If you’re reading this, my hope is that your starting to get interested in learning how to smoke…meat that is! By no means would I consider myself an expert, but I’m someone who is willing to try over and over again to smoke the best tasting meat possible. This tutorial will hopefully help you to create some amazing Smoked Pork Butt!
In this article I want to give you a beginners guide to smoking pork butts. (You may hear these referred to as “pork shoulders” or “Boston Butts”) For beginners I really don’t think it’s important to get into the specifics of the cut of meat, where it comes from on the animal, or any other details that don’t really apply to someone just looking to smoke some pork for themselves or nice backyard BBQ for friends. What I aim to help you with today is a simple step by step process that will help you have a great meal and hopefully get you hooked on smoking meat!
I’m going to assume while writing this that you already own and know how to operate your smoker. Personally, I use the Classic Kamado Joe and absolutely love it. But I’m not going to get into grill specifics or anything like that. Please keep in mind that there are so many different ways to do this, and if you’re a pro at this and disagree with my technique, I’m happy to learn something from you too!
Step 1: Plan Out Your Smoke
This is not a quick process! Smoking a pork butt takes time, and patience. Think everything through making sure you have everything you need for your entire smoke before you get started. Besides the obvious (the meat) you’re going to need wood chunks, spices for your rub, a binding agent (we’ll cover that later), tin foil, and plenty of beer! There’s nothing worse than getting ready to start this process and realizing you are out of a certain spice or down to the last little bit of tin foil. Plan it out, and make sure you avoid these rookie mistakes.
Step 2: Buying the Meat
For a beginner, don’t spend too much time trying to find the perfect pork butt. If this is your first or one of your first times, you’re really not going to know what you’re looking for and I don’t recommend spending a fortune on premium meat for your first few smokes. Your local Costco, Sams, or any of the other bulk food stores should sell pork butts in a package of 2. You can typically get it for somewhere between $30 - $40, and you’ll get a ton of great meat. Don’t overthink it. But as with anything else, ask the butcher to help you pick a package out if you just can’t decide on your own.
Step 3: Preparing the Meat
One thing I wish I would have invested in earlier on was a good knife. In this step you’re going to be trimming fat off the butt and you’re going to want a good knife to do it with. I use a 10” curved boning knife and it works wonderfully. I got it off Amazon for like $40 and it is worth every penny. Again, if this is your first smoke, don’t try and do too much. If you have a significant other and they are anything like mine, they will tell you to cut off all the fat. DO NOT LISTEN. Give them a sip of your beer, a kiss on the cheek and tell them respectively to go away. The flavor you get from your meat will largely come from the rub you use, and the fat that will be rendered down during the cook. In fact, I rarely have anyone use BBQ when they eat my pork butt because it just simply doesn’t need it. I trim the fat cap down a little because most of that is going to melt off into the grill and won’t be absorbed into the meat anyways. But I will not spend a lot of time trying to cut out every little piece of fat I see because it just provides so much moisture and flavor.
Once you have your butt trimmed to your liking, you have a choice to make. To use, or not to use a binding agent. I use them, I always have and have never had issues. Some say this cuts down on the “bark” you get from your smoke but I’ve never seemed to have that issue. If you choose to use a binding agent, pick between olive oil or yellow mustard. You will not taste either of these when the smoking is complete. The purpose is strictly to help your rub stick to the meat. (A tip here is to have one hand clean and use it to squeeze the mustard or pour the oil onto the pork butt, and use your other hand to rub it in. Same goes for the actual rub. Some people use food service gloves while doing this which works well too.) Apply the mustard or oil but don’t overdo it. Using too much will only make this process more messy and you really only need enough to get the rub to stick.
Once you’ve applied your binding agent, it’s time to get your butt rubbed down. I am extremely generous when it comes to the rub. I love to have a nice thick layer of it and without sounding too creepy, I get it into every nook and cranny possible. You will get so much flavor from your rub, and I’ll even shake some into my pulled pork sometimes just to give it that extra hit of flavor!
Now that the rub is applied, you’re ready to get smoking! I like to cover my butts loosely in foil and leave them refrigerated for a few hours but it’s totally up to you. I just think it helps the meat absorb some of that rub, but that’s not a scientific fact by any means!
