by Mike Bradley
Smoked pork butt – also known as pork shoulder or Boston butt – is a fantastic slice of pig. Choosing the right size and cut of meat can be crucial to success on your smoker. They sometimes have these in the aisles of grocery stores, but I always prefer to go to the butcher and let them know just what I’m looking for. What you want is a butt that has a nice smooth layer of fat on it (😉). A half pound of meat per person should be enough but I’d never go for any less that 6 pounds. Leftovers are fantastic and any smaller just isn’t worth your time.
Brining a pork butt is an essential step in the process. Pork that isn’t brined gets very dried out in the smoking process and well, bleh… My brine recipe is below. I always like to submerge the meat just up to the fat. Your individual brining recipe may need altered to properly fill the container you’re using. So long as you keep the general portions in line with the recipe it should be fine. Let it soak for at least 24 hours – I prefer to start this process at least 48 hours before planning to cook. When you remove the meat it will be slightly discolored – so don’t panic, that’s the brine doing its work and is a good sign that it has penetrated well. Next comes the rub!
Applying the rub is a simple process of applying some yellow mustard (you won’t taste this) to the entire surface of the meat and then liberally rubbing the seasoning into the meat. You’ll want to make sure you hit all the nooks and crannies as best as you can. Once you have done this, cover it in plastic wrap and place it back in the refrigerator.
About 2-3 hours before you plan to start cooking remove the rubbed butt (😉 really, I could’ve done so much more and it took a lot of rewriting to not end up here more often) from the fridge. Simply let it sit out on the counter covered until it gets to about room temperature, at which point it’s ready for the smoker.
I won’t go into the process of how to build a proper fire for a smoker because every smoker is different. I use an offset “true” smoker. This simply means my smoker consists of a fire box and a cooking box that are connected to allow smoke to pass from one to the other. It’s a hard way to smoke but I always have felt the flavor is much better this way.
For pork I usually like to use applewood, but in this case I used some hickory since that’s what I had on hand. I have found that hickory gives a more robust smokiness to the flavor than applewood.
During the smoking process, anytime I need to add wood to the fire (once every 2 hours or so), I apply a mop spray. I use a spray bottle filled with a recipe you’ll see below and give a few sprays over the meat. This adds some flavor to the bark and keeps the outside nice and moist.
When smoking any meat other than fish you should expect between 1 and 1 1/2 hours on the smoker per pound. This butt was around 7 pounds and took about 8 hours to reach an internal temperature of 170°F. If you’re looking for sliced pieces of pork I feel that 170° is the butter zone. If you want to make pulled pork, you’re going to be at the smoker a while longer because you need to get between 190° and 200°F internal temperature to get pork that will “pull”.
Once off the smoker, I like to let the pork rest wrapped in foil for around an hour. This ensures easier slicing and, at least I think, juicier meat.
Once the meat is rested and ready to slice, unwrap it and get it to the cutting board! I don’t have a particularly fancy way of slicing pork butt – I just start at the end opposite from the bone and slice 1/2 inch slices until I reach the bone. I cut around the bone, pull it out and go back to slicing. If all is done properly, you should end up with a nice plate of meat.
As you can see, there is a nice bark and a very slight pink ring. I wasn’t thrilled with the quality of the ring, but with 15-20 mph winds all day it can be difficult to get that (at least if you’re stubborn and old fashioned like me).
I served this pork with a homemade Rasberry BBQ sauce (I like to make all of my sauces, stay tuned for those). The sweetness in the sauce contrasts very nicely with the smokiness of the meat. I hope you give this a try and enjoy!
Step 1: Brine Recipe
- 4 cups apple juice
- 2 cups water
- 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup salt
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 6-8 lb pork butt
- Place pork butt in a large container with lid (the crock pot works well).
- Thoroughly mix all ingredients together in a separate medium sized bowl, ensuring that the salt and sugar fully dissolve.
- Pour mixture over pork butt and cover in the refrigerator for 24-48 hours.
Step 2: Pork Rub Recipe
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup paprika
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tbsp mustard powder
- 1/2 tsp ginger
- 1 tbsp Old Bay seasoning
- 1 tbsp chili powder
- 1 tsp instant espresso powder
- 1 properly brined pork butt!
- Yellow mustard
- Mix the sugar, paprika, salt, pepper, mustard powder, ginger, Old Bay, chili powder and espresso powder in a bowl until fully combined.
- Using your hands, spread a layer of yellow mustard all over the surface of the meat.
- Using your hands, rub the dry seasoning mixture all over the pork, ensuring to get into all the nooks and crannies.
- Place rubbed pork on a large plate or platter, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator.
- Remove from the refrigerator 2-3 hours prior to your targeted start for smoking the meat. It is important to ensure the meat is at room temperature before putting on the smoker.
Step 3: Mop Spray Recipe & Smoking Quick Guide
Note: Everybody’s bottle’s will be sized differently and I like to make a whole bottle because I use this same spray on almost everything that hits the smoker.
- 4 parts water
- 4 parts apple juice
- 2 parts pure maple syrup
- 1/2 part apple cider vinegar
- Place the small end of the funnel into your spray bottle. Carefully pour each ingredient into the funnel to fill the bottle. Place spray cap back on the bottle (you can also add a label if you intend to use the spray for future smoking). Give the bottle a light turn to mix the ingredients together.
- Build the fire in your smoker. Place the brined and rubbed room temperature pork onto the smoker. The ideal cooking temperature is 220°F.
- Leave on the smoker for 6-10 hours, checking on the fire and temperature of the meat every 2 hours. Spray the pork with the mop spray each time you check it.
- Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the meat. It is considered done when it reaches 170°F. At this point, you can remove it from the smoker.
- Wrap the meat in foil and allow to rest for 1 hour. Then, unwrap, slice, and serve with your favorite barbecue sauce!
- Extra mop spray can be stored in the refrigerator for about a month.
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