Kamado Style Grills
Kamado-style grills are perfect for low and slow cooking because they retain heat very well, which makes them much more efficient for long cooking times. My family has used this recipe with excellent results on a Kamado and a Big Green Egg.
To cook a pork shoulder low and slow on the barbecue and pull it into tender shredded meat, you'll need the following:
- Barbecue sauce and hot sauce. I like to serve these on the side and I think they add the perfect flavor.
- Kaiser rolls. I like soft white rolls. Don't go with hamburger buns; they are too heavy. Get a very light, fresh white bun.
- Pork shoulder. I go with the pork shoulder from Costco. The one I cooked in this example is 14lbs.
- A really great rub. Barbecue rubs can make or break the final pulled pork taste. I usually make my own rubs, but I think a combination rub of salty and sweet works best for pulled pork whether you buy one or make it yourself.
- A barbecue. Almost any grill will work. I use a Kamado Smoker, but a charcoal Webber or gas grill works fine as well.
- A digital cooking thermometer.
- Charcoal and wood chips. I use applewood chips, but some people prefer hickory chips. Either is fine.
- Towels and an ice chest for keeping the meat hot and letting it rest once you finish cooking.
- Optional: A Stoker temperature control device.
Make Your Own Pork Shoulder Rub Recipe
A pork shoulder has quite a bit of fat that will add to the great pork flavor, but a rub that is rich in spice makes the best pulled pork. A pork shoulder is a large cut of meat; the shoulder from Costco was cut in half, with each side weighing about 7 lbs. So, in order to cover 14 lbs with the rub, it will take well over 1 cup of rub.
A Great Pulled Pork Rub Is Sweet and Salty
- 2 cups white sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
- 1/4 cup seasoned salt
- 1/4 cup garlic salt
- 1/4 cup onion powder
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 tablespoon lemon pepper
- 1/4 cup celery seed, (optional)
Applying the Pulled Pork Rub
- Apply the dry rub liberally to the pork shoulder. (When applying the rub, dump it on and then massage it into the meat with your hands.)
- Let the shoulder sit for a few hours before putting it on the grill. (This will give the meat some time to warm up to room temperature and absorb flavoring from the rub.)
- Right before putting the meat on the grill, add some more rub.
- There should be plenty of leftover rub. Save some for the end.
Getting the Grill Ready to Cook Low and Slow
First, load the barbecue with charcoal. My Kamado will hold enough charcoal to do the entire cook in one load. Then, light one chunk of charcoal (I do it on my gas stove), put it on top of the charcoal pile, and cover it with a few more pieces. This will help prevent all the charcoal from burning at once, which makes the barbecue get too hot and consume a lot more fuel.
The barbecue should be between 220 degrees and 270 degrees Fahrenheit for a low and slow cook. Try aiming for the lower temperature range because it's harder to keep it low than hot. Shooting for the lower temperature gives you some room for error on the hotter side. The pork shoulder in this example cooked at 267 degrees for the entire cook, even though I was aiming for 220. I just couldn't get the heat to stabilize at a lower temperature.
During overnight cooks, the cool evening temperature helps keep the grill lower than during the day. It takes a bit of courage to do an overnight cook since you can't watch the grill the whole time, but I'll give you some tips on how to use tools to monitor the grill.
Smoking With Chips
You'll want to be careful of how much smoke you use when cooking. I leave the pork completely uncovered during the entire cook. I use charcoal as my main fuel source, but I also add chips for smoke flavoring. I've had the best success with apple-smoking chips. The apple smoke compliments the pork flavor nicely.
- Take the apple chips and put them in 2 to 3-cup tinfoil tepees.
- Fold the sides of the tinfoil up like a little chimney, add about 1/4 cup of water, and place it on the side of the coals. I use about two tinfoil teepees full of apple chips per cook.
- The smoke is key to a good low and slow cook. For a stronger smoke flavor, try a Texas-style low and slow-barbecue with white oak.
- Personally, I think the oak flavor tastes better on beef brisket, but many like it on a pork shoulder.
