This smoked pork shoulder is so tender, so flavorful, and so easy. Everyone will be pleased with this delicious pork and you can serve it with a side, on sandwiches, in tacos, and so many other ways. Learn the best way to make pulled pork on the smoker and get some tips for the tastiest results.
Throw on some Mac and Cheese during the last hour of smoking pork to have a delicious side dish.
SMOKED PORK SHOULDER
Smoking is my favorite way to create delicious meats on the barbecue. When meat is cooked low and slow, you get amazingly tender and juicy results. Not to mention the flavor of smoke infused into every bite.
Pulled pork is probably the favorite meat for everyone I know. We absolutely love brisket and ribs, of course, but pork still seems to win the top choice. People go crazy over pulled pork at the barbecue parties. It’s so tender and packed with flavor, you don’t even need to add sauce.
I have a couple of simple tricks to get the best flavor into my pork shoulder. It’s a two-step seasoning process and it works wonders every time. First, I season it with a good amount of coarse salt and let it sit for a few hours. And then, I seasoning with my pork rub right before it goes on the smoker.
This seasoning method has given me the best tasting pork and that’s the only way I make smoked pork shoulder now. And this is really the only two things that you need to do to prepare the pork. This recipe is so easy, there is really not much you can do to mess it up. The hardest part will be the smoking. (That’s not so hard either.)
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PORK BUTT AND PORK SHOULDER
First, let me begin by saying that pork shoulder and pork butt actually both come from the shoulder part of the pig. The name “pork butt” is a little confusing since it does not actually come from the rear of the animal. Both cuts are shoulder but one is the top part and the other is the bottom part.
Pork butt is the top part of the shoulder and it sits higher on the foreleg, while pork shoulder is the lower part that is closer to the leg. Both cuts are tough and fatty so it’s best to cook them in a slow cooker, Instant pot, and of course, the smoker. Pork butt is often labeled as “Boston butt” and pork shoulder is labeled as “picnic shoulder” or “picnic roast.”
The best cut for making pulled pork is Boston butt. It has less fat on the outside and the fat is spread more throughout the muscle. This is a good feature for more tender and juicy meat. Plus you don’t have to trim the fat off the meat before cooking it.
QUICK SMOKING NOTES:
At what temperature to smoke pork shoulder? It’s best to maintain the smoker temperature of 225°-250°. If you’re using gas or electric smoker, set it to 225°.
How long does it take to smoke pork shoulder? It’s always best to judge if pork is done by the internal temperature. To pull pork, it should be cooked to 203°. It takes about 90 minutes per pound for pulled pork. (But since you will most likely face a stall, time can vary by hours.)
What wood to use for smoking pork? I love using apple, cherry, or pecan for smoking and grilling pork.
Should I wrap pork in foil when smoking? I will talk a little more about the stall before but the reason to wrap pork (or brisket) in foil, it to battle the stall. I’ve tested out pork wrapped and unwrapped and the flavor was never compromised. I even get the beautiful crust on the outside, just not as much as if it was unwrapped. So my personal recommendation is to go ahead and wrap it. This will save a lot of hours and get you through the stall.
When is pork shoulder done? When it reaches 203° internal temperature. That’s the best temperature for pulled pork. If you want to slice pork, you can cook it to 185°-195°.
SEASONING FOR PORK
Before I rub the pork in dry rub, I rub it with just salt for a few hours.
Ground Celery Seeds
Note that the seasoning recipe will be enough for a 5-6 pound piece of pork. If you have a smaller pork, you will have some seasoning leftover. Set extra aside before seasoning pork and store it in an air-tight jar and use it later.
HOW TO SMOKE PORK SHOULDER
Rub pork with coarse salt all over, place it it a sheet pan or a dish, wrap it air-tight, and place in the refrigerator for 4-6 hours. (I often do this right before I go to sleep at night, if I plan to smoke the pork first thing in the morning.)
When you’re ready to cook pork, take it out of the fridge and rub it with pork seasoning.
Insert a digital thermometer probe towards the middle of the thickest part of meat. Make sure the probe is not touching the bone.
