Smoked Pork Shoulder (Boston Butt) Recipe

While visiting a friend out in Connecticut, he and his family rewarded my mini-road trip with a full day of smoking a pork shoulder. We used a dry rub that I came up with a couple of years ago and a combination of techniques discerned from my own experiences and from reading what others had to say. As far as smoky flavor goes, nothing beats truly smoking out in the yard. You can sometimes fake it with spices and sauces indoors, but there is no comparison to charcoal and/or wood smoked meat. My friend had a Weber charcoal grill and bought a smoker compartment add-on that worked surprisingly well. I definitely recommend it if you don’t have a purely traditional smoker on hand.

This attempt wasn’t a complete success because the only Boston Butt we could get our hands on was a little over 9 pounds. In hindsight, our eyes were a little bigger than our tummies when we tried to cook the whole thing.  We definitely should have cut it in half or something.  Nonetheless, the pork was delicious.  We just didn’t have the time to get it all the way to the right temperature (i.e. we made it to 165 degrees F or so, but were shooting for 190 degrees internally). I’m confident though that if you follow the directions below with a smaller pork shoulder, the results should be more favorable. Please just realize that there is a ridiculous amount of skill that goes into smoking, so try and try again if your first attempt doesn’t work out. I, myself, am obviously still learning with each attempt.

Cooking Time: 10 – 12 hours passive, 7 – 8 hours cooking
Makes a little less than 5 pounds at about 4700 calories total (adjusting for some of the fat that cooks off and varied online resources) or roughly 235 calories per 4 oz.

Ingredients:
  • 5 pounds of bone in or boneless (but you’ll need to have it tied if boneless) Boston Butt (pork shoulder – Picnic Butt works too) with the fat cap on (about 247 cal. per 4 oz. or 4950 cal. total)
  • 3 tablespoons Onion Powder
  • 3 tablespoons Brown Sugar (turbinado if you have it)
  • 2 tablespoons Garlic Powder
  • 1 tablespoon Chili Powder
  • 2 tablespoons Paprika
  • 1 teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon Cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Some more vegetable oil on hand (see directions)
  • A small container of Apple Cider Vinegar (see directions)
  • Optional, but recommended: A few cold beers to drink because it’s going to be a long day.
Equipment:
  • 2 Large bowls
  • 1 Small bowl
  • Spoon
  • Saran wrap
  • Aluminum Foil
  • Oven
  • Smoker or smoker attachment for a grill
  • Charcoal or Propane depending on your smoker/grill
  • Medium bag of apple wood chips (you can get these easily at Home Depot)
  • Large roasting pan/dish with optional grate
  • Large tongs and/or spatula
  • A temperature gauge for the grill
  • A meat thermometer
  • A clean, spray bottle
  • Optional: latex gloves
Directions:
  1. Line a large bowl with saran wrap so that the saran wrap extends far beyond the sides of the bowl.
  2. Place the Pork Butt in the middle of the saran wrap and bowl.
  3. Combine the onion powder, garlic powder, brown sugar, chili powder, cumin, paprika (or smoked paprika if you prefer), black pepper, salt and vegetable oil in another small bowl before mixing them all together.
  4. Wash your hands (also use latex gloves if you have them) and rub that pork butt with the spice mix. It sounds dirty, but it’s a platonic relationship you have with the pork butt, so don’t worry.
  5. Once done, pull the excess saran wrap around the pork butt and seal it before putting it in the refrigerator to marinate overnight.
  6. The next morning (I suggest starting very early), take out the pork butt from the fridge and let it sit out in room temperature for about an hour.
  7. Fill a clean spray bottle half way with a 1:1 ratio (i.e. equal parts or e.g. 1 cup of each) of vegetable oil and apple cider vinegar. You will use this to baste the pork butt every 20-30 min.
  8. Take some of that time and get the smoker or smoker attachment and grill going so that the smoke is plentiful and the temperature inside the smoker or grill is about 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit while simultaneously not opening the lid too many times.
    Tips: In order to get the temperature right, try starting the charcoal or wood lump charcoal (my favorite) on its own in a vertical stack or just in the grill in a well ventilated bunch.  Place the lid on the grill/smoker and see where the temperature levels off.  If it is too hot, then remove some of the coals or let it burn out a bit.  If too cool, then add more coals. Personally, I think it is easier to get the heat high and lower it than to keep it low and try to get it hotter without spiking too much.
  9. Soak the apple wood chips in a bowl of water for 20 – 30 minutes and then take them out of the water to sit until ready for use. Keep in mind that when you add the damp wood chips over the coals (I think this is the best way – i.e. placing them right on the coals), the temperature may drop slightly before spiking upwards as the wood chips start to burn. Read your grill/smoker manual for suggested amounts of coal or wood chips.
  10. When the temperature is right and the smoke is billowing, place the pork butt in the smoker/grill with the fat cap facing up. Then baste with the oil and vinegar mix from the spray bottle before covering with the lid.
  11. Keep an eye on the temperature gauge on the smoker/grill and adjust the amount of wood chips if the smoke starts to die down.  Always try to keep the smoke flowing and the temperature around 225 degrees.
  12. Every 20-30 minutes, take the lid off to quickly spray-baste the entire pork butt with the oil and vinegar mix from the spray bottle and then quickly put the lid back on so that you don’t lose too much heat.
  13. Smoke the pork butt for about 5 hours (rule of thumb is about 1.5 hours per pound, but we’re not finishing this on the smoker as you’ll see below) repeating the basting process and temperature checking.
  14. After 5 hours, take the temperature of the pork using a meat thermometer.  I like to stick the thermometer in the top going straight down so that any juices from the meat don’t leak out too much.  The pork is safe to eat if the internal temperature is 160 degrees, but you are really shooting for 190 degrees when all is said and done.