Using Butcher String
After I put the rub on the meat, when I'm smoking a pork shoulder with the bone removed, I take butcher string and tier three or four loops around the meat to keep it tight together. This helps it cook more evenly, and it won't fall apart when it comes time to remove it from the grill.
Putting the Meat on the Grill
I like to use a roasting pan for cooking pulled pork. It helps with indirect heat by deflecting the direct heat from the meat. You may be worried about burning the pan up, but I've found that while drippings from the meat do burn up, there is still enough fat rendered from the pork that it doesn't damage the pan.
- Place the meat in the pan on the grill and insert a meat thermometer that can be read from the outside of the grill.
- Make sure the temperature is getting taken from the heart of the meat. I use a remote thermometer and set the alarm to 205 degrees. The remote thermometer works really well for overnight cooks.
- If the meat gets done early, the thermometer's alarm will go off and wake you up to check the meat.
During my last cook, I put on 14 lbs of pork shoulder around 9 pm, and the alarm went off at 6 pm while I was sound asleep. Low and slow cooks aren't always as predictable. Sometimes a shoulder will take 2 hours longer than the previous cook. If you're shooting for a lunchtime meal, It's fine if the meat is done early (I'll tell you how to handle it), but it throws everything off if the meat isn't done in time. So, give yourself room for error by planning your cook to be done at least 2 hours early. If it cooks ahead of schedule, that's not a problem for pulled pork.
What Do I do if the Temperature Stalls?
Cooking low and slow, it's imperative to get the meat to 205 degrees. At this temperature, the fat will render out of the meat (no big fatty chunks), and it will easily pull into shreds with two forks.
It's really common to see your pork shoulder stall out at 160 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit after 6 hours.
If it continues to smoke for many more hours, it may break through the plateau stage, but it tends to dry out. To get the meat back on its way, do these two things.
- Completely wrap the pork in tinfoil and then put it back on the grill. The meat thermometer can be inserted through the tinfoil.
- Increase the temperature of the grill to 275-300 degrees Fahrenheit.
I've started wrapping my pork in tinfoil after about 6 hours now because I've found it helps hold in juices and adds to the flavor. So, even if the internal temperature continues to rise, I still recommend these steps.
Letting the Pulled Pork Rest
Once the pork shoulder has hit the target internal temperature of 195 degrees, pull it from the barbecue. You will be able to smell the rich barbecue flavor, and the sweet rub will make it smell a little like ham.
It's a great combination. Next, place the meat in thick tinfoil and wrap it up. From there, wrap it in two towels, and place it in an ice chest for at least one hour. It can stay in the ice chest wrapped up for over eight hours and still be nice and warm when it comes time to pull the pork.
Pulling the Pork and Seasoning
After the pork has been resting for over an hour, it will pull apart very easily with two forks. With a fork in each hand, place a large chuck into a big bowl and begin to shred. Pork is fatty, but after a low and slow cook, a lot of the fat is cooked out, so don't remove any that is left. Just shred it and mix it all together.
You might want to taste the bark (that's the dark edges—the tastiest part). Taste the meat and gauge the flavor. I like to mix in some of the leftover dry rubs at this point until I get enough salt flavor into the meat. Continue to add the rub and mix it into the pulled pork to taste.
How to Serve Pulled Pork
Now that the shoulder has been pulled into nice tasty shredded pork, you need to decide how you're going to serve it. My favorite way is on a soft white bun with my homemade barbecue sauce, a little bit of Tabasco and some fresh coleslaw. Lots of coleslaws are mayonnaise-based, but I use one with a peanut vinaigrette. I put a little on the pulled pork sandwich instead of eating it on the side. As for other side dishes to go with pulled pork, my two favorites are homemade potato salad and fruit salad. Potato chips are also a great match.
Shredded BBQ pork also tastes great on burritos or can easily be served plain. My little kids eat it plain.
A final strange tip about pulled pork: it's the best way to give a dog medicine. Just hold the dog's head up, wrap the pill in some pulled pork and put it into the dog's mouth. Lightly hold the dog's head tilted up as it eats the pork-wrapped pill. Nothing else I've tried has worked nearly as well.