smells in your house. When the temp hits around 200 degrees pull it from the crock pot and place it in a large bowl or large pan. Let it rest for around 30 minutes covered.

In the oven                

Another fairly easy way to cook a pork shoulder is the oven method. First step is to get the oven to 225-250 degrees. Place your seasoned pork in a baking pan with the fat side up or if you have it add it to a baking pan with a baking rack to get some of that bark on the outside of the pork. To add some of that authentic smoke flavor add a tablespoon of liquid smoke and a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce.  You don’t need to worry about the pork burning because of the low oven temps. For a 10lb pork shoulder expect to wait 8-10 hours until the internal temp reaches temps around 200 degrees. When the internal temperature is correct remove from the oven and let rest for around 30 minutes.

Step 3: Pulling and preparing the pork.

If your pork is cooked to the prefect temperature pulling should be the easy part. Make sure your pork is in a large container of bowl Add any juices that remain to the bowl,  grab two forks or if you have bear claws grab those and start shredding away. It should almost fall apart with any pressure. You can pull into larger chunks or pull into tiny shreds based on preference. There may be gelatin like fat leftover and I implore you to keep that in your pork. That is a bunch of flavor you don’t want to be throwing out; after all were not eating pulled pork as part of a low fat diet!

Options step 3.b: Adding sauce. CAUTION!

If you want to add BBQ sauce to the mix now is the time. Make sure to add sauce little by little as the star of the show is the meat, not the sauce. Most BBQ restaurants will have sauce at the table to add as each individual sees fit and I always suggest this is how you do it to so that you can cater to individual diets that don’t want or allow added sauce. This also limits your options of repurposing your pulled pork into other dishes such as carnitas, grilled cheese with pulled pork, pulled pork nachos, etc.

Step 4: Serving your pulled pork.

The ways to serve pulled pork are limitless but the most common way is on a bun or roll with a coleslaw and BBQ sauce. The best rolls are a denser bread like a ciabatta or brioche bun so that it won’t break down to the sauces from the meat and coleslaw.

Now sit back, eat and enjoy the fruits of your labor with friends and family. The best part about cooking large quantities of meat is sharing with friends and family and watching them enjoy themselves and your (not so) hard work.

Any leftovers can be frozen for up to 2-6 months safely in freezer safe containers.

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