Welcome, grill warriors, to the smoky realm of barbecue greatness and Live Fire Republic’s Field Guide to the Perfect Pork Shoulder BBQ on a Kettle-style of Grill. I’m so darn stoked to document in one place the best practices, step-by-step process, and art to crafting the most extraordinary smoked pork butt! Read onward and may your summer backyard barbecues never be the same again!
Step 1 – Choosing the Right Cut:
When it comes to selecting the crème de la crème of pork shoulder (ie. pork butt), there are a few key factors to consider. Seek a cut with ample marbling—the intricate webbing of intramuscular fat throughout the meat. This marbling enhances flavor and ensures juicy, tender results. The extramuscular fat should be trimmed evenly, to about a 1/4″ thickness across the surface of the shoulder. Opt for bone-in pork shoulder, as the bone contributes to the overall succulence and imparts additional richness. Select a shoulder weighing near 8 to 10 pounds to guarantee a robust, meaty experience. Remember, the art of barbecue is a harmonious fusion of science and flavor, and your choice of pork shoulder sets the stage for the best possible result.
Step 2 – The Brine:
To brine or not to brine… this is no longer the question. As with all barbecue, this is a marathon, not a sprint and each step is critical in producing blue-ribbon results.
So, why is it best to brine pork shoulder? The salt in the brine helps to retain water, preventing dryness during cooking. It also breaks down proteins, resulting in a juicier and more tender final product. Additionally, brining infuses the meat with subtle flavors, elevating the overall flavor, taste and texture.
What is the best way to brine pork shoulder? In a large container, combine 2 quarts of beer (cheaper the better), 1 cup of kosher salt, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons of black peppercorns. Stir until the salt and sugar dissolve. Submerge the pork shoulder in the beer brine, ensuring it is fully covered. Place the container in the refrigerator and let it brine for 8hours, up to overnight. Remove the pork, pat it dry with paper towels, and discard the brine.
Note: The beer brine adds moisture and flavor to the pork shoulder through the process of osmosis. The salt in the brine helps to break down muscle fibers, resulting in a more tender and juicy end product. The low and slow smoking method allows the flavors to develop and the collagen in the meat to break down, resulting in a melt-in-your-mouth texture.
Step 3 – Binders:
While the choices are infinite, here are our top 5 favorite binders, in no certain order.
- Mustard: Mustard acts as a fantastic binder for pork shoulder barbecue due to its natural acidity and emulsifying properties. It helps to create a flavorful crust on the meat while providing a tangy kick. The yellow mustard variety is commonly used and adds a subtle zing that complements the smoky flavors of the pork.
- Mayo: Mayonnaise, with its creamy texture and mild flavor, is an unexpected but delightful binder for pork shoulder. It helps to lock in moisture during the cooking process, resulting in a tender and juicy end product. The fats in mayo also contribute to a beautiful caramelization on the surface of the meat, enhancing the overall flavor.
- Olive Oil: Olive oil, renowned for its health benefits and versatility, serves as an excellent binder for pork shoulder barbecue. Its smooth consistency allows it to coat the meat evenly, locking in moisture and preventing dryness. Olive oil also adds a subtle richness to the pork, enhancing its natural flavors and promoting a mouthwatering crust.
- Hot Pepper Sauce: For those seeking a spicy kick, hot pepper sauce makes an exciting and flavorful binder for pork shoulder. The heat and tanginess of the sauce penetrate the meat, infusing it with a tantalizing kick. Whether it’s a classic Tabasco or a more adventurous habanero sauce, the fiery notes add a bold and memorable element to the barbecue experience.
- Greek Yogurt: Here’s a creative alternative that may surprise you. Greek yogurt, with its thick and creamy texture, makes for a unique and delicious binder for pork shoulder. The yogurt’s acidity helps tenderize the meat, while its creaminess contributes to a luscious mouthfeel. It also imparts a subtle tang and richness, adding depth to the overall flavor profile of the barbecue.
