Low and slow BBQ: How to smoke a pork shoulder
Nothing quite says Southern cooking like a pork shoulder cooked low and slow for hours
Nothing quite says Southern cooking like a pork shoulder cooked low and slow for hours. Follow along and I'll show you how easy it is to create beautiful BBQ pulled pork.
Step one: Pit prep
Prepping my pit is relatively easy, as I'm using a kamado type smoker/grill. Just load the fire box with lump charcoal, add some smoking woods for flavor, and light it. Today I prepped my pit with Apple wood on top of my lump charcoal for the smoking flavor, and a diffuser plate to keep the direct heat off the pork shoulder. I used a Royal Oak fire-starter to get my fire going, plugged in my BBQ Guru CyberQ bbq controller to remotely keep an eye on my pit temperature, and walked away to prepare my pork shoulder to go on. Ideally you are looking to get your pit to around 220°F to 225°F (104°C to 107°C).
The pit is coming up to temperature!
Step two: Meat prep
Nothing crazy here. I started with a pork shoulder that we bought from the local supermarket and chucked into the freezer. Earlier this week we got it out and thawed it in the refrigerator. This morning I unwrapped it from its cryovac packaging, and rinsed it off. Once rinsed, I transferred it to a sheet pan and proceeded to trim as much of the fat off the pork shoulder as I could.
I trimmed a healthy amount of fat from this pork shoulder.
All trimmed up!
There are two main schools of thought on the fat on a cut of meat about to go on a smoker. One school of thought, and seemingly the most popular, is to leave the fat on the meat. The idea is as the meat is cooking, that fat renders and flavors the meat while keeping it moist. I subscribe to the other school of thought; trim all of that fat off! The idea here is that fat will act as a barrier to the BBQ rub that is applied during prep, and the fat will also block the smoke from flavoring the meat. There is also enough fat content in a pork shoulder that will render as it cooks to provide moistness to the meat, and the internal atmosphere of a kamado grill tends to stay humid inside. I'm not worried about my pork drying out.
The last part of prepping my pork shoulder for the smoker is the easiest. Rub it with a quality BBQ rub. I used to mix my own rubs but I've gotten a bit lazy as the years have passed. Today I used Fat Boy Sweet Rub on this pork shoulder. Liberally cover every surface of the pork shoulder to make sure it gets a lot of flavor. Then let it sit on the counter as you wait for the smoker to come up to temperature; this will allow the rub to pull some of the moisture out of the meat. The meat will then reabsorb the moisture and draw that rub flavoring into it.
Fat Boy Sweet Rub.
Here the pork shoulder has been liberally rubbed.
Step three: Put the meat in the pit
Once the pit temperature has stabilized at your desired temperature, it's time to put your meat on. Today, my pit was running a little on the hot side, but the temperature had stabilized around 245°F (118°C). Even though the pit was on the high side, I went ahead and put the pork shoulder on. I figured there would be some heat loss from having to open the Kamado's lid to put the pork on, and a little temperature loss from introducing a huge hunk of cooler meat to the Kamado's environment. After ten minutes of sitting, after the meat went on, I saw the smoker settle down to 225°F (107°F). Right on target.
The pork shoulder is on!
Step four: The spritz
Pretty much, once your meat is on the pit, you need to step back and leave everything alone. You've got to resist the urge to crack open that lid to check on your progress. I went ahead and spent a couple of hours doing yard work before eating lunch and settling down in front of the TV. But there is one reason to open up that grill, and that is to spritz your meat with an apple cider vinegar and water mixture. Doing this, roughly every 30 minutes, helps form the bark on the surface of the meat that BBQers look for. For this pork shoulder I used approximately two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and half a cup of water applied with a spray bottle I keep on hand just for this purpose.
Applying a spritz of apple cider vinegar and water helps form the bark!
A light bark has formed!
Step five: The wrap
There is a point in the cooking process usually four to five hour in, where your pork shoulder won't be absorbing any more smoke. Because of this, and to help retain moisture in the meat, I pulled the pork shoulder off the pit once it hit 160°F (71°C) and wrapped it in pink butcher's paper. At this point my pork shoulder had been on for four hours and ten minutes. Butcher's paper is preferable to foil as the paper will allow some steam to escape, thus maintaining some of the crispiness of the bark on the meat. I simply wrapped the meat in a double layer of the pink butcher's paper and then returned it to the pit to continue cooking to 195°F (91°C).
All wrapped in pink butcher's paper and back on the pit!
Step six: Finishing touches
Once the pork shoulder has reached its target temperature of 195°F (91°C), it's time to yank it off the pit. Leave your pork shoulder wrapped, but bring it in to rest somewhere safe. The meat is still cooking and can rise in temperature as much as 10°F (6°C). After the meat has rested enough to be just cool enough to handle (but still hot), it's time to put on some food handling gloves and start "pulling" the pork. First, remove the large bone from the pork shoulder. At this point it will pull out without any resistance as the meat will be very tender. Then simply start pulling the meat apart with your fingers. As you shred the meat, pull out any small pieces of fat and discard them. And the final touch is to sprinkle a little of your BBQ rub on the still hot, pulled pork, and mix it all together.
All that's left is to serve up some pulled pork on a roll with a little BBQ sauce and some good sides.