Step-by-step instructions on how to smoke a pork butt. Lathered in a homemade pulled pork dry rub and slowly smoked over apple wood will result in the most tender pulled pork perfect for so many meals!
Moist, tender, and delicious, this smoked pulled pork recipe is out of this world flavorful! If you’re looking for the best way to get tender, moist, and full of flavor shredded pork, you just can’t go wrong with smoked pork butt. This is a super versatile recipe and perfect for leftovers and meal prep.
Why This Recipe Works
So what makes this the best smoked pulled pork recipe?
- It’s lathered in a mustard base and covered with a pork butt rub.
- This cut of meat used is famous for yielding the best results when it comes to pulled pork.
- It’s smoked low and slow with applewood chunks and an apple cider vinegar/water mix in the water pan.
- There’s a secret to getting past the stall and how this method results in freshest, most succulent smoked pork butt.
Why Is It Called Pork Butt?
Actually, It’s not a butt at all. People think this cut of meat comes from the rear end of the pig based on the name. But it’s called “pork butt” because back during the Revolutionary War times, butchers would store prized quality cuts of meat in barrels, called “Buttis” in Latin, which translates to “butts” in English. When you hear the term “pork butt” or “Boston butt,” know that it’s just a cut that comes from the upper part of the shoulder.
Ingredients You’ll Need
For this recipe, you’ll need different ingredients for different parts of the process. The spices and dry mustard will be used for the smoked butt rub. The water and apple cider vinegar are needed for the water pan. And then, a small spray bottle mixed with apple juice and water is used to spray the meat during the stall process to help keep the meat juicy and tender.
- Pork Shoulder – buy an 8-10 lb shoulder because it yields about 10-12 servings, which allows for leftovers/easy meal prep.
- Yellow Mustard – used as a baste. It provides amazing flavor while smoking and helps the spice rub really stick and penetrate the meat.
- Turbinado Sugar – are sugar crystals that contain a higher level of molasses and have more flavor. Turbinado sugar is raw and less processed than other sugars.
- Light Brown Sugar – is fine in texture and pairs well with the larger turbinado crystals for this spice rub.
- Smoked Paprika – is different than just “paprika.” Smoked Paprika uses chilies that are smoke-dried and then crushed where regular paprika is just crushed dried chilies.
- Chili Powder – provides a smoky taste, with a little bit of spice. The base spices that make up chili powder are ancho chile powder, cumin, paprika, and Mexican oregano.
- Garlic Powder – is made from crushed dehydrated garlic cloves and provides a savory taste.
- Onion Powder – made from dehydrated onions and pairs well with meat.
- Cumin – is a warm and earthy spice that adds a subtle flavor to the meat.
- Cayenne Powder – a type of chili pepper that is moderately hot and spicy typically used as a flavor enhancer.
- Dry Mustard – provides no flavor unless paired with a liquid, which is another reason to use yellow mustard as a base to the meat before adding on the spice rub. Dry mustard is just ground mustard seed and helps provide sweet and spicy undertones of flavor.
- Ground Coriander – a little bit of lemony and floral flavor, coriander pairs exceptionally well with cumin, which is why it’s used in this spice rub.
- Salt and Black Pepper – use kosher salt and coarse ground black flavor. That will help add to the texture and also aids as a flavor enhancer that is essential in the rub.
- Apple Juice mixed with water – 1/4 cup of apple juice and 1/4 cup of water should be mixed in a spray bottle. You’ll spray the meat when double wrapping it in aluminum foil in preparation for the stall process. This process helps add additional moisture and flavor.
- Apple Cider Vinegar and Water – mix 1 cup of apple cider vinegar with 8-10 cups of water and pour it into the smoker water pan.
Pulled Pork Rub
First, you’ll need to prep the meat for the dry rub. To do this, place the shoulder on a large cookie sheet or pyrex dish. Use 1/4 cup of yellow mustard and baste the entire shoulder. This not only helps the dry ingredients stick to the meat, but the mustard base adds moisture and enhances the flavor of the meat while smoking.
Once basted, mix all the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Generously coat the dry rub onto the meat until it is completely covered, ensuring to get the rub onto both sides and into crevices.
Cover the meat with saran wrap and place in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours. This marinade step is crucial for enhancing the flavor of the pork. This process also allows each spice to really penetrate the meat.
Preparing the Smoker
There’s a couple of things to do before you start smoking the pork shoulder.
- I wrap my water bowl with heavy-duty aluminum foil before adding the water and apple cider vinegar. By doing this, you’re saving yourself a lot of mess. Less cleanup is always best!
- What type of smoker are you using? Are you going to use wood chips, chunks, or pellets? Are you going to soak the chips/chunks? I typically use my propane gas smoker for this recipe and when doing so, I prefer using wood chunks when making smoked pork shoulder because it’s been my experience chunks produce more smoke for a more extended period of time. For this recipe, I soak my chunks. It makes them last longer during the long smoking process.