Step 4 – Rub:
The key to crafting your very own signature barbecue rub lies in the limits of your creativity! Start with a blend brown sugar, kosher salt and ground black peppercorn. From there, consider additions such as roasted granulated garlic, smoked paprika, granulated honey, chili powder, mustard and/or onion powder and cayenne pepper. Adjust the ratios and add your favorite spices or herbs to customize the flavor profile. Don’t be afraid to try new combinations and make it your own flavorful masterpiece.
If seeking a store-bought option, Weber Seasonings KC BBQ Rub, American BBQ or Honey Garlic Rub are the of my favorites. Weber’s KC BBQ Rub offers a balance of smoky, sweet, and savory flavors with hints of paprika, brown sugar, and spices that complement pork shoulder beautifully. Weber’s Honey Garlic Rub delivers a delightful blend of honey, garlic, and herbs that adds a touch of sweetness and savory notes, enhancing the succulence of the pulled pork. These rubs provide a convenient and fool proof shortcut to flavor perfection!
Step 5 – Setting up your Kettle Grill for “Off-set Style Smoking”:
Ah, the trusty Weber kettle grill, our gateway to smoky paradise! Set the stage for barbecue brilliance by arranging a two-zone fire. Pile those Kingsford charcoal briquettes on one side of the grill, creating a symphony of direct and indirect heat. Place a drip pan filled with water beneath the indirect heat zone to capture those succulent drippings and keep the pork shoulder moist throughout its transformation. Every 60-90 minutes, add a half chimney of charcoal to keep temperatures consistent.
Now, as it relates to adding that rustic, woodsy flavor to your barbecue, drop in a handful of wood chips or a wood chunk over the smoldering charcoal embers. Once the smoke has thinned and appears blue in color, you’re ready for smoking. Below are our Top 10 woods for smoking the perfect pulled pork barbecue:
Hickory: Provides a robust and smoky flavor, often considered the classic choice for pork.
Apple: Offers a mild, fruity, and slightly sweet flavor that pairs exceptionally well with pork.
Cherry: Imparts a subtle and slightly sweet flavor, adding a beautiful reddish hue to the meat.
Maple: Offers a delicate and sweet flavor, ideal for adding a hint of sweetness to the pork.
Pecan: Provides a rich and nutty flavor, adding a unique twist to your pork shoulder.
Oak: Offers a strong and assertive flavor, adding depth and intensity to the meat.
Mesquite: Imparts a bold and smoky flavor, best used sparingly or in combination with milder woods.
Almond: Provides a light and slightly sweet flavor, complementing the natural flavors of pork.
Peach: Adds a delicate and fruity flavor, enhancing the overall taste of the pork.
Pear: Offers a subtle and slightly sweet flavor, contributing to a delightful balance of flavors.
Discover your ideal flavor by experimenting with diverse wood combinations for an outstanding, mouthwatering smoked pork shoulder experience. Moderation is crucial; excess smoke, salt, or pepper overwhelms the meat, ruining the dish. Balance is key to successful cooking.
Step 6 – Low, Slow and Steady – The Path to Pork Nirvana:
Patience, my friends, is the key to unlocking the secrets of the smoke. Ignite a modest number of charcoal briquettes, patiently awaiting their transformation into glorious embers. Carefully arrange these fiery gems atop the unlit briquettes in your Weber kettle grill. Expertly place the pork shoulder away from the flames on the indirect heat side, showcasing your pitmaster skills. Close the lid and let the alchemy of smoke commence!
Step 7 -The Art of Smoking:
Maintain a consistent temperature of around 225°F (107°C) by adjusting the air vents on your Weber kettle grill. This low and slow approach ensures the pork shoulder absorbs the smoky essence without being rushed. Pro tip: For an added touch of flavor, add a few chunks of your favorite hardwood, such as hickory or apple, to the glowing embers. This will infuse the meat with a captivating aroma.