Step 4: SMOKING
Again, I’m assuming you know how to use your smoker so I’m not going to get into that, but before we get into the smoking process, I do want to let you know that my wood preference is a mix of hickory and apple. I’ve tried a bunch of different mixes and individual woods, but I love the flavor the mix of hickory and apple gives me.
The key with pork butts is LOW and SLOW. Don’t rush it and don’t put yourself in a position where people are waiting on you and expecting your food to be done at a certain time. I’ve had some butts get to temp in as little as 12hrs, and others took 20hrs. This will all depend on your smoker and your meat, and potentially the weather. So don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself by trying to fit this into a small time window. You might even consider starting the smoke before going to bed if you can do that.
I like to cook my butts at 225 degrees (I won’t freak out if it goes up into the 230 – 240 range but I don’t like it to get much hotter than that.), and I’m looking for an internal meat temperature of 205 before I’ll pull it off. I’d highly recommend a leave in thermometer for monitoring the temperature. There are all kinds of them including units that can sync with your phone so you can monitor your temperature from anywhere. You’ll see that your temps will rise fairly quickly once the butts are on the smoker at 225 degrees. It’s not uncommon to see a 50 degree increase in internal temperature in as little as 90 min. But don’t get too excited because that will slow down drastically, when you start approaching the 160 degree mark! This is referred to as “The Stall”. It’s easily the most frustrating part of smoking pork butts. Without getting into the science of it, your pork butt is going to sit at an internal temp around 160 degree for what seems like an eternity. Typically my “stall” lasts around 3 hrs and then the pork butts will start increasing temps quicker. You can choose to deal with this issue one of 2 ways. You can just leave it alone (my preference) or you can do what we call the “Texas Crutch” which is where you take the pork butts and wrap them tightly in aluminum foil and put them back on the smoker. Admittedly the “Texas Crutch” works. You will get through the stall much quicker and reach your intended internal temp in a few less hours. But the trade off is the bark formation on the pork butts. Some will tell you, you can still get great bark with wrapping it, but I’ve never had good luck with it. The meat will absolutely taste the same but you’re running a risk of not getting that great bark formation. During your cook, I would recommend spritzing your pork shoulders with a mixture of apple juice, water, and a little bit more rub, every 2 hrs. This seems to help impart a little more flavor and moisture into the meat. Make sure you do it quickly however because you don’t want to open your grill for too long and mess up your temperature. Remember, if you’re looking, you’re not cooking! Keep that smoker closed unless your spraying or wrapping. Looking at the meat will not make it cook faster, in fact it has the opposite effect. So take your instagram pictures before and after and don’t spend time opening the grill.
Once the pork butts reach an internal temperature of 205 they are good to pull off the grill. If you’re smoking bone in butts, you’ll know you’ve hit the jackpot if the shoulder blade pulls out easy. If you’re not going to eat right away, I’d recommend double wrapping your butts in aluminum foil, then wrapping those in towels and placing in a cooler until you’re ready to eat. This will hold temp for quite a few hours as long as you have a decent cooler.
To pull the pork I’d recommend getting a pair of bear claws and some heat resistant silicon gloves. This will make life a lot easier and less painful! I’d strongly recommend, once it’s pulled to shake a little more rub onto the meat and mix it up. If you’re a BBQ sauce kind of person, that’s fine but at least give it a try without sauce first. I think you’ll find the combination between your rub, smoke, and moisture of the meat to be all you need!
That’s all there is too it! Have fun with this and take down notes as you cook so you’ll remember details about what you did. This helps you learn your smoker too so you can really hone in on the time it will take you to cook. Enjoy your pork on sandwiches, tacos, salads, etc. It’s such versatile meat and easily my favorite to cook. I hope I’ve been some help, and if you have questions please feel free to ask!
About the Author
Casey Matthews resides in Fargo, North Dakota with his wife and daughter where he is the Director of Men's Basketball Operations at North Dakota State University. He loves to smoke meat on his Classic Kamado Joe smoker and is a proud user of Asabasa Spice Co. spice blends!
Email him your questions or feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org!