Holle is a retired English and creative writing teacher. She is a professional freelance writer and contributes to Horseman Magazine.
Pulled pork is a favorite southern food. My family loves it, so hubby and I make it often, as a joint effort, even though we each have our own favorite pulled pork recipe. I concoct the wet rub or dry rub recipe and rub the meat, and he tends to the smoker.
Really good pulled pork is an all-day job. If you cure the pork in the refrigerator the night before, it’s an even longer job. You can find recipes that are done more quickly, but you won’t find any better than ours.
What Is It?
If you don’t know what pulled pork is, I’m very sorry. You’ve missed out on one of the most wonderful dishes ever dreamed up by mankind. Traditional southern-style pulled pork is made from pork shoulder roasts, which are often called “Boston butts,” “pork butts,” or simply “butts.” The pork is smoked for long hours over hickory, oak, pecan, or some other type of barbecue wood.
To get the best pulled pork, the temperature on the smoker has to be right, and it needs to stay that way throughout the smoking process. The ideal temperature is 225 degrees, but if you can keep the heat between 200 and 250 degrees, you’ll still have an awesome result.
Once the meat is super tender and completely cooked, you pull it. That means that the meat is shredded into fibers, through the use of forks, your hands, or bear paws. Once the meat has been pulled, sauce can be mixed in with the meat. Because the meat has been shredded, there’s a lot of surface area, so the pulled pork will hold onto a lot of tasty sauce.
Why Use Pork Shoulder?
Pork butts seem to have been especially created for pulled pork. The shoulder inherently has large amounts of fat and collagen, and when cooked properly, these dissolve into a wonderful texture and flavor.
Another reason a pork butt is the perfect choice for pulled pork is that it’s usually just the right size to fit on a small smoker. Pork shoulders are also relatively inexpensive, and a smoked pork shoulder will feed several people.
Most folks like to rub their pork butts when they’re making pulled pork. This gives the meat a lot of flavor, and if you use a wet rub with an acidic liquid, the rub can also help tenderize the butt.
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A dry rub is made with herbs and spices, and a wet rub is made of the same herbs and spices, along with a liquid.
I usually prefer using a wet butt rub for a pulled pork recipe because the liquid helps to release the flavors in the herbs and spices, and because it helps to deliver the flavors deeper into the pork.
- 1 Boston butt pork shoulder, about 5 pounds
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon ground red pepper
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- Rinse butt and pat dry.
- Only remove some of the fat if there’s really a lot of fat. I’ve rarely had to do this.
- Combine all the dry seasonings and mix with vinegar and oil to create a wet rub.
- Rub the pork roast all over with the mixture.
- Place it in the fridge, uncovered, and leave it for about an hour.
- At that point, wrap the butt in plastic and leave it in the refrigerator overnight.
- If you’re using an electric smoker, you’ll need to add some wood for flavor. We use pecan wood. We soak the wood for a couple of hours in water or apple juice before cooking. Fill the water pan with apple juice and bring the smoker to 225 degrees.
- Unwrap the pork shoulder and place it on the smoker. Our smoker has two racks, and when we smoke just one or two butts, we put them on the top rack to smoke.
- Put the lid on the smoker and cook the meat for around 5 hours. Add more wood and re-fill the water pan.
- Continue smoking for about 5 more hours. The general rule of thumb is two hours per pound of butt at 225 degrees.
- After ten hours, check the internal temperature of the smoked pork shoulder.
- It’s safe to eat at 165 degrees, but it’ll be more tender and easier to pull if you wait until the meat reaches around 190 degrees.
- Remove the meat from the smoker and place it in a metal roaster. When the pork is cool enough to handle, pull out the bone, and cut the meat into several large chunks.
- Use two forks, bear paws, or your hands to pull the pork, separating the muscle fibers.
- Once all the pork is pulled, you can mix in your favorite BBQ sauce.
For pulled pork sandwiches, serve your pulled pork on hamburger buns, onion rolls, Kaiser rolls, or sliced barbecue bread.
Since some folks don’t like the sauce mixed in with the pulled pork, you might want to leave some of the meat plain. Honestly, if you’ve used a good pulled pork recipe, the smoked pork shoulder can stand on its own.