Step 8 – Baste:
Basting or spraying down the pork shoulder during the smoking process serves two important purposes. Firstly, it helps to keep the meat moist by preventing it from drying out. Secondly, it adds flavor to the pork by infusing it with the basting liquid. The liquid acts as a conductor, allowing the flavors to penetrate the meat more deeply. This results in a juicier, more flavorful final product that is sure to delight your taste buds.
- Apple Cider Vinegar and Honey Basting Spray: This tangy and sweet concoction combines the acidity of apple cider vinegar with the natural sweetness of honey. The vinegar tenderizes the meat while imparting a delightful zing, while the honey adds a touch of caramelization and balances the flavors. It enhances the natural pork flavors and creates a beautiful glaze, resulting in a succulent and slightly sweet pork shoulder.
- Pineapple Juice and Soy Sauce Basting Spray: The tropical fusion of pineapple juice and soy sauce creates a harmonious blend of sweet and savory. The enzymes in pineapple juice help break down proteins, resulting in a more tender pork shoulder. The soy sauce adds depth and a rich umami flavor. This basting spray adds a delightful tropical twist to your barbecue, infusing the pork with irresistible flavors that will transport your taste buds to an island paradise.
- Bourbon and Brown Sugar Basting Spray: For those seeking a touch of indulgence, the combination of bourbon and brown sugar is a match made in barbecue heaven. The bourbon’s smoky and oaky undertones enhance the smokiness of the pork, while the brown sugar caramelizes and forms a delectable crust. This basting spray adds complexity and depth to the flavor profile of the pork shoulder, creating a succulent and irresistible barbecue experience that will leave your guests in awe.
Step 9 – The Waiting Game:
Now comes the hard part—waiting! Resist the temptation to peek too often, as each lift of the lid releases valuable heat. Allow the pork shoulder to smoke for 6 to 8 hours, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 195°F (90°C). This prolonged journey to tenderness is what transforms the pork into a delectable masterpiece.
Step 10 – Rest and Pull:
Once your pork shoulder reaches the desired temperature, remove it from the grill with the expertise of a true pitmaster. Tenderly wrap it in aluminum foil and let it rest for at least 30 minutes. This rest period allows the juices to redistribute, resulting in a moist and tender final product. Then, grab your bear claws or forks and joyfully tear apart the smoked pork shoulder into succulent, barbecue-perfect shreds.
TOP 5 MOST FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT SMOKED PORK SHOULDER BARBECUE:
- What cut of meat is best for pulled pork barbecue? The most common and recommended cut of meat for pulled pork barbecue is the pork shoulder, also known as the Boston butt or picnic roast. It has a good amount of marbling, which keeps the meat moist and tender during the smoking process.
- Can I use a gas grill instead of a charcoal grill for smoking pulled pork? While a gas grill can be used for smoking, charcoal grills, such as a Weber kettle grill, are generally favored for imparting a distinct smoky flavor. However, with the right techniques and the use of wood chips or chunks, you can still achieve delicious results on a gas grill.
- Should I wrap the pork shoulder in foil during smoking? Wrapping the pork shoulder in foil, also known as the “Texas crutch,” is a common technique used during the smoking process. It helps to retain moisture and speeds up the cooking time. Some pitmasters prefer to wrap the shoulder once it reaches a certain internal temperature (around 160°F/71°C) to power through the stall, while others prefer to smoke it unwrapped for the entire duration.
- How do I achieve a flavorful bark on the pork shoulder? To develop a flavorful bark, start with a well-seasoned rub and allow it to penetrate the meat. Maintain a consistent smoking temperature and avoid frequent lid openings, as this can disrupt the formation of the bark. Additionally, using a combination of sugars, spices, and herbs in the rub can contribute to a beautiful crust and enhanced flavor.
- How do I properly pull the pork for the best texture? Once the pork shoulder is cooked to perfection, remove it from the grill and let it rest for about 30 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute. Using bear claws or forks, gently pull the meat apart, discarding any excess fat or connective tissue. Achieve tender, melt-in-your-mouth texture by pulling against the grain, perfect for sandwiches, tacos, and other culinary delights.
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