This pulled pork barbecue is seasoned with a delicious dry rub that's salty, sweet, and just a bit spicy, then smoked low and slow until the meat is fall apart tender. It takes some time to do it right, but the results are so worth it!
- What cut should you use for pulled pork?
- How much pulled pork per person?
- How to trim a pork butt
- Should I leave the fat cap on?
- How to make a barbecue rub
- How to season a pork butt
- Should I use mustard on a pork butt?
- What wood to use for smoking pork
- What if I'm using a pellet grill?
- How to cook smoked pork butt
- Cooking time and temperature for pulled pork
- What is the stall?
- Rest the meat
- Can I make smoked pork ahead?
- How to pull smoked pork butt
- What to serve with pulled pork
- Pulled Pork Tips and FAQs
- 📖 Recipe
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What cut should you use for pulled pork?
Most barbecue restaurants use whole pork shoulder, which is cut from the front leg at the shoulder down to just above the foot. You can occasionally find them in supermarkets or at warehouse clubs. They're pretty large, typically weighing in the range of 14 to 18 pounds.
More often you'll see them cut in half and sold separately. The top portion is called the pork butt, also known as "Boston butt". The lower portion is called a picnic shoulder.
For home cooks the pork butt is the best cut for pulled pork bbq. They are typically in the 6-8 pound range for bone-in or 4-6 pounds for boneless.
It should have a fat cap on one side and be well trimmed on the other sides. Look for a piece that is a dark pinkish-red and well marbled for the best flavor.
How much pulled pork per person?
Plan on around ⅓ to ½ pound of meat per person, depending on how you are serving the pork.
If you're making pulled pork sandwiches, or having a lot of side dishes for a summer potluck, ⅓ pound should do. When serving without a bun, or with a smaller amount of sides, lean towards ½ pound per person.
How to trim a pork butt
Start by trimming any large chunks of fat, veins, or blood spots from the pork butt. Don't go too crazy trimming though. Much of the fat and connective tissue will render out in the cooking process which gives the meat a great deal of flavor and supplies the moisture that it needs for the long cook.
A pork butt is made up of many different muscles that have pockets of fat in between them. So if you trim out the fat between the muscles, you may need to tie up the meat with kitchen twine to keep it from falling apart.
Should I leave the fat cap on?
The fat cap is the thick layer of fat that is usually left on one side of the pork butt. I usually leave the fat cap on when smoking a Boston butt.
The theory is that the fat will render during the cooking process and baste the meat as it cooks. The fat can can be too thick in some cases though, so I trim to about an ⅛ inch thickness.
In practice, there is plenty of intramuscular fat in a typical pork butt to provide moisture while smoking the meat. So if you want a leaner end product and more bark, you can remove the fat cap completely.
How to make a barbecue rub
The seasoning for barbecue is called a "rub". It's mix of spices that you apply to the meat to season it before cooking.
I usually make my own and avoid the mark up of store bought rubs. I use a basic all-purpose barbecue rub. It is a mixture of salt, pepper, paprika, brown sugar, dry mustard, garlic powder and onion powder.
If you like more heat you can up the amount of cayenne pepper or add in chili powder. If you want a smokier flavor you can use smoked paprika. Cumin will add a hint of Southwestern/Mexican flavor. The options are endless.
How to season a pork butt
Sprinkle a generous amount of rub all over the meat until it's well coated. Despite the name, you don’t actually need to rub it in. But if there are any crevices, try to work the seasoning into those with your hands.
You can cook it immediately after seasoning the meat, but if possible, trim and season the meat, then refrigerate it the day before cooking.
This is called a dry brine and allows the salt to penetrate the meat and pull out the moisture. As it sits, it will reabsorb the moisture and soak up the flavors of the rub. I typically add another light coating of rub, just before cooking to help produce a thicker bark.
Remove the meat from the fridge one hour before cooking to allow it to come up to room temperature.
Should I use mustard on a pork butt?
Some cooks, including many competition barbecue teams, coat the pork butt with yellow mustard or other liquid mixtures, before applying their rub. This helps bind the rub to the meat and helps produce a thicker bark. It's worth trying to see if you like that method.
What wood to use for smoking pork
I use a half-and-half mix of hickory and applewood for smoked Boston butt. Hickory has a mild to medium, savory smoke flavor and applewood is a little milder and sweeter.
Oak and cherry wood are other good options with similar flavor profiles.
Avoid mesquite or cedar for pulled pork as the flavor is pretty aggressive and can overpower the flavor of the meat.
I recommend using larger wood chunks and not wood chips. The chunks will produce a cleaner, longer lasting smoke and are not as likely to burn.
It's not necessary to soak your wood in water before smoking. Properly seasoned, dry hardwood will absorb very little water when soaked. And drier wood will produce a cleaner smoke.
What if I'm using a pellet grill?
If you're making this smoked pork butt recipe on a pellet grill, like a Traeger, you won't need wood chunks. The smoke will come from the variety of pellets that you use. Pellets are available in a wide variety of specific wood species and also sold as blends.
How to cook smoked pork butt
Heat your smoker to around 225°F to 250°F. Add a few wood chunks and place your seasoned pork butt on the smoker rack with the fat cap on top, and close the lid.
One of the keys to good barbecue is temperature control. You will need to monitor the smoker temperature and the meat temperature throughout the cook. Depending on your smoker, you may need to adjust the vents or add more fuel to the fire to keep the cooking temperature between 225°F and 250°F.
