A rich, succulent, smoky pulled pork sandwich is a thing of beauty. Just try to visit any well-known BBQ establishment and not find pulled pork on the menu. A staple of BBQ, pulled pork is actually very easy to make yourself, and with a few simple tricks you’ll be prepared to make it better than your local BBQ joint.
But if you’ve never made one before you’re logically going to ask ‘how do you do it? Where do we start?
Pork butt. That’s where we start.
Pork “butts” are not actually from the rear of the pig as the nickname may imply. They are the front shoulder, similar to the chuck on beef.
A front pork shoulder typically comes in two sections- the “picnic” or “picnic ham”, and the “butt”, “Boston butt”, or simply “shoulder”. The picnic portion contains more of the actual leg of the hog, whereas the “butt” or shoulder is the upper shoulder muscle.
For more on the cuts of pork, see the AmazingRibs article on pork cuts here.
Trim: Once you have selected a nice pork butt from your local butcher or supermarket, it’s nice to get it trimmed into about ~4lb chunks. You can easily do this yourself at home. If it comes in anywhere from a 3lb to a 5lb hunk, you’ll be fine. In fact, you’ll be fine if it’s larger too. The trouble is with large butts in the 7, 8 and 9lb range, you need a LOT more time to cook them. We’re easily talking double-digit hours. It’s much easier to cut them into smaller pieces, typically in the 4lb range. If you have a 7, 8, or 9lb hunk, cut it in half and you’ll do fine. Of course, this is optional but recommended. Why?
Using smaller hunks creates more surface area on the meat, which in turn does 3 things- it allows more surface area for salt/rub/smoke contact (flavor), more bark formation during the cook (flavor), and it simply creates smaller hunks of meat which shortens the cook time.
Season: The first step is to salt, or dry brine, overnight. Plan ahead and make sure you allow enough time to let the salt work it’s magic. With an over night brine, the salt will penetrate deep into the meat, locking in moisture to ensure a juicy final product. After sitting overnight, season with your rub of choice before putting on to cook. Remember to avoid rubs that contain salt if you’ve dry brined.
To wrap or not? One more thing before we proceed- should you wrap the butt in foil (“Texas Crutch”) near the stall, or leave it unwrapped, or a little of both? Our answer- both. It’s just simpler to utilize wrapping until you’ve got a few butts under your belt, so to speak of course.
Since a pork butt is chock full of fat and collagens we need to cook it low & slow to render out the fat and tenderize the meat. Click here for low & slow/225 F lighting instructions for the Slow ‘N Sear.
Pork butts can take 12-18 hrs when left unwrapped at 225 F the whole cook. Most of us, however, want to get things done quicker and will use one of these methods to get through the “stall” (the point around mid-cook when the internal temperature doesn’t budge):
- Wrap – once in the stall, the meat has already soaked in smoke flavor and the bark has set. Wrap the meat tightly in foil and elevate the temperature of the grill to 325 F to finish the cook.
- “Power through” – once the stall is confirmed, leave the meat unwrapped and raise the grill temperature to 275 – 300 F. Open the top and bottom kettle vents to deliver more air to the coals and generate more fire. Once the internal temp begins to rise again, lower pit temp back down to the 225 – 250 F range for the remainder of the cook.
Enjoy! See you on the other side of one of the best classic BBQ sandwiches you’ve ever made!
Branch Out! After you have some experience under your belt and/or time to spare, feel free to branch out into the territory of the unwrapped butt. Either way you choose, your pork butt experience will be one of minimal tinkering and refilling using your Slow ‘N Sear.
- Prep: trim excess fat
- Dry brine overnight for best results
- Rub before cooking; sugar-containing rubs will help develop a beautiful bark
- Low & Slow at 225 F
- Wrap or “power through” the stall, if desired
- Cook until internal temperature reaches 203 F