- You can make this recipe on any smoker. Traeger pulled pork and pork shoulder made in the big green egg are also delicious. You can also make this recipe using an electric smoker or by using a charcoal smoker.
- Some suggest wrapping the wood chunks in an aluminum foil pouch and poking holes so the smoke can seep through. When smoking meat that takes longer than 10 hours, I wrap the wood chunks in an aluminum pouch to reserve the moisture so the chunks don’t dry out as fast.
- Preheat the smoker before placing the food inside. It can take about 20-30 minutes to warm up and get the smoker to 225°F. Regardless of the type of smoker you use, I recommend placing a water pan in the smoker. This helps maintain the temperature and contributes to the moisture of the meat.
How To Smoke A Pork Butt
Take the marinated meat out of the refrigerator to rest on the counter the same time you start the smoker. Once the smoker is at 225°F, place the shoulder on a rack, fat side up, above the water pan and wood chunks. Place a digital thermometer into the side of meat and close the lid on the smoker.
Smoke will start to escape the smoker in the early stages of the process which is normal. Keep the smoker heat between 225-250°F and let it smoke low and slow.
Just like the brisket stall I talk about in my Smoked Brisket recipe, you’ll experience a similar stall when smoking a pork butt. A stall happens when your smoker temperature stays the same, but the internal temperature of the meat is no longer increasing at a steady pace. Could you increase the heat of the smoker to make it cook faster? Sure. But that defeats the process of smoking meat low and slow. Can you just ride it out for hours and hours? Yes, but get prepared for a really long smoke.
Here’s the secret to getting past the stall.
After several hours when the internal temperature of the smoked shoulder reaches 165°F, remove the meat from the smoker and place it on a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Take the spray bottle mixed with 1/4 cup of apple juice and 1/4 cup of water and spray the meat 4-5 times. This helps trap moisture and enhances the flavor of the meat while resting during the stall process. Tightly wrap the shoulder in a large piece of foil, and then wrap it again in another piece of foil so the meat is double wrapped. Place the double wrapped pork back into the smoker, insert the temperature gauge, and shut the smoker lid.
When the internal temperature reaches 203°F, remove the wrapped pork from the smoker. Put the wrapped meat in a large beach towel and wrap it tightly. Place the meat wrapped in the beach towel in an empty cooler and close the lid and let it rest for 1 hour.
How To Easily Shred Pork
After an hour, unwrap the smoked pork butt. At this point in the process, the meat is done and is ready to be shredded. Place the meat in a deep pan or pyrex dish.
Take a pair of meat shredder claws and start shredding. The meat should be incredibly tender and should shred easily. While shredding, discard any visible fat. Let the meat cool for 2-3 minutes and then it’s ready to serve.
Bone-In or Bone Out Pork Shoulder
Rumor has it that if you smoke pork with the bone in; it’s more moist and tender. I’ve smoked many shoulders, some with the bone in and some with the bone out, and to be honest. I can’t tell the difference. Both were amazingly tender and moist. When smoking a shoulder with the bone in, it will easily slide right out when done. With a boneless pork shoulder, the meat tends to be more marbled with fat and produces more meat per pound.
Can You Freeze Smoked Pork?
Absolutely! After every trip home when I travel from my hometown in Nashville, Tennessee back to Arizona, I always stop at Barb-B-Cutie in the Nashville airport to get 2-3 lbs of frozen shredded pork. It stays frozen the entire time until I get home and can put it in my refrigerator to finish thawing.
So yes, you can freeze shredded pork. After it completely cools, place the shredded meat in a large freezer bag, individual sandwich bags , or small freezer safe containers and store them in the freezer for up to 3 months. To thaw the meat, place the bag in the refrigerator and let it slowly thaw.
Expert Tips and Recommendations
- How long to smoke a pork butt – when smoking a shoulder at 225°F, the smoking time averages about 1.5 hours per pound. If you’re going to slice it, cook to 185°F. If you buy an 8-pound pork shoulder, expect it to be done about 12 hours later.
- Smoked Pork Butt Temperature – if you intend to slice it, it has to be deboned, and the internal temperature should reach 185°F. If you plan to pull or shred the pork, smoke it longer until it reaches 203°F.
- BBQ Sauce – the rub provides a ton of flavor, so you don’t necessarily need BBQ sauce, but if you like it, consider making your own. You just can’t beat a good homemade BBQ sauce. The recipe is easy to make and provides both a sweet and smoky flavor.
- Meal Prep – This is the perfect meat to use when meal prepping and managing portion control. Simply place a portion of the meat in individual containers along with other side dishes.
- Storing Pork in Refrigerator – the meat should last in the fridge for 4-5 days after it’s cooked.