I recommend using a high quality digital thermometer with a leave in probe so you can easily monitor the temperature during the cook. Preferably one with a separate probe for the cooker temperature as well.
Cooking time and temperature for pulled pork
Any experienced barbecue cook will tell you that cooking time can vary widely when cooking a pork butt. As a general rule plan on around 1 ½ to 2 hours per pound, or about 12-16 hours for an average sized bone-in Boston butt.
But another key to the best pulled pork is cooking to temperature rather than time. Smoked pork butt is done when it reaches an internal temperature of around 195-200°F.
At this point most of the fat, collagen, and connective tissue will have rendered and the meat will be extremely tender.
Use an instant read thermometer to check the temp in a few locations when it's close to the final temperature to be sure it's cooked to the correct temperature throughout.
What is the stall?
You'll likely see the meat temperature rise to around 145°F, then slow dramatically from there until it reaches around 170°F.
This phase is called the "stall". At this stage the fat begins to render and evaporate which cools the meat. It can sit in this range for hours with very little temperature movement.
Many cooks choose to speed up the process by wrapping the meat in foil or butchers paper. Then return it to the smoker and bring the heat up to around 275°F.
This does have some impact on your bark since it will retain the moisture and slow down the evaporation, but really helps push through the stall. This is known as the "Texas crutch" in the barbecue world.
When the pork reaches about 175°F unwrap the meat and continue smoking to an internal temperature of around 195-200°F. This will help dry out the exterior to produce the bark.
Rest the meat
After the long slow smoke, it is important to let the meat rest for at least 30 minutes. This lets the meat re-absorb some of the juices which makes it moister and more flavorful and also easier to shred.
Can I make smoked pork ahead?
Smoked pork butt is notoriously difficult to plan because of how much variation there can be in the cooking time. Almost every BBQ cook knows the pain of watching your scheduled serving time come and go while the meat temperature won't seem to budge. The good news is that you can make it well ahead of time and keep the meat warm for several hours.
To do this, place the foil wrapped pork in a cooler (without ice!) and cover it with towels then close the lid. Most well insulated coolers will keep the meat at a safe temperature for several hours, allowing you to time your meal better and avoid any hungry guests.
How to pull smoked pork butt
Begin by pulling apart the meat into large chunks. Remove and discard the bone (if present) and any pockets of fat or gristle.
Then shred the chunks of meat by pulling it apart in separate directions with two forks. You can also pull it apart by hand after it has cooled slightly.
I highly recommend investing in a set of shredding claws if you plan to make a lot of pulled pork. They make the job so easy!
If you prefer chopped pork you can use a heavy meat cleaver or chef's knife to chop the meat instead of pulling it.
After shredding the meat, toss it lightly with your favorite BBQ sauce and serve.
What to serve with pulled pork
Pulled pork is a classic main dish for summer holiday parties and tailgates on fall game days. My favorite side dish for pulled pork is my Instant Pot Baked Beans. It's a classic BBQ side dish and the sweet smoky flavor pairs great with the pulled pork.
For more tasty pulled pork side dishes check out:
Pulled Pork Tips and FAQs
Store leftover pulled pork in an airtight container and refrigerate. The USDA guidelines suggest consuming leftover pork within 3 to 4 days, but smoking helps to cure the meat and prevent bacteria growth, so up to 5 days is generally fine for smoked pork if stored properly.
For large amounts, wrap the shredded pork in foil to keep it from drying out and reheat in a 275°F oven until warmed through.
Reheat smaller amounts in the microwave for around 45 seconds to 1 minute until warm.
Yes! Pulled pork does freeze really well. I recommend freezing it in small batches. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and squeeze out any air pockets to help prevent freezer burn, then place it in a freezer bag.
When properly stored it will last 3 months in the freezer or longer if you vacuum seal it.
Pulled pork contains around 300 calories per serving. But this can vary
Many BBQ cooks swear by an injection to internally season their pork. A mixture of apple juice and a tablespoon or two of the rub seasoning is a common recipe for pork injection. I typically dry brine my meat a day ahead which helps to season the meat so I don't use an injection. But it's definitely worth a try to see what you like.
Smoked Pulled Pork Barbecue
- 6 pound pork butt, aka"Boston butt"
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tbsp sweet paprika
- 2 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 tbsp black pepper
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- ½ tsp ground mustard
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- Combine all of the seasonings in a small bowl and stir well.
- Trim any large chunks of fat from the outside of the meat, leaving around ⅛ inch of the fat cap in place. Then thoroughly coat with the rub on all sides and inside any crevices. If time allows, set on a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate overnight.
- Preheat your smoker to around 225°F, then place the pork butt in the smoker with the fat cap up, then cover the smoker.
- This step is optional, but if you want to speed up the cooking process, when the pork reaches around 150-160°F remove and wrap tightly in foil or butchers paper and return to the smoker. Raise the heat to 275°F. When the internal temperature reaches around 180°F, remove the wrapping and return to the smoker.
- Continue cooking until it reaches an internal temperature of 195-200°F then remove from the smoker and wrap in foil and let rest for 30 minutes to an hour. After it has rested and cooled slightly, shred the meat before serving.
* All nutrition information we provide are estimates based on third party calculators. We encourage you to calculate these on your own for accurate results.