Preheat the smoker to 225° and place the meat on the smoker. Closer the lid and do not open the it. Monitor the temperature of the pork through the thermometer probe. When you notice a stall, which is when the temperature of meat stops increasing, you will need to take the pork off and wrap it.
For me, stall usually happens around 150°-165°. When I notice that temperature has not increased in 30-45 minutes, I know that meat is in the stall.
Quickly take the pork off the smoker and close the lid back so the temperature doesn’t go down. Wrap pork tightly in foil (with the thermometer probe intact) and place it back on the smoker.
Continue to smoke until the internal temperature reaches 203°.
When pork reaches the desired temperature, take it off the smoker and let it rest for about an hour. Take the foil off and use two forks to pull the meat apart. Discard the bone and excess fat (unless you want to keep the fat.)
Save the meat juices left inside the foil and pour it back into the pulled pork. Mix it all together and the juices will add flavor and moisture to the pork.
WHY DID MY PORK STALL?
Ah, the stall! The biggest pain in the butt of barbecue. The stall happens pretty much every time you smoke a brisket or pork shoulder. That is something you are guaranteed to run into, so be prepared. It happens at different temperatures and takes different amount of time to get over because every single piece of meat is different.
You can anticipate the stall around 150°-170° but exact temperature varies. You will know the meat stalled when the internal temperature stops increasing and just stays the same. Naturally, the stall can take hours and can be so frustrating. Don’t worry, it’s not you, you didn’t do anything wrong.
It will be your natural instinct to make sure you thermometer is working, curse the store that sold it to you, and probably smack it a few times. I knew all about the stall the first time I smoked pork and I still reacted that way. So take a deep breath, you can help it and will end up with mind-blowing pulled pork.
There used to be many schools of thought as to why the meat stalls but we now know that the stall is caused by evaporating moisture. If you want to read all about the science behind the stall, check out this article. (Read it next time you smoke a pork shoulder, you’ll have some time on your hands.)
The way to battle the stall is simple, you wrap the meat in foil. Make sure to not take out the thermometer probe and to wrap the meat tight.
HOW TO SERVE PULLED PORK
I don’t think that I can name all the wonderful ways to serve pork but try it:
As a main dish with sides
In tacos and tostadas
On top of nachos
Cooked with eggs for breakfast
In flautas or taquitos
MORE EASY SMOKED RECIPES TO TRY
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Smoked Pork Shoulder
- 4-5 lb bone-in Boston butt
- 2-3 tbsp coarse salt or sea salt
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tbsp paprika
- 1 tbsp coarse salt
- 1 tbsp black pepper
- 2 tbsp garlic powder
- 1 tbsp onion powder
- 1 tbsp ground mustard
- 1/2 tbsp ground celery seed
- 1/2 tbsp ground sage
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper less or more if you wish
- Rub pork with coarse salt all over, wrap it air-tight, place it in a sheet pan or a roasting dish, and refrigerate for 4-6 hours. (I often do this right before I go to sleep at night, if I plan to smoke pork first thing in the morning.)
- Combine all the ingredients for pork rub in a bowl and mix well. Use a spoon to get seasoning out of the bowl to season pork.
- When you’re ready to cook pork, take the pork out of the fridge and rub it with pork seasoning.
- Insert a digital thermometer probe towards the middle of the thickest part of meat. Make sure the probe is not touching the bone.
- Preheat the smoker to 225° and place the meat on the smoker. Closer the lid and do not open the it.
- Monitor the temperature of the pork through the thermometer probe. When you notice a stall, which is when the temperature of meat stops increasing, you will need to take the pork off and wrap it. (Stall usually happens around 150°-165°)
- Quickly take the pork off the smoker and close the lid so the temperature doesn’t go down. Wrap pork tightly in foil (with the thermometer probe intact) and place it back on the smoker.Continue to smoke until the internal temperature reaches 203°.
- Take it off the smoker and let it rest for about an hour. Take the foil off and use two forks to pull the meat apart. Discard the bone and excess fat (unless you want to keep the fat.)
- Save the meat juices left inside the foil and pour it back into the pulled pork. Mix it all together. The juices will add flavor and a little moisture to the pork.