What To Serve With Pork Butt
Since the smoker is doing all the hard work for the main dish, let your slow cooker do the hard work for your side dishes. Pinto Beans are amazing with this recipe. They’re full of flavor and super simple to make.
Since the smoker is already working, you might as well throw some potatoes in there to smoke. These Garlic and Herb Smoked Potatoes are velvety in texture and rich in flavor. Seasoned with dill, Italian seasoning, and Parmesan cheese, this smoked potato recipe makes a delicious pairing with smoked pork butt.
If you’re looking to finish off this fantastic meal with something sweet, you’re going to love this decadent cake. My Red Velvet Cake is made from scratch and is covered in a homemade cream cheese frosting. The hints of chocolate in this cake recipe make for the perfect pairing when finishing off pork.
I can’t wait to hear how your smoked pork butt turned out, so leave a comment below letting me know! If you try this recipe, use the hashtag #recipesworthrepeating on INSTAGRAM so I can see how yours looks!
Smoked Pork Butt
- 1/4 cup yellow mustard
- 1 8-10 lb pork shoulder
- 1/2 cup salt
- 1/2 cup turbinado sugar
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar
- 2 Tablespoons smoked Paprika
- 2 Tablespoons chili powder
- 1.5 Tablespoons black pepper
- 1 Tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 Tablespoons onion powder
- 1 Tablespoon cumin
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 teaspoons dry mustard
- 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
Spice Rub And Smoking Process
- Place the pork shoulder on a large cookie sheet or pyrex dish. Take 1/4 cup of yellow mustard and baste the entire pork shoulder.
- Once basted, mix all the dry ingredients into a bowl. Generously coat the dry rub onto the pork shoulder until completely covered, ensuring to get the rub onto both sides and into crevices.
- Cover the pork with saran wrap and place in the refrigerator to marinate for 12-24 hours.
- Once marinated, take the pork out of the refrigerator to rest on the counter the same time you start the smoker.
- Once the smoker is reaches 225°F, place the pork shoulder on a rack, fat side up, above the water pan and wood chunks. Place an electrical temperature gauge in meat and close the smoker doors.
- Smoke will start to escape the smoker in the early stages of the process. Keep the smoker heat between 225-250°F and let it smoke slow and low.
The Stall Process
- After several hours into the smoking process when the internal temperature of the pork reaches 165°F, remove it from the smoker and place it on a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil.
- Take the spray bottle mixed with 1/4 cup of apple juice and 1/4 cup of water and spray the meat 4-5 times.
- Tightly wrap the pork shoulder in a large piece of foil, and then wrap it again in another piece of heavy duty aluminum foil so the pork is double wrapped.
- Place the double wrapped pork back into the smoker, insert the temperature gauge, and close the door.
- When the internal temperature reaches 203°F, remove the wrapped pork from the smoker and wrap it in a beach towel.
- Place the meat wrapped in the towel in an empty cooler and close the lid and let it rest for 1 hour.
- After an hour, unwrap the meat. At this point of the process, the meat is done and is ready to be shredded.
- Place the smoked pork butt in a deep pan or pyrex dish. Take a pair of meat shredder claws and start shredding the pork. The meat should be extremely tender and shred easily. While shredding, discard any visible fat.
- Let the meat cool for 2-3 minutes and then it's ready to serve.
- Apple Cider Vinegar and Water In Water Pan - When preparing the water pan, wrap it in aluminum foil for less mess. Mix 1 cup of apple cider vinegar with 8-10 cups of water and pour into the smoker water pan.
- Spraying The Pork Butt During The Stall - You'll spray the meat with half apple juice and water when double wrapping it in aluminum foil. This process helps add additional moisture and flavor.
- How long to smoke a pork butt - when smoking a shoulder at 225°F, the smoking time averages about 1.5 hours per pound. If you're going to slice it, cook to 185°F. If you buy an 8-pound pork shoulder, expect it to be done about 12 hours later.
- Smoked Pork Butt Temperature - if you intend to slice the pork shoulder, it must first be deboned, and the internal temperature should reach 185°F. If you plan to pull the pork, smoke it longer until it reaches 203°F.
- BBQ Sauce - the rub provides a ton of flavor, so you don't necessarily need BBQ sauce, but if you like it, consider making your own. You just can’t beat a good homemade BBQ sauce. The recipe is easy to make and provides both a sweet and smoky flavor.
- Meal Prep - This is the perfect meat to use when meal prepping and managing portion control. Simply place a portion of the pork in individual containers along with other side dishes.
- Storing Pork in Refrigerator - the pork should last in the fridge for 4-5 days after it's cooked.
Update Notes: This post was originally published in January 2020, but was re-published with updated step-by-step instructions, pictures, and tips in September 2020.