    What you’re looking at is what Smokers call “the plateau.” Your pork shoulder will get stuck here for a while, but persistence will win the day.

  15. Pre-heat the oven to 250 degrees.
  16. After 5 hours, line a roasting dish/pan with aluminum foil, with enough excess foil to wrap the pork butt.
  17. Move the pork butt from the smoker/grill to the roasting dish/pan and cover with the aluminum foil before placing the whole thing in the oven for at least another hour or two. The goal here is to get the pork butt up to 190 degrees because that is when all of the connective tissue and fat will dissolve giving you that fall-apart texture. I use the oven to finish it because smoking takes longer and this is a sure fire way to keep a steady temperature. After 4 hours or so of smoking, you won’t really add too much more flavor since the meat has tightened up anyway.
  18. After an hour or two and checking the temperature of the pork to make sure it is around 190, remove the pork from the oven and let it sit for at least 30 min., but preferably an hour so that the juices settle.
  19. After it cools a bit, use two forks to shred the pork. Again, if you don’t have time, the pork is ready to eat at 160 degrees, but this will not fall apart with just a fork, so you will have to carve it into slices.
    Optional: You may remove much of the fat cap if you prefer prior to shredding or cutting, but that is a personal preference. I would suggest removing it simply for a leaner taste.

    Due to the size of the Pork Butt we used, it was 10pm and we were too impatient to wait any longer for the right temperature, so we just carved it up. It was still delicious though!

  20. Serve with your favorite barbecue sauce and sides or make a sandwich.

Slices of smoked pork shoulder with homemade barbecue sauce, cole slaw, and stewed kale seasoned with bacon bits.

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12 thoughts on “Smoked Pork Shoulder (Boston Butt) Recipe

  1. The leftovers have been great. We’ve taken them from the freezer to the slow cooker for eight hrs on the low setting with perfect results. Nicely melted, pulled great, a couple of chunks that crisped up in the melted fat. 🙂

    • I love that you’re still eating it. Were you able to still get it to “pull-apart” quality in the slow cooker even after we cut it up? That’s a good tip to keep in mind if you don’t have time to get it to 190 degrees, you can always slow cook it again later!

  2. Wow, I am so impressed that you made this, ManFuel! In the words of Liz Lemon, “I want to go to there.” lol

    Boston butt is such an underrated cut of meat, but in my opinion such an amazing cut of meat. And it’s so cheap! It’s a cook’s secret … you know, I say we keep it just between ourselves.

    😉

    Great post and great job, MF, and thanks so much for stopping by my neck of the woods — it is always so appreciated!

  3. Good post…nice smoke ring. As you noted 190 is better and you can use the oven to speed it up without any real loss of smoke flavor. We smoke pork all the time and practice really does make perfect . We certainly aren’t perfect, but it is fun tryin’…

  4. Pingback: Pulled Pork Shoulder in the Slow Cooker | Man Fuel - a